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The 4 Biggest Problems With Keyword Overuse in SEO

November 14th, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Kim Kovelle

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You know a spammy-feeling website right away. It’s jammed with repeated phrases or terms trying to tempt Google’s algorithm. And it’s obvious. They call it “keyword stuffing” for a reason.

But these days, keyword overuse is much more common — and easier to stumble into. Repeating a phrase too many times on a webpage can happen innocently enough. But it can also ding your SEO, or search engine optimization, which can hurt your visibility on Google.

At Zoe Marketing & Communications, we’ve helped other businesses fine-tune their keywords in the past 15+ years. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of keyword overuse, including:

You’ll walk away with a clear understanding of how keyword use crops up, the pitfalls and even a few solutions. And you’ll find some solid next steps to improving your SEO marketing strategy.

The role of keywords in SEO

Keywords are the cornerstone of SEO. Simply put, they’re the terms and phrases people type into search engines when looking for information, products or services.

They’re like a bridge, connecting user queries to your content. These words appear in headlines, subheads, body copy, URLs and behind-the-scenes meta descriptions.

Used strategically, keywords draw in the right kind of traffic, boosting your sales over time.

What keyword overuse is and looks like

Keyword overuse happens when your content uses certain terms or phrases too often.

It’s often lumped in with keyword stuffing, a more aggressive “black hat” tactic that deliberately tries to manipulate search engine rankings.

However, overuse often comes from good intentions — such as trying to be diligent about including keywords. While the words are relevant, though, they can feel unnatural or forced. And, after 25 years in the game, Google has caught on to the nuance.

For example, take the keyword phrase “top-ranked high school.” Overused, it could look like this:

As a top-ranked high school, we pride ourselves on offering excellent academic programs. Our top-ranked high school offers a variety of extracurricular activities. Enroll in our top-ranked high school to ensure a bright future for your child.

It’s not always included in every sentence like this, and the writing can still be solid. But there’s a bit too much. It’s subtle but can feel almost off-putting and more salesy than informative. 

And this SEO mistake can lead to several issues.

4 big problems with keyword overuse

In particular, keyword overuse can curb your content quality, hurt your site’s user experience, earn search engine penalties and ding your long-term SEO. Here’s a look at each problem.

1. Reduces the quality of your content

Too many keywords disrupt the natural flow of your writing. It can seem forced and unnatural.

And, like Google, today’s readers are savvy. They quickly pick up on content that’s more about search engines than helping them. They jump ship faster — and won’t return.

Over time, that also harms your brand’s credibility in both people’s and Google’s “eyes.”

Improving your content’s quality

Instead, use keywords to enhance your content, instead of making them a distraction, by:

  • Doing good keyword research to understand how people phrase their questions
  • Addressing your audience's needs and interests first
  • Including keywords naturally, as if you're chatting with your reader

2. Negatively impacts your user experience

User experience, or UX, is a core SEO consideration — and content plays a considerable role.

Repeating keywords too much creates a clunky and uncomfortable reading experience. The organic rhythm is thrown off, and readers struggle to stay engaged.

As a result, you may find yourself facing:

  • Less time spent on your website
  • Higher bounce rates from your site
  • Loss of possible customers to competitors with better content
  • Fewer first-time conversions and repeat visitors

Improving your UX

To ensure people don’t leave your site, possibly for good, aim to:

  • Strive for a balance between SEO and readability
  • Use keywords strategically and sparingly, prioritizing an organic fit
  • Regularly review your content from a reader’s POV to ensure it’s informative, engaging and easy to read

3. Earns search engine penalties

While not as severe as keyword stuffing, overusing keywords still triggers red flags for search engines. Modern algorithms recognize and penalize content that appears too saturated.

The result? It can contribute to lower search rankings at best — and, at worst, temporary removal from results altogether. And this can hurt your organic traffic and visibility.

Improving your standing with Google

Keep in Google’s good graces by focusing on:

  • Maintaining a natural keyword density of 3% or below. Tools like Yoast SEO can help. Or divide the number of times you used the keyword by the total number of words in an article and multiply the result by 100 to get your percentage.
  • Occasionally checking for search engine algorithm updates to tweak your strategy

4. Diminishes your long-term SEO value

Finally, keyword overuse has a detrimental effect over time. Search engines keep increasing their laser focus on content that provides real value to users vs. SEO optimization.

This means more “saturated” content that’s working well today may not age well. As a result, that can require more work updating your content in the near future to stay competitive.

It’s also possible that, as Google keeps evolving, it may start penalizing previously acceptable practices. The result, yet again, can be a drop in your rankings. 

Improving your SEO long-term

Think of the long haul, and set your sights on:

  • Creating evergreen content that remains relevant and useful over time
  • Using keywords in a way that supports your topic and adds value to the reader
  • Including related phrases and synonyms to diversify your content and make it richer

Next steps to improving your keyword SEO strategy

Overusing keyword phrases can be an easy mistake to make. And, even if it’s a “mild” case, it can negatively affect your content quality, UX, search engine rankings and overall SEO.

In this blog, you discovered exactly how these problems play out — and some solutions. Feeling ready to tighten up your SEO game? Talk to us. Zoe Marketing & Communications has 15+ years of keyword knowledge, and we can tailor a plan to meet your goals.

Want to learn more about SEO, first? Discover more detail about:

Kim Kovelle

As Zoe Marketing & Communications’ content manager, Kim Kovelle brings nearly 20 years of writing and editing experience in metro Detroit. She has strong roots in community journalism and a knack for making complicated topics make more sense.