What happened to all the great keyword stuffers? The truth about long tail headlines, content marketing apps and anyone who uses Drake to sell shoes

Keyword Stuffing vs Longtail.jpg

It used to be you could walk down the street day or night and toss a coin into the air and you’d hit at least one keyword stuffer on the head. These days you can only find them at bars, usually nursing their drinks until last call. Or at the zoo.

If you strike up a conversation with a disgraced keyword stuffer, you’re bound to hear about the good old days when all words were created equal. Even the same words. Even the ones you used so many times in a paragraph your paragraphs began to look less like a form of human communication and more like a special language coupons use to talk to each other when you’re not looking.

The days when you could stuff urls and jpgs and pdfs with keywords.

When you could stuff headlines and captions and tags.

When you could mention “these five effective content marketing tips” 111 times in a 250-word article and be the toast of the town.

When you could Google bomb.

Those were the days.

Now it’s all long tail this and long tail that. But where have we really gotten? What advances in the art of content marketing have really been made? Could a long tail champion of 2019 go five minutes in the ring against a 2015 keyword stuffer in his prime?

There is something else to consider. Keyword stuffers—once drinking champagne out of Google’s shoes—now enjoy almost universal infamy. They’ve been dismantled and swept under the carpet of polite internet society, so we will probably never get a chance to witness this epic battle of wits.

Or so you thought.

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Stuffer vs Long Tail

With the advances in content marketing software being made today—many of the same advances that put keyword stuffers out of business—we actually have the tools we need to put these two titans of content marketing strategy together in the ring for a virtual battle of keyword prowess. In fact, I’ve prepared a test of my own. This is how it will go down.

I’m going to test two headlines (one long tail and one crammed with keywords) on the headline testing app Sharethrough and see what kind of numbers I turn up. And because there is only one king outside Las Vegas—King Data—we’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

Speaking of data, best practices say that you should aim for less than 2% keyword density in your content. But what does your stomach say? If you think Dana Carbuthe of Ponce de Leon, Rhode Island, who used to earn $399/hour from the comfort of his own living room filling the Internet with the same five words, should, with a written public apology (with less than 2% keyword density), be allowed back on the Internet swapping content marketing lore with the likes of Neil Patel, please let us know in the comments section below.

Gout Shoes.jpg

Consumer need: Gout shoes

The following hard data analyzes two headlines for an imaginary article about an obscure consumer need: gout shoes. (No, not “goat” shoes, gout shoes. Imagine how Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump move around their kitchens at night searching for a plate of cookies. Possibly Angela Merkel is a sufferer too.) Along with the headlines, I give Sharethrough’s overall score and breakdown, which tests for “engagement” and “impression”.


Headline 1 (Long tail): Do you suffer from gout? How plastic hospital shoes could improve your circulation while adding years to your life.

Headline 2 (Stuffer): Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes!


Overall score: 80%

Engagement score: 77%
Impression score: 72%


Overall score: 74%

Engagement score: 75%
Impression score: 50%


Clearly, at this stage in their evolution, my headlines are more or less equally mediocre. There is