Stop words have long been debated in the world of SEO. Some say that stop words hurt SEO strategies, while others believe they are natural and unavoidable. What are stop words and how do they impact search engine optimization? That’s what we’ll aim to unveil in this discussion. Check out this guide for understanding Google stop words so you can adjust your content development in the future.
What Are Google Stop Words?
Have you ever searched for a sentence in Google, but the results you got were missing half the words from the phrase? That’s because the search engine was taking out stop words from your search term. Stop words are words like a, an, the, of, or, and so on that do not affect the meaning of a statement. These are mostly articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and value enhancing words (like many or very). Stop words make up about 25% of blog posts and web content, and they are necessary to form complete sentences. From a search engine’s perspective though, they are fluff that does not influence the way search results are displayed.
You can review this list of stop words, which covers the words that most search engines leave out of their search results.
How Search Engines Read Stop Words
In most cases, Google and other search engines will ignore stop words when they crawl the web to provide search results to users. Simply put, stop words “stop” the search engines from doing their job by creating more content to crawl through. They cause lags in load times, and they create a level of ambiguity in the search results that may cause the wrong information to show up. By eliminating stop words from their databases, search engines are able to provide faster, more accurate results for their customers to enjoy.
Let’s think about this from the perspective of local SEO. When you run a search for “plumbers in Detroit MI,” the word “in” does nothing for your search results. Google will take that out of the equation and show results for “plumbers Detroit MI” instead. If you looked up “what is the best flower shop in Troy MI?” Google would rephrase it to “best flower shop Troy MI.” You’ll get the same results, but the search engine won’t have to put in as much work to generate them for you.
Search Engines Don’t Always Ignore Stop Words
While search engines do ignore stop words for most of their search results, there are times when the stop word has an impact on the meaning of the results. This is usually the case in the title of a movie, a song, a band, or something along those lines. For example, if you were searching for information about the band “The Who,” “The” would be a necessary part of the search results. The same could be said about a book like “To Kill A Mockingbird” or a movie like “The Matrix.”
How does Google know when NOT to ignore stop words? It keeps a list of phrases in its database that include stop words in them. Google will also maintain stop words in search results if a person puts a phrase in quotation marks. If someone wanted to find the specific phrase “what is the best flower shop in Troy, MI?” Google would honor the request if the words were surrounded by quotation marks.
How Google Stop Words Impact SEO
Here comes the big debate: Do stop words hurt search engine rankings? The answer is not as clean cut as it may seem.
In many cases, stop words are needed to add value to a blog post title or URL. Eliminating them entirely makes the page seem unnatural. Google and other search engines have gotten smart about identifying forced marketing strategies, rewarding organic, natural-sounding content in favor of forced SEO campaigns. With that in mind, there are ways to reword a blog title or URL to minimize the use of stop words while still making the content seem natural.
Getting rid of stop words in the URL of a webpage or blog post is usually a safe bet. Transforming “How To Cook With A George Forman Grill” to /cook-george-forman-grill cleans up your links and maintains your keywords in your URL. For titles, you can use your best judgement to eliminate “wordiness.” That title could be reduced to “Cooking With George Forman Grills,” and it should still generate the same traffic from search results.
In order to test whether you should or should not use stop words in your titles, try searching for your proposed title with and without those words. If you get the same results both times, you know that Google is ignoring the words in its search results. You can choose what flows the best from there.
Christopher Bower is a Member and Marketing Director of Detroit Internet Marketing, LLC and brings over 20 years' experience in marketing and online marketing. His education includes Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Marketing, and has been involved in both national and local marketing in Chicago, South Florida and Michigan.