Branching Out: Enhancing Your SEO Strategy with Keyword Stemming

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Heavy-duty keyword stuffing is a distinct don’t for current SEO best practices. Google and other search engines penalize sites that overuse keywords as low-value vehicles for links instead of rich, relevant content. Keyword stemming, on the other hand, is very much in style.

Keyword stemming refers to layering related keywords and phrases throughout your content the way they’d naturally occur. You probably wouldn’t use the same phrase ten times in a few minutes of conversation even if you were discussing something very specific, but you might use versions of that phrase, incorporating it as different parts of speech or using synonyms for it. Your primary keyword is the stem, and variations of it branch out organically to create a keyword-rich yet relevant and compelling article.

Context Is Everything

Search engines rely on dozens of embedded and contextual cues to determine a site’s relevance to your query. On-page, embedded cues include search terms in the meta title and meta description, links to and from the page, and the site’s URL. These baked-in keywords are indexed as-is by Google, but contextual cues are more nuanced. They allow search engines to weigh words that are related to, but not identical to, the anchor text and meta data on the page as relevant.

For example, if your site offers content writing services, then “content writing” is your primary keyword. Stemmed keywords might include “content writers,” “writing content” and “content written.” Including these variations on a theme hits search engines’ sweet spots; they don’t look spammy or keyword-stuffed, and they’re easier on human visitors’ eyes. It’s tough to twist a 500-word blog post to fit the same long-tail keyword a dozen times to approach a 2.5 percent keyword density, but it’s easy to include it and its close relatives naturally in an article.

Finding the Road Less Taken

Keyword stems also let you gain a firm foothold in your niche within a heavily traveled industry. Larger competitors who arrived earlier may have staked a claim to a single keyword, but your SEO content team can drill deeper and locate the keyword stems and related phrases that have been underused. You may not have much space to breathe amidst the press of sites optimized for the phrase “site design,” but you can earn some elbow room by targeting “site designer” or “website designs” as your primary keyword.

The reason this works is that Google does weigh keyword stems for relevance, but it doesn’t weigh them all equally. These phrases may be ancillary to a larger site but become the focus of yours. It’s an excellent way for smaller businesses to take ownership of an unexplored niche.

Better Writing Means Better Ranking

You’ve read cheap, keyword-stuffed articles online before; everyone who’s spent more than a few minutes online has. It’s obvious when a content writer has to hammer in a pre-determined list of keywords exactly as they are. Phrases like “plumbing Long Island” may be what people type into Google’s search bar, but they aren’t good grammar. Sites that try to match these Boolean search strings in text are awkward to read at best and hilariously stilted at worst.

Keyword stems spare your readers and your content writing team that pain while keeping search engines happy. Instead of clumsy syntax that makes the writer seem mildly obsessed with a rigid phrase, stemming lets language flow naturally and places readability over keyword count.

A Few Caveats about Keyword Stemming

Not all keywords use stemming technology. Some phrases that occur naturally in English don’t register on Google’s radar, so reaching for variants of a high-value keyword may not give your stemmed keyword much juice. That’s where keyword analytics come in; your business content specialist can investigate variations and choose the ones that mesh best with your SEO strategy.

All keywords are not created equal. Stemmed keywords and phrases don’t typically carry the relevance of their roots, so using stems a dozen times in a blog post will not have the same weight as a rigid keyword. However, that lesser weight is largely offset by the improvement in writing quality and lower bounce rates.

Search engines are vastly more sophisticated than they once were. They no longer count up the number of times a word appears and assign relevance on keywords alone. Language, context and subtlety matter more now, and an intelligent keyword stemming strategy should be a part of that greater complexity.

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