Google’s John Mueller Recently Assured Users Not To Worry About Using Stop Words in Search Queries

More than a decade ago Google used to filter out certain words, also referred to as stop words, in search queries with a message explaining that the certain word is a ‘common word’ and therefore ‘not included’ in the search. Now Google goes for full sentences. Searchers can, knowingly or unknowingly, just ‘write naturally’, as suggested by John Mueller, the Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst from Google.

Recently he responded to various comments made on Twitter about a recent article outlining common Stop Words for 2021. The article caused many in the SEO industry to speak up about the contested topic, some saying that it’s outdated and a lot has changed since Google used the stop word filter. 

His Tweet reassuringly stated, ‘I wouldn’t worry about stop words at all; write naturally. Search engines look at much, much more than individual words. “To be or not to be” just is a collection of stop words, but stop words alone don’t do it any justice’.  

What are Stop Words?

Stop Words are words like ‘the’, ‘at’, ‘is’, ‘on’, or any short function words that don’t hold a lot of meaning on their own, these usually create meaning or context between other, more important, words in a sentence. Search engines like Google used to filter out these function words during a search before processing the natural language data taken mainly from the text. Filtering these words also saved storage space.   

Many of us usually just type our questions and queries as full sentences into the Google Search bar, but little do we know maybe the words composing these questions and queries are affecting our search results, especially if we need website traffic for an online business. 

Although some might disagree with this, stating that stop words are too common and will prevent effective SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies, there are certain advantages to using stop words. Including these in a search may also provide more information about the overall meaning of the sentence, producing better search results. 

It was in 2008 when Google stopped displaying the stop words filter message and started including some stop words as part of searches. This is a primary reason why stop words shouldn’t completely stop – they can potentially positively affect search engine results, or SERPs (Search Engines Results Pages). 

The following example posed to searchers online gives more context about the usefulness of stop words: using the word ‘the’ in the term ‘The Matrix’ will bring up results about the movie if that is what the searcher is looking for, but if the term ‘Matrix’ is searched for without the word ‘the’, it will show a different set of results in the search engine. 

Bloggers need to be discerning when using stop words due to keyword usage, character spacing and the character count allowed when it comes to titles or even subtitles. Using clear and concise words related to the topic at hand will determine effective search results, however not including stop words in a title tag, for example, may make it read without proper context when it shows up in the SERP. For page URLs, removing excessive stop words will make it easier to read. 

Final Thoughts

It comes down to how the stop words are treated that determines whether or not they are useful, which will determine the success of SERPs and ultimately user-friendliness. Stop words almost become like two sides of the same coin and knowing when and where to use these will certainly help. It is useful for anyone to understand how search engines work and know more about stop words and phrases by having a list of these at hand.