keyword stuffing

Will Keyword Stuffing Help My SEO Results?

Keyword stuffing remains a controversial practice in this age of search engine marketing. But does it still have a place in your SEO strategy?

Keyword stuffing: some modern search marketers gasp at the very thought. We all know that focus keywords are the beating heart of any proper SEO strategy, but is it still wise to jam pack your keywords into your online content? Or should you limit your use of keywords to avoid repetition, redundancy, and punishment from search engines? Also, if keyword stuffing is frowned upon, what are the alternatives?

Let’s have a look at this ongoing debate by taking a quick trip into the not-so-distant past.

What is Keyword Stuffing?

Dial back to the late 1990s when Google had to compete with such search engines as Excite, Lycos, and Ask Jeeves. To be picked up by search engines, you still needed to use keywords, but the philosophy back then was “the more, the merrier.” In other words, if you used those keywords as many times as possible, you increased your chances of a high ranking and outdoing your competition in keyword density.

For example, let’s say Susie started a destination wedding planning business. It’s 2001, and she’s looking to take advantage of the relatively new system of search marketing. After determining that “destination wedding planner” was the most effective keyword phrase for her business, she created content that repeated that phrase over and over again. As a result, her content read like this:

“If you’re looking for a destination wedding planner, I am the best destination wedding planner in the area. I have been a destination wedding planner for over five years, and love being a destination wedding planner. I offer my destination wedding planner services in person, but could also be your destination wedding planner over the Internet. When you need a destination wedding planner, call me for my expert destination wedding planner services.”

At the time, this kind of content may have done the trick in terms of search results. But although we get the overall message, the paragraph doesn’t read very well. The content isn’t compelling, nor does it educate or engage.

In short, it doesn’t do what great content should.

To try to outdo her competition even further, Susie also took the sneaky step of packing the keyword phrase into the web page even more and colouring the font to match her website’s background. This renders the keyword invisible to the viewer but still searchable by the search engines.

This practice is what’s known as keyword stuffing. It might have worked back in 2001, but search engines have come a long way since then. So, too, have SEO strategies.

Old Practice, Modern Problems

Now let’s bring Susie’s business up to today. Google is now the “king” of search engines, with Bing/Live Search and DuckDuckGo serving as worthy alternatives. Assuming that Susie hasn’t changed her content since 2001 (which raises a whole host of other issues), she will likely find that their rankings have dropped somewhat.

Actually, “dropped” isn’t the correct word. Let’s replace it with “plummeted”.

So, Susie decides to create new content, but keeps the old practice of keyword stuffing, hoping to repeat that initial success from 2001. Still, no luck, and she wonders why that would be. Don’t search engines still follow that “the more, the merrier” philosophy?

According to Jemma Fong, SEO expert and owner of InSite Creations, search engines today actually look down on websites which practice keyword stuffing.

“Google’s ranking and indexing formula is much more sophisticated and advanced these days,”  says Jemma. “Search engines now put more emphasis on the contextual meaning of the content, and can determine what the main topic or theme is behind each of the pages. In other words, relevancy and quality that is worth sharing are key ranking factors.

“But repetitive frequency of a keyword, which is measured by a ratio that depends on the total word count, could cause Google to penalize the website with a low ranking.”

Jemma also states that Susie’s inclusion of invisible keywords is considered a “black hat” practice that could also result in a ranking penalty. 

These days, search engines pay more attention to the actual content while simultaneously keeping an eye on keyword frequency. This new way of ranking was developed specifically to deter keyword stuffing, and encourage marketers to create content that informs, educates, and engages their website visitors.

This is also why our wedding planner is not only ranking low, but is also risking today’s customers leaving her site due to poor content, especially when compared to her savvier competitors who might be more in touch with modern SEO practices.

