Not long ago Google and other search engines used to ignore what was termed “stop words.” Stop words are supposedly words that search engines ignore. These are common words such as in, a, the, of, or, on, etc. Full list of stop words.
Google used to provide a statement that certain words were actually being removed from your search query. Google used to tell you words were not being considered in your search. If you searched for “a restaurant in the Phoenix area”, you would see a statement at the top of the results that said “the following words have been omitted from your search: a, the.”
Search engines such as Google would often ignore them when indexing the words on pages to conserve storage space. They tend to slow down a search without improving the results. But is this still true?
Google now stores and processes all words on a web page. This includes what used to be called stop words.
I ran some tests to see how much search results would vary using a single stop word. I ran comparisons for “plumber los angeles” and “plumber in los angeles” (no quotes). I looked at the top 5 results, only 3 were the same.
I did the same for plumber in Denver and for Portland. I repeated with dentist. What I found was 53% of the time listings would still fall into the top 5. This means that 47% of the time they didn’t. This was by only adding a two letter “stop word.”
Other interesting observations were:
- Google sponsored ads were different.
- Google Maps (7-pack) seemed unaffected.
My sample size was small, but there was a big difference even with a subtle change in the keyword phrase. My conclusion is that stop words need to be included in your SEO strategies and how you place words on your pages. You do need to look at which exact phrases a searcher is likely use.