Don’t stop using stop words. Full stop

Whether you’re an SEO expert or a complete beginner, getting your head around using (or not using) stop words in content can be a bit tricky. But what are stop words and how are they relevant, I hear you cry…

In essence, stop words are words that search engines filter out – words like if, the, of, in, and etc. There is a stop word list (in case you were wondering…)

Filtering out these stop words helps search engines return faster results which, if included in all cases, could cause issues such as ambiguity and server load problems.

For years we were told that using stop words is harmful to SEO and that, if they were not relevant in search results, then they should be removed from keywords or phrases. However, search engines have always considered stop words relevant if their presence changes the meaning of a search query. Gobloggingtips came up with this example of when a stop word would be considered by Google:

‘Matrix’ (the concept)
‘The Matrix’ (the movie)

Google would consider the stop word “the” in this example because, without it, the search would mean something completely different.

Removing all stop words from keywords, especially in the holiday park and tourism sector creates its own problems. The obvious one being a poor user experience (UX). It is far better for the average user of your holiday park site to read the phrase ‘welcome to our caravan and camping park in Yorkshire’ than ‘welcome to our caravan and camping park Yorkshire’ – wouldn’t it?

Google SEO RankingsNow, thanks to recent updates this historic emphasis on removing stop words is not as important as it once was.

According to Yoast Google has “become more apt in dealing with stop words in the last few years. It simply doesn’t matter that much whether or not there are stop words between the words you want to be found for”.

We all know that a keyphrase with a stop word is far easier to optimize your text for than one without. It will also give your site’s users a better experience, making your chosen keywords less obvious, improving grammar and, overall, making it more readable.

Google’s main aim is to improve the user’s experience and it knows that by discouraging the use of stop words is to harm this UX.

Beware of exceptions

Although Google is much better at handling stop words than it used to be, you need to take some time and make sure your site has the right balance and focus keywords in place. For example, search volume for keyphrases not including stop words will be much higher than those that do include them. You need to decide what’s best for your site…

Shorter search queries, says Yoast, are often the more popular so it could be an idea – in some cases – to optimize some posts in the way you’ve always done, without stop words.

However, Google and the other big search engines are getting smarter all the time and their ability to filter out what is and isn’t relevant to someone’s search is getting easier for them.

Goblogging has this great tip: “Search for the title of your blog post, with stop words and without them. If the results are different in both the cases, then it is clear that Google is considering the stop words. So, it makes sense for you to retain stop words in your title.”

Google now places a greater emphasis on user experience and content creators should therefore be writing for readers and not search engines alone.

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