A Better SEO Strategy

Now that we’ve established that keyword stuffing is no longer a wise practice with or without an overall SEO strategy, Jemma recommends taking the below steps to implementing keywords that meet current and proper SEO guidelines:

  1. Brainstorm for all the various search query keyword phrases that you believe your target audience would use to find your product/service offerings
  2. Group those words together into like-minded groups
  3. Choose a couple of key phrases that would be your “focus” keyword and test to see how difficult it would be to rank in comparison to your competitors
  4. Create a navigation map around each focus/seed keyword, using tab and sub-tabs that will represent a page that supports the top level focus keyword
  5. Build out your content based on that focus keyword

“When calculating keyword difficulty,” Jemma says. “Be sure to review the number of queries, the number of other sites using that keyword theme, and its bid value. This will help determine whether they are worthy words upon which you can build quality content.”

So let’s bring our destination wedding planner up to speed. “Instead of stuffing her content with that one phrase,” Jemma says. “Susie can use related terms or synonyms that help enhance the overall meaning or semantic sense of what the page and site are about.”

Here are some keyword phrases that Susie can incorporate into her content to help her search results without resorting to keyword stuffing:

  • wedding specialist
  • wedding themes
  • destination weddings
  • bridal shower
  • wedding destination plan
  • wedding budget
  • wedding paperwork
  • getting married abroad

“At the same time,” Jemma adds. “Choose a few long-tail keyword phrases that you can use for blog articles to support that keyword phrase.”

How to Use Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords are longer phrases that a customer might use in Google to find a business. Here are some that our wedding planner might use:

  • how to choose a destination wedding planner
  • tips for getting married abroad
  • what you need to know about international weddings

“Keyword stuffing will typically result in lowering your page ranking,” Jemma concludes. “But if you follow the above steps, you will build high-value valuable content that both the search engines and your readers will like. Above all, don’t try to employ “black hat” techniques which will only lead to being penalized by the search engines.”

By strategically using the above keywords properly, Susie will start ranking better and engaging her website visitors. In the long run, this will lead to more conversions and an increased chance of hitting her business goals.

email marketing

Email Marketing: Building and Marketing to your Database

Email Marketing is still the King of Marketing…if you do it right.

Remember when email first became available to the public? It wasn’t that long ago, and I barely can picture the world without it.

As fast as the public started using email, it seemed that businesses identified it as a great marketing tool. Without the costs of printing, inserting, and mailing, targeted email marketing became an efficient and cost-effective method of reaching thousands of people at once. Finally, we’d found the King of Marketing!

The zeal for email marketing showed no signs of stopping until mass messaging (otherwise known as spamming) became an issue. Public reaction to unscrupulous use of their email address led to businesses taking a more selective approach to emailing their database and, more importantly, using emails for prospecting. CAN-SPAM in the US and CASL in Canada have put consumer comfort first, forcing marketers to take a more strategic approach to email marketing. The threat of stiff penalties for rule breakers also encourages compliance in not only messaging, but also how companies acquire, store, and maintain their database.

With the threat of penalty over their heads, as well as the growing sophistication of spam filters, marketers may be tempted to abort their email marketing plans. But if you follow some simple guidelines, you can still roll with the King.

How Often Should You Email?

How many times do you check your physical letterbox per day? Once, right?

Now, how many times do you check your email per day? If your answer is 150, according to Business Insider you’re only at the average.  My email program is open as I write this, and yours might be open as you’re reading. And now that I’ve mentioned it, chances are you’re tempted to check it.

Checking email is almost second nature to connected folks, especially on mobile. The reason is simple: it’s a fast, easy, and efficient way to keep in touch. And because of this, we can conclude that email is also the fastest, easiest, most efficient digital marketing method to directly reach a large number of people at one time.

But how often should you email? Finding that balance of keeping top of mind with your customers without spamming them is a concern for many marketers.

“Most companies should be looking at one email per month,” says Mark Brodsky, owner of Mark Brodsky Digital Communications. “There are certainly exceptions – Groupon sends out emails almost every day.  Shoppers Drug Mart also frequently emails, but they always have a special, limited time offer. Loblaws does the same thing with their PC Points emails. The key is setting up expectations and giving people a choice. If you want to send something more than once a month, set up two databases and give people the option of getting that email or the monthly email.”

Service providers such as real estate agents, mortgage brokers, or insurance agents who don’t do business with clients on a frequent basis can also apply this philosophy. But what kind of content would they send out?

“The key is knowing what kind of content your audience is interested in, and delivering that,” Mark says. “If you can keep your audience engaged in between the times that they need you, they will remember you when the time comes, and refer you to friends and family.”

Building Your Email List

Chances are, if you’re just starting out, you have an empty email list. There are many list purchase options available on the market, but many of them simply aren’t CASL compliant. It’s best to avoid any legal issues by building a CASL-compliant list organically.

“Include a signup link everywhere you are online,” Mark says. “Take the link your email system provides and put it on your website as prominently as possible. Add the link to LinkedIn, Facebook, your Twitter bio, and Instagram. Don’t forget to include the link in your email signature.”

Once on your landing page, your prospect will be able to fill out a signup form. Many businesses collect no more than the email address and first name at this point. Long forms tend to increase the abandon rate, and other information, such as last name, location, and interests, can be collected over time as you develop a better relationship with your customer.

“You can also offer an incentive for people to sign up,” Mark says. “Something like 15% off your next purchase can go a little further to get people to give up an email address.”

Once you’ve built your database up and are ready to send your emails out, Mark advises against using generic email programs such as Outlook, Hotmail, or Gmail.

“I strongly urge businesses to use a professional email marketing system.” he says. “A system like Constant Contact gives you the tools you need for tracking, reporting, and list maintenance.”

Mark also recommends to have your recipients help build your list by inviting them to forward your email to a friend. With every email you send out, include a request that the recipient forward to a friend they think may be interested. Make the button prominent. Also, include a link that allows people who have received the mail from a friend to sign up.

Concerns with CASL

When CASL first came into effect, I used to think of it in relatively simple terms: “Great for consumers, bad for marketers.”

I’ve changed my opinion since then. It’s really only bad for marketers who are more concerned with the quantity instead of the quality of their data. It also affects marketers not concerned with the content they send out, or disinterested in building strong relationships with their customers.

For businesses interested in data quality, relevant content, and building strong customer relationships, CASL only reaffirmed their email marketing practices. In short, it’s actually good for everyone.

But what should email marketers be primarily concerned with within CASL’s complex guidelines?

“CASL is a complicated subject,” Mark says, offering three strategies that will help ensure that companies don’t receive complaints:

  • Get consent to email: There are two kinds of consent: implied and express:
    • Implied consent:  Clients who have done business with you fall under implied consent. This means they can be emailed for two years without asking, after which marketers have to seek out express consent
    • Express consent: This covers people who have opted in to your mailing list, either online, in writing or verbally. Express consent never expires and is valid until the customer opts out
  • Include contact information: The sender is required to provide a physical business mailing address and a secondary way of contacting the sender, including a website or phone number, to the recipient with each email
  • Provide an opt-out opportunity: Business must give recipients the option to unsubscribe. Email systems process the request automatically, but if you are fulfilling requests manually they must be completed within 10 business days

“In short,” Mark says. “CASL just means the government is forcing companies to use email marketing best practices. Only email people who want to receive your email, and when they no longer want to be contacted, remove them from your list.”

The DIY Approach

Most of us can compose and send an email. Most of us can send a mass email too. But while the process of email marketing sounds simple, the strategic planning, content generation, and database maintenance can be complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating.

The answer? Hire a professional.

“One benefit in hiring a professional is that you know it will actually get done,” Mark says. “For small businesses, especially those with a sole proprietor, marketing often falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Work to be done for customers always takes precedence. Hiring an email marketing professional means that your email will get out so you can continue to generate more business. They will also be on top of the latest trends, ensure that your emails will look great across all platforms, and be able to understand and provide perspective on analytics within your industry.”