Google is smart. It’s probably smarter than all of us put together. It might achieve sentience any day now, Skynet-style. That means trying to trick it, while not impossible, is difficult. It’s definitely not as easy as simply repeating some keyword phrase you want to rank for in every sentence on your website and voila–page one, rank one! Sorry, folks, it just don’t work that way, thankfully for the people doing the searching.

This practice is known as keyword stuffing, and it’s still more prevalent than you might think. But are you guilty of it? Here are a few warning signs that you’ve got a stuffing problem.

1. Your page reads like a skipping CD. If you find yourself repeating exact words and phrases that you’d never, ever use if you were talking to a person, you may be guilty of keyword stuffing. For instance, if your page reads “We sell the best mongoose catching widgets in Nevada. For all your Nevada mongoose catching widget needs, contact Premier Mongoose Catching Widgets, LLC.” Yes, by all means get your keyword and your locator in there, but when you keep repeating it over and over again, it comes off as bizarre and does nothing to establish you as an expert–in mongoose catching or anything else.

2. You have multiple pages that say almost the same thing. It’s true that Google looks closely at the titles and headings of pages. Some people try to game the system by having multiple pages with almost the same name and content in order to sneak up those rankings. For example, you might have a page for “Mongoose Catching Widgets,” “Mongoose Trapping Devices” and “Mongoose Detention Systems.” Inside, they all have only slight variations on the same content. Every page should have new information that answers your customers’ questions and clarifies their purchasing decision. By having duplicate pages, you create a nightmarish navigation system for your customers.

3. You know it when you see it. In the US, the legal rule for what is obscenity and what is art is, “I’ll know it when I see it.” The same thing can be said for stuffed content. If it sounds stilted, if it sounds wrong, if you read it out loud and find yourself shaking your head at all the repetitions, it’s wrong. And if you have that feeling in your gut, then it’s time to clean house and create content that works for people, not just machines.

Now that you can identify stuffed content, what should you do about it? There is still an important place for exact keyword phrases, and they are still one of the major factors for rankings. Some people will tell you to use keyword density calculators and hit some magic number of density, based on a mathematical formula. But there’s no magical equation for the right number of times to say a keyword phrase. Let’s take our advice directly from Matt Cutts, head of web spam at Google:

“The way that modern search engines, or at least Google, are built, is that the first time you mention a word, you know, ‘Hey, that’s pretty interesting. It’s about that word.’ The next time you mention that word, ‘oh, OK. It’s still about that word.’ And once you start to mention it a whole lot, it really doesn’t help that much more. There’s diminishing returns. It’s just an incremental benefit, but it’s really not that large.”

From “Matt Cutts Talks Keyword Density.”

Research your keywords. Know them. Include them–but do it in a way that’s natural and that makes sense for real-life humans, not just creepy crawler web spiders.

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