IntroductionThere are specific words that search engines may disregard in both search queries and search results. These words, such as “the,” “in,” or “a,” are known as stop words. Stop words typically include articles, prepositions, conjunctions, or pronouns. While they are necessary for structuring sentences correctly when writing content, they do not alter the meaning of a query.
Stop word exampleIt is not uncommon to come across page headings, title tags, or body copy where stop words are missing. For example, consider these two search queries:
- ATM in New York
- ATM New York
In this case, the stop word is “in.” However, removing it does not change the contextual meaning of the query. On the other hand, if you write “Restaurants Brooklyn” in your content, it would read poorly without the stop word. It is not advisable to write content with missing keywords that tie everything together in full sentences.
As an SEO, there is no need to overly concern yourself with stop words or decide whether to remove them from your website. They used to be disregarded by search engines to improve crawling, indexing speed, and storage space utilization. Stop words are not contextually relevant to the content, and removing them does not alter the overall meaning of a text.
However, it is still recommended to retain stop words in your content. Bill Slawski suggests that while Google may treat stop words differently than before, acknowledging some of them as meaningful, it is a good idea to either explain their importance or remove such lists.
Stop words can have a significant impact on search engine result pages (SERPs). Dawn Anderson provides an example where the word “the” can change the entire SERP. The usage of stop words is relevant for understanding the context of a search query, which greatly affects what is presented to users.
Now, let’s explore how to effectively use stop words in different aspects of your URL, page titles, and content.
Page URLs: Stop words in URLs have been a topic of discussion in the SEO community, but there is no need to worry excessively. If you use WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin, you might have received recommendations to remove stop words from your page URLs. Sometimes, the CMS or webmaster uses the page heading or title to generate a page’s slug, resulting in lengthy URLs. Refer to our guide on creating SEO-friendly URLs for strategies to shorten or optimize them while keeping them meaningful and readable. However, if you need to shorten a lengthy URL, you can consider removing stop words that do not impact the context. Google recommends maintaining a simple URL structure.
Page Titles and Headings: There are numerous headings and title tags in SERPs that lack stop words. However, it is advisable to retain them. Title tags are not only for search engines; they also appear on the SERPs. For example, consider the following title tag: “Best Shows Movies Streaming HBO Max – Variety.” If stop words were removed, it would read awkwardly and indicate that a part of the title is missing. When an element is visible to users and influences their decision to click or stay on your page, prioritizing user experience is crucial.
Content: When it comes to the body content, stop words should never be removed as it would render the text unreadable. Always prioritize your users’ experience and avoid sacrificing it based on how you perceive search engines might interpret your content.
Stop words are essential for enhancing user experience. In reality, most marketers do not need to worry about stop words. By understanding their nature and how search engines handle them, you can make informed decisions about their usage. Disregard advice suggesting the removal of stop words from titles and headings as it can negatively impact user experience. However, consider excluding them from page URLs if necessary, as long as it does not alter the context. Remember, prioritizing users is typically the best approach for both user experience and search engines.
Although there is no definitive universal list of stop words, we have compiled an extensive collection of over 167 stop words. You can refer to this list as a point of reference when optimizing your site and understanding how search engines may treat these words.