Stop words were traditionally words that search engines did not recognise as valid terms, in its search results. In order to speed up the search results these words are ignored.
Nowadays search engines have become more sophisticated and quicker in their searching process.
So are stop words still an issue and does it make a difference to your SEO process whether they are included or not?
This article looks at some real search results to see just how search engines are dealing with stop words.
And we see what the experts are currently saying on the issue.
What Are Stop Words in SEO?
Stop words are the very common words used in the English language such as a, the, and, it. But they can also include abstract terms such as unfortunately, likely or might.
Older search engine queries ignored these words, and there was often a warning given to searchers that they had used a term that appeared too many times.
As a result in SEO discussions many content writers have been advised to avoid using stop words in titles, and keywords, although much of the advice was mixed and ambiguous.
Are Stop Words Still Used?
As far back as 2008 there was speculation that stop words were no longer being ignored by Google .
In an article by seobythesea.com, Bill Slawski looked at search examples that would have previously thrown up a warning that stop words were being used in the search query. He noted that this was no longer the practice, by Google at least.
At the same time Slawski noted that Google had filed a patent that expressively named a method for decoding stop words, within a newer and faster way of searching through indexed files.
Is There A Difference In Search Engine Results If I Use Stop Words?
At one time Google would tell searchers that the common stop words had been ignored, however this isn’t the case anymore.
But do the results actually change if stop words are used?
Here is an example I tried – if I type in the phrase ‘A Walk in the Woods‘ simply because it has more stop words than other content, I get the following set of results as shown in the first screenshot.
If however I simply type in the keywords ‘walk woods‘ then the search results do change slightly, as seen in the second screenshot.
For a start the Youtube results disappear which might be indicative that stop words are a factor and would need to be included in a search request in order for video results to appear.
However it is interesting to note that all the results shown are for the full phrase ‘ A walk in the woods‘.
So Google has obviously added them into the search request even though the searcher didn’t.
Is the same thing true in Bing?
I repeated the same task in Bing and yet again the video results were the obvious change, but otherwise the same as Google.
The full search term ‘A walk in the woods’ and ‘walk woods’ appeared to produce very similar results.
Examples of Using Stop Words
I was recently searching for a post I had written called ‘Using WA Rapid Writer for Mini Blogging‘ where WA stood for Wealthy Affiliate.
I was struck by the response from Google which can be seen in the screenshot below.
Google obviously recognised that the stop word ‘A’ made better reading that WA in this query and wanted to make sure.
It still showed the correct result as you can see, but the search engine’s ability to analyse search requests is clearly continuing to evolve.
What is the SEO Advice on Stop Words
There are plenty of SEO articles written about stop words and to avoid them in SEO. I came across articles from 2013 that were still advocating not using stop words.
Yoast in 2016 are still suggesting that using keywords without stop phrases is a good SEO tactic, especially for smaller sites.
Is this advice valid?
To answer that question there are a number of things to remember with search queries and SEO.
- The Google Hummingbird update was developed to cope with longer search terms including stop words
- Shorter keywords are harder to rank for
- Longer keywords without stop words don’t make sense and search engines will add in missing phrases anyway (see the walk woods example)
- Keywords should guide people, not search engines because the aim is to have a click through rate not just a high ranking.
Conclusion for SEO and Stop Words in 2016?
Ultimately search engine results have to make sense to the people who are searching.
If your article ranks highly but the title doesn’t make sense, then it is unlikely that readers will click through and visit your site, which defeats the point of everything.
With so much information out there on the internet, stop words are needed to bring clarity and accuracy to search requests. – ‘The Matrix’ is a movie, whilst a search for ‘matrix’ is probably maths related.
It appears that all search engines are moving towards AI systems and trying to mimic searcher requests, and in response searchers recognise that the more details they can give the search engine the more accurate the results will be.
So keep writing for readers and make everything natural. The search engines are also following this road so this will ultimately improve your SEO. And perhaps more importantly you will be less likely to be affected by future changes in the algorithms.
Further Reading on SEO and Search Engine Rankings
Other articles on this site about search engines are;
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