What Are Stop Words?
You know those short, meaningless words that tend to fall between the more meaningful words in a sentence? Those are stop words. Think: a, an, the, by, for, of, or, and, but, how (among many others).
Given that this is an SEO blog, and we at Captivate Digital operate as a Melbourne SEO agency, it begs the question: how do stop words affect SEO?
Stop Words in SEO
Back in the older days of search engines, Google used to register stop words in searches. Therefore, a search for "how to read a book faster" would pick up websites that had optimised for that *exact* phrase. Optimising for a stop word-less phrase like "read book faster" would not equate to that site coming up on a search for "how to read a book faster".
But in recent years, search engines have come to realise that the user experience suffers when savvy website owners try to do the right thing and cut out those stop words in website copy. Even though they're meaningless on their own, stop words add meaning to the sentences they're used in.
So now, with Google's Hummingbird update, the Google search engine knows to ignore stop words in both search phrases and website content. This means that "how to read a book faster" is parsed as "read book faster", and both are considered the same keyword phrase. So since stop words don't really matter when it comes to SEO and Google searches, there's no need to insert curt phrases throughout your website that lack stop words and sound grammatically awkward.
One caveat, though: Stop words are not ignored when they change the meaning of the search phrase. (e.g. Alamo vs The Alamo = two very different searches)
SEO Best Practices
The bottom line is that stop words are largely ignored in searches because this enables search engines to parse websites faster. So, while it means there's no need to pad your website copy with awkward, stop word-less phrases like "SEO services Melbourne" (rather than "SEO services in Melbourne") just to rise in the search rankings, there are still a few best practices you should follow when optimising your site:
Cut out stop words in Page Titles and URLs. Keyword density is one factor in determining search rankings, and with limited character space in page titles and URLs it's beneficial to make good use of it. That means eliminating stop words.
Remember that the Yoast SEO Plugin is just a guide. Yoast doesn't ignore stop words like Google does, so it may give conflicting advice on optimising your web pages.