Stop Words: What are They and Why are They important?

September 23, 2015
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Written by Andrew Eaton

Stop words are function words and an integral part of sentence and phrase structure. Although there is no “absolute” list of stop words, they consist of words like; the, it, is, and, as well as, and so on. Stop words are typically ignored by computers while reading the data because they do not relate to the content. They provide value only when read in a sentence by a person.

Importance of Stop Words

Why is it important to recognize stop words? If you publish articles on the web, it’s important that you know about stop words, when to use them and when not to use them. Search engines take them into account as part of their algorithm when crawling your blog. Search engines recognize stop words when they process data from your blog articles, blog titles and URLs.

When a search engine is crawling your blog, it will see your titles, URLs and content. All of which may contain stop words. Knowing when and when not to use them may help you perform better in search engine results. Using stop words properly may increase your positioning in search engine results.

When to Remove Stop Words

Removing stop words from URLs is good practice because search engines like short, valuable URLs. When search engines crawl your site, they don’t need to read words like “the” or “and” in your URLs. These words carry no value and do not describe your content. There are certain exceptions to the rule, but they are few and far between.

Use as few stop words in your blog titles as possible. Using function words in your blog titles may be necessary to convey the content of your blog article. There is no need to sacrifice your titles to impress search engines. For best practice, keep stop words to a minimum while conveying your message.

From a search engine’s standpoint, you want to use valuable titles that convey the message without being long and drawn out. Using as few function words as possible will help you create titles that are optimized for search engines to read.

Example:

Original Title: How to Impress the One You Love Without Spending a Whole Lot of Money

Stop words: how, to, the, you, a, lot, of

New Title: Impress Your Love without Spending a Fortune

Stop words: your, a

Wordsmithing this example, we cut the number of stop words from 7 to 2. Of course, recognizing stop words should become part of your keyword research to determine the best phrases and titles for your blog articles. Search engines will, in most cases, ignore stop words completely and only focus on keywords. This means when doing your keyword research, there’s no need to look for phrases with stop words in them.

Considering these factors, there is no need to cut every stop word out of your blog titles. The focus should always remain on the humans who will be reading your blog titles, both on your blog and in search engine results. If it sounds good to you, it probably is.

Continuing on to the URL, for our example, it may be best to use: “/impress-love-without-spending-fortune” as the URL slug, which removes all the stop words and gives the search engines the juicy data which best reflects the content of the article.

Don’t Stuff with Stop Words

We know longer articles do better than short articles in regards to search engine rankings. We know that articles should be at least 400-500 words in length to do well in search results. However, using function words to extend your articles is unlikely to benefit you.

When writing a short article, it may be tempting to replace “and” with “as well as” to snag an extra two words and beef up your word count. Since these are likely considered stop words, the search engine isn’t actually reading them for value and stuffing these stop words into your article will have no benefit.

Stop Words Best Practices

Search engines hold their algorithms in the most secretive manner, which is why we may never know the actual list of stop words they use or how they use them to determine search rankings. However, there are best practices which can be derived from other aspects and SEO knowledge.

  •         Excessive use of stop words may hurt SEO
  •         Remove stop words in URLs
  •         Limit stop words in titles
  •         Use stop words naturally in your articles
  •         Do not stuff stop words to increase word count

Finally, never sacrifice your writing or your reader’s experience. Using stop words will not negatively impact your search engine optimization, unless you’re using them in an excessive and unnatural manner. However, using them sparingly and removing them when they provide no value to the reader is considered best practice and may help improve your position in search engine results.

About the Author: Andrew Eaton is a New England native who enjoys the freedom of freelance blogging, web design and social media management. He loves to explore the nooks and crannies of New England as well as travel across the country with his best friend and better half, Katie. He is an avid DIYer, a magician in the kitchen and a geek at heart. He blogs at Scrappy Geek.

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