Why Do Keyphrase-Stuffed Pages Position?

In a perfect world, our well-written content always positions top-10.

In reality, well, weird things happen.

Sometimes, a keyphrase-stuffed page makes it to the top of Google’s search results. And stays there.

How can that be?

Did someone pay Google for that listing? (No.)

Is repeating the keyphrase over and over a viable SEO writing tactic again? (Thankfully, no.)

Or, is there something else going on? (Yup.)

Here’s your answer…

We all know that keyword stuffing is bad, m’kay? 

Google advises against keyphrase stuffing. It’s old-school, spammy SEO.

Plus, from a conversion aspect, your readers don’t enjoy it, either. People don’t like to read keyphrase-stuffed pages. People don’t like to buy from sites that keyword-stuff their copy.

It’s not a good tactic.

Yet, last week on Twitter, Google’s John Mueller said that keyword stuffing, “shouldn’t result in removal from the index.”

In fact, some keyword-stuffed pages may still position because there is “enough value to be found elsewhere.” 

Here’s the Search Engine Roundtable post sharing the news.

Um, what? 

So, what does this really mean?

This doesn’t mean that Google is giving keyword stuffing a pass. It’s still bad, and Google still calls it out as spammy.

What it does mean is Google is smart enough to ignore repeated keywords and look at other factors. Maybe the keyword-stuffed page has a lot of good information, despite the bad SEO. Or, the page has some quality links pointing to it.

Is this a mixed message? You bet. When Google says, “thou shall not keyword stuff,” we expect there to be consequences if a site does stuff.

Maybe not total removal from the index….but spammy pages shouldn’t position. 

So yes. This is frustrating.

On the flip side, this is Google’s circus and Google’s monkeys. We can’t control what Google does. We can only control what we do…so…

Here’s what I would recommend…

I wouldn’t try stuffing just to “see what happens.” Best-case scenario, it DOES work…and new visitors read your spammy copy and immediately surf away. Remember, Google doesn’t buy from you — your readers do. Poorly-written copy reflects poorly on your brand.


Now, what if you have a spammy legacy page that’s still positioning?

That’s a different story.

If we extrapolate what John Mueller said, and Google can “strip away” excess keyphrase use when evaluating page, that means the page should stand on its own.

Which means that it should be fine to rewrite it, dial back the keyphrase usage, and see what happens.

Notice the word “should” in there. I even italicized it twice. There’s a chance your page position drops after fixing the spam, despite what Google says. 

Annoying, isn’t it?

Is it worth it? I would argue yes. At the same time, I’d check the page analytics to see if people are taking action on the spammy versus non-spammy version.

Let the data be your guide. You may find fewer people visit the rewritten page, but they are taking action. Or staying on your page/site longer. Or even making a purchase from you.

After all, there’s no reason to celebrate a top-10 position if you find people are immediately leaving the page when they land on it.

What do you think?

Have you encountered a keyphrase-stuffed page, and wondered, “why is Google letting this fly?” Have you had to patiently explain to your boss why you shouldn’t repeat [b2b blue widget] 50 times in 250 words…even if your top competitor is positioning with the same tactic?

Sigh. I hear you. Share your tale of woe in the comments!

9 replies
  1. Frederik Nørgaard says:

    Thank you for at good post Heather.
    I still see alot of Keyword stuffing but mostly on old sites.
    I think they are mostly still ranking because of a strong link profile and authority.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Frederik, I bet you’re right. I visited a very old page like that a couple months ago. The rest of the site was, oddly, just fine — it was just that one page. The site owners are probably afraid that they’d lose their rankings if they fixed it. ;)

  2. Sam Lozano says:

    It’s always annoying to see terrible pages like that ranking so highly in positions you feel like you deserve instead of them, but if it’s any consolation, they never seem to stay there very long. It’s all about playing the long game over the short game.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Sam, you’re so right. :) To your point, eventually things do shake out — but it can be frustrating in the meantime.

  3. Bobby Burns says:

    Hey Heather, great post, by the way. I’m not an SEO “expert”, but my clients expect me to be competent enough to incorporate effective best practices. And a situation I do run into periodically is that the nature of what I’m writing (in a blog post, for example) does require repeatedly using the keyword or keywords. It starts to feel “spammy” to me because I feel that Google Big Brother hovering over my virtual shoulder! But they are part and parcel of the context, intent, and value of the piece. So… I do it anyway and hope for the best!

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hi, Bobby!

      Thanks for your post! Out of curiosity..does the copy sound spammy when you read it out loud? If it does, you can probably cut down on your keyphrase usage… :) And/or try using a synonym or related word. Could that work?

  4. Emilio López says:

    EXCELLENT read! You keep things fun while getting your point across smoothly. I work on the behind the scenes of SEO a lot and I understand why Google would do something like that. In short, Google is not only looking at on-page factors but also if the particular page is actually good for users—the more people click or visit a page, the more Google thinks is good to show.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Hello! Yes, it DOES make sense. I remember reading a high-positioned page that was spammy as heck — yet, it still had the information I needed (and information I couldn’t find anywhere else.)

      Thanks for stopping by!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want. […]

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