Stemming, Stop Words and SEO
House or houses, the house or just house – how do these small differences affect SEO? Stemming and stop words have been a controversial topic for search engine optimization for years. Is it worth paying attention to these nuances? Or are inflections, prepositions and articles irrelevant for a successful ranking on Google?
What is stemming?
Stemming stands for stem form reduction. This means that a word is reduced to the underlying root. This is because in language usage almost all words are inflected (bent) or given prefixes or suffixes. Examples:
- She runs, she ran – run
- bent – bend
- houses – house
Stemming reduces this diversity when it comes only to the meaning of words. Stemming is a practical approach, especially for machines. Because for Google and Co. in particular, it doesn’t matter in most cases whether a text contains the term “house” or “houses”. When it comes to anticipating the intentions of people looking for a home, inflections can be neglected.
Rank better with keyword stemming?
Again and again it is claimed that the “stemming” of keywords has a positive effect on the ranking in Google. So, in order to achieve good positions for the keyword “house”, one would have to use terms like “houses”, “residential house” or “house construction” as often as possible. So if Google can recognize different variations of a word, it is purposeful to exploit this for SEO purposes.
Keyword stemming as a ranking factor refers to Google’s ability to recognize different variations of the same word. In this context, keyword stemming means the targeted modification of the use of keywords with different inflections, prefixes and suffixes.
Fact is that Google’s algorithms are becoming more and more perfect. Keyword: artificial intelligence. Machine learning means that keyword stuffing is detected quicker. This includes the suspiciously frequent use of words in their basic form. Modern algorithms detect unnatural-looking language in seconds. In this respect, stemming seems to be advantageous.
However, this also applies vice versa:
- Intentional keyword stemming is also quickly detected.
- Unnatural-looking texts are not read. This leads to high abandonment rates, which Google also registers.
- Both keyword stuffing (with the inflationary frequent use of the base form of a word) and forced stemming involve more risks than opportunities.
As so often with this topic, the conclusion is that content alone matters: Good texts are read with pleasure, and that is exactly what the largest search engine registers.
This also explains the hypothesis that stemming promotes ranking. A good text naturally contains various inflections of a relevant keyword. However, the hypothesis of the SEO suitability of stemming confuses cause and effect. The readability of the text prevents dropouts. Google registers this – but stemming as such is not decisive for the positions on Google’s results list.
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What are stop words?
Stop words are words that play no or only a minor role for search engines. These are mainly articles and personal pronouns. Examples:
- her, hers, him, his
- a, an
But also many adjectives, function words, particles and adverbs are ignored by search engine algorithms. These are, for example, words like:
- actually, mainly, overall
- than, until, before, after
- quite, on the other hand, in addition
Also irrelevant are modal verbs such as “can”, “must” or “should”, which only have meaning in connection with another verb. But stop words are not always irrelevant. They often give a clue as to what a post is about. Sometimes even a single stop word can make the point of a text.
- Thus, although the sentence “To be or not to be” contains only stop words, it still makes sense.
- In a headline like “Search Engine Optimization without Keywords”, it is precisely the preposition “without” that determines the meaning and theme of an entire text.
SEO with or without stop words?
For search engine optimizers, therefore, the question of how to deal with stop words inevitably arises. Does it make a difference whether the term “SEO in Munich” or just “SEO Munich” appears more frequently in a text? The answer is relatively simple.
- Basically, Google ignores stop words where they do not play a role in the analysis of meaning.
- This means that if stop words enhance the readability of a text, they should be used.
The situation is quite different for meaningful stop words. For example, it makes a difference whether a flight goes “from Paris to New York” or “via Paris to New York”. But all these differences ultimately result from a natural use of language that is as exact as possible. At the latest since the BERT update, Google is once again paying more attention to the meaning of individual words in their context – and that includes stop words.
So it is better to write naturally and understandably to avoid the risk of artificial-looking texts. The risk of being penalized is greater than any position improvement, no matter how small, through stop words.
Stemming and stop words have very little significance for search engine optimization. Both aspects are rather an aspect of search engine perfection – with the well-known result that only content counts: Content is king. Google is getting better and better at recognizing good content – but also manipulation. In the end, it’s the user’s vote that matters. And that means for website operators: Forget stop words and stemming.