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Connor Lahey

What Are Stop Words? A Guide for 2021 (with List)

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Connor Lahey
what are stop words

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

Words like the, in, or a.

These are known as 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.

You won't have to look far to find page headings, title tags, or even body copy where stop words are missing. 

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. 

However, if you write “Restaurants Brooklyn” in your content, it reads poorly without them. You wouldn’t write content in full sentences missing key words that tie everything together. 

SEOs shouldn’t spend their time worrying too much about stop words or trying to figure out whether they should remove them from anywhere on their website.

In this post, we'll dive into stop words and cover:

What Are Stop Words in SEO?

As already discussed, stop words are common words, such as articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns, that search engines may ignore. Words such as the, in, or a.

The concept of stop words was first coined by Hans Peter Luhn, one of the pioneers in information retrieval. 

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

Does Google Ignore Stop Words?

Stop words used to be used by search engines to speed up crawling and indexing to save storage space. These got 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 remove stop words from your content. Below, we'll look at how you should and shouldn't use stop words when optimizing a site. 

Here's what Bill Slawski has to say about stop words and how Google (may) treat them:

Stop words can sometimes have a big impact on a SERP. Dawn Anderson points out a great example of how one word, in this case the word "the," could change the entire SERP:

Dawn also provided further evidence that search engines do not use stop lists by referencing this study from Standford and quoted:

The general trend in IR systems over time has been from standard use of quite large stop lists (200-300 terms) to very small stop lists (7-12 terms) to no stop list whatsoever. Web search engines generally do not use stop lists.

She went on to cite more examples as well: 

Generally speaking, search engines use stop words to better understand the context of the search as they can greatly impact what is represented to users. 

Using Stop Words in Your Content

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

Should You Use Stop Words in Your Page URLs?

Stop words in URLs have been discussed for years in the SEO community, but you shouldn't worry about it too much. 

If your site runs on WordPress and you use the Yoast SEO plugin, you probably remember seeing recommendations to remove stop words from your page URL.

It’s not uncommon for a CMS or webmaster to use the page heading or page title to create a page’s slug. This can result in lengthy URLs. 

You can check out our guide to creating SEO-friendly URLs. We discuss shortening or optimizing where possible to keep URLs easy to read and meaningful.

However, if you must shorten a lengthy URL, you can consider removing stop words if they don't impact the context. Google's view is that they recommend keeping a simple URL structure

Should You Use Stop Words in Your Page Titles and Headings?

There are plenty of headings and title tags in the SERP that are missing stop words. However, in our opinion, you should keep them in place.

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

best streaming shows hbo max serp screenshot

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 on (or stay on) your page, you should always prioritize user experience.

Should You Use Stop Words in Your Content?

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.

Stop Words are Important for User Experience

The reality is that 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 if you need to shorten them and it doesn't change the context.

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

A Comprehensive A-Z List of 175+ Stop Words

There's no single universal list of 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 may 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

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Connor Lahey
SEMrush

SEMrush 员工。

Editor, SEO strategist, and writer. Enjoys monitoring SERP volatility. You can find me reading Tolkien in the far north of Norway.
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