What are stop words in SEO?

Stop words in SEO are those little words that often get overlooked but have played a significant role in search engine optimization. They're the common words like "the," "in," "and," "or" that, historically, search engines would ignore to speed up the crawling and indexing process.

The concept of stop words was first coined by Hans Peter Luhn, one of the pioneers in information retrieval. His work laid the foundation for understanding how these seemingly insignificant words could impact the way search engines interpret content.

These words might seem trivial, but they've been a part of SEO discussions for years.

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If you're using WordPress, you might have noticed that Yoast SEO displays stop words in its analysis (people became paranoid about it, especially due to this!).

So, why were these words once so important, and what has changed?

Let's explore further.

Does Google ignore stop words?

The relationship between Google and stop words has been a topic of debate and evolution in the SEO community. Let's explore the journey and the current stance.

A Historical Perspective

Stop words, those common words like articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns (e.g., "the," "in," "or," "a"), were once ignored by search engines (during pre-AI era) to speed up crawling and indexing.

This approach saved storage space and was a standard practice in the early days of search engines.

The shift in approach

As technology advanced, so did the understanding of language by search engines. Google, in particular, began to recognize the importance of stop words in understanding the context and meaning of a sentence.

AI-powered algorithms like RankBrain and BERT started allowing for a more nuanced interpretation of content.

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In 2021, John Mueller of Google made it clear: "I wouldn't worry about stop words at all; write naturally."

This statement reflects a significant shift in how Google views stop words. They're no longer simply ignored; they're used to better understand the content.

The current state in 2023

Now, in 2023, the idea of ignoring stop words doesn't make sense, given the advancements in computing power and natural language processing.

Google likely doesn't filter them out but uses them to grasp the sentence's meaning more accurately.

Not completely ignored, but…

It's essential to note that Google doesn't completely ignore stop words. Their relevance depends on the context and how they contribute to the user experience.

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For example, in URLs and titles, the importance of stop words is minimal, but they can be crucial in differentiating meanings in search queries.

Read on… I’ll explain.

When to remove or keep stop words?

The decision to remove or keep stop words in your SEO strategy can be nuanced. It's not just about following a set rule; it's about understanding the context and how these words impact the meaning and user experience.

Let's explore some key considerations.

Consider the example search query, Matrix (Math concept), and The Matrix (Movie).

Here, the stop word "the" changes the entire meaning of the query. Removing it can lead to confusion or misinterpretation.

Let me give you some tips on stop words in various places:

You may choose to remove stop words to make permalinks shorter. For example, you can rewrite “guide-to-copywriting” as “copywriting-guide.”

But remember, this should be done thoughtfully.

“Words in URLs only play a tiny role for Google Search.

John Mueller of Google has emphasized that words in URLs only play a tiny role for Google Search. Whether you include stop words in them or not is totally up to you. The importance of stop words in URLs is minimal.

In title tag

If your titles don't make sense without stop words, leave them be.

You can include stop words in title tags, but beware of the 55-character limit.

If your title is getting too long, you may need to make some strategic decisions about which words to keep.

Body of the content

Google has always emphasized the importance of enhancing user experience and readability rather than writing for robots.

Therefore, it is recommended to keep stop words in your body content, as they are essential for readability and understanding.

Removing them can make the content feel robotic and unnatural.

Conclusion: A balanced approach

In conclusion, eliminate stop words only when their absence does not impair the user experience. The decision to remove or keep stop words should be made with care, considering the context, meaning, and overall impact on the content.

When in doubt, don't worry about stop words at all. They used to carry some significance in the 2010s, but since 2020, we have overcomplicated them, and stop words don't matter anymore.

Time to decomplicate.

Certainly! Here's the revised section with the subheadings converted to bullet points:

List of Most Commonly Used Stop Words

While Google used to ignore a lot of stop words, it's not the case anymore. However, it's still useful to know what these words are.

👉 Avoid using these words ONLY in URLs or permalink slugs.

Here's a list of common stop words, grouped by alphabet, that you might come across:

  • A: a, about, above, according, across, actually, after, again, against, all, almost, also, although, always, am, among, amongst, an, and, any, anything, anyway, are, as, at
  • B: be, became, become, because, been, before, being, below, between, both, but, by
  • C: can, could
  • D: did, do, does, doing, down, during
  • E: each, either, else
  • F: few, for, from, further
  • H: had, has, have, having, he, he'd, he'll, hence, he's, her, here, here's, hers, herself, him, himself, his, how, how's
  • I: I, I'd, I'll, I'm, I've, if, in, into, is, it, it's, its, itself
  • J: just
  • L: let's
  • M: may, maybe, me, might, mine, more, most, must, my, myself
  • N: neither, nor, not
  • O: of, oh, on, once, only, ok, or, other, ought, our, ours, ourselves, out, over, own
  • S: same, she, she'd, she'll, she's, should, so, some, such
  • T: than, that, that's, the, their, theirs, them, themselves, then, there, there's, these, they, they'd, they'll, they're, they've, this, those, through, to, too
  • U: under, until, up
  • V: very
  • W: was, we, we'd, we'll, we're, we've, were, what, what's, when, when's, where, where's, which, while, who, who's, whom, why, why's, with, won't, would, wouldn't
  • Y: you, your, yours

It's worth noting that stop words are not limited to these letters, and there are many more commonly used stop words beyond these examples.