SEO Stop Words Guide for 2021 (with List)

4 months ago

There are certain words that search engines ignore, both in search queries and search results. 

Words like the, in, or a.

These are what's known as SEO stop words and they are typically articles, prepositions, conjunctions, or pronouns. They don't change the meaning of a query and are used when writing content to structure sentences properly. 

Want to see an example? Take a look at these two search queries:

  • Restaurants in Brooklyn
  • Restaurants Brooklyn

In this case, in is the stop word. But remove it, and the contextual meaning of the query doesn't change. 

SEO stop words are something that can cause confusion and division among marketers. You won't have to look far to find page headings, title tags, or even content that's missing words to create complete sentences or phrases. Those who engage in this practice are hurting user experience. 

To determine how and when SEO stop words should be used within your content (and when they shouldn't be), you need to understand what they are and how search engines handle them.

In this guide, you'll learn exactly what SEO stop words are, see a full list of them, and learn when you should and shouldn't be using them.

Specifically, we'll look at:

SEO stop words, also referred to as Google stop words, are common words that search engines ignore, such as words like the, in, or a.

Why?

Because they don't change the context of a piece of content or a search query, by skipping these words, it means they're able to speed up crawling and indexing.

In fact, this HubSpot research piece estimates that 25% of blog content alone is made up of stop words. If bots were crawling all those stop words, that's a huge impact on the number of words crawled and processed.

The concept of stop words was first coined by Hans Peter Luhn, one of the pioneers in information retrieval. While no universal list of words exists, these are typically the most common words and include articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. 

But how much do you need to worry about stop words as an SEO? And how does the fact that search engines ignore these change the way to approach content creation and optimization?

The short answer is yes. Stop words are ignored by search engines to speed up crawling and indexing and save storage space.

These get ignored both in search queries and in search results. These words have nothing to do with the content at a contextual level, and removing them doesn't change the overall meaning of a text.

However, that doesn't mean you should start removing stop words from your content. Below, we'll look at how you should and shouldn't use stop words when optimizing a site. 

Let's make one thing clear and answer one of the most commonly asked questions on this topic, "are stop words bad for SEO?"

  • To a search engine crawler: yes. They take extra time and resources to process, and ignoring these means it's possible to serve (the same) results faster than if they were processed.
  • But to a user: no. You need to ensure that you properly understand how to use stop words in SEO to avoid harming your site's user experience.

Imagine you went and stripped out stop words from your site's content. You'd end up with sentences like, "best restaurant Brooklyn" rather than "This is the best restaurant in Brooklyn." 

It means the same, but it's harder to read. 

Learn where you should and shouldn't use stop words, keeping your site's user experience at the forefront of your mind whilst optimizing. 

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Now that we've taken discussed what SEO stop words are, let's look at how to use them effectively within the different aspects of your URL, page titles, and content.

If your site runs on WordPress and you use the Yoast SEO plugin, you've probably seen a recommendation to remove stop words from your page URL.

It's crucial to create SEO-friendly URLs. You need to create short, keyword-rich URLs without over-optimizing wherever possible.

Smart SEOs optimize their URLs, but it's not uncommon for webmasters to use the page heading or page title. This often results in lengthy URLs. 

Let's say you've published a blog post titled "Home Renovation Loans: A Definitive Guide."

By default, your CMS might create the URL slug as "yourdomain.com/home-renovation-loans-a-definitive-guide/." Remove the stop words (the ones that don't change the context), and we get "yourdomain.com/home-renovation-loans/."

This is a clean and concise URL that targets the primary target keyword of the page. In cases like this, removing the stop words improves the user experience. 

The industry is often divided on whether or not you should remove SEO stop words from your page's title tags and headings, but in our opinion, you should keep them in place.

Title tags aren't just used by search engines. They show on the SERPs.

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Imagine the above example had a title tag without stop words. It would read as "Best Shows Movies Streaming HBO Max - Variety." Removing the stop words here makes it read awkwardly and it's obvious that a part of the title is missing. 

When an element is seen by users and used to decide whether to click onto (or stay on) your page, consider leaving the stop words in. 

This is a simple one:

You should never remove stop words from your body content; this would make it totally unreadable. You must put your users first and never sacrifice their experience to how you perceive a search engine may view your content.

There's no single universal list of SEO stop words, but we've pulled together a comprehensive list of more than 175.

Use it as a reference point when optimizing your site and understanding how search engines handle these words. 

A

a
about
above
actually
after
again
against
all
almost
also
although
always
am
an
and
any
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
whenever
when's
where
whereas
wherever
where's
whether
which
while
who
whoever
who's
whose
whom
why
why's
will
with
within
would

Y

yes
yet
you
you'd
you'll
you're
you've
your
yours
yourself
yourselves

The reality is that SEO stop words aren't something that most marketers need to worry about. By understanding what they are and how search engines process them, you're better equipped to make the right decisions around using them.

Ignore the advice to remove them from titles and headings as this can harm user experience, but consider excluding them from your page URLs.

Always put your users first, and you'll usually find that this is also the best thing for search engines, too. 

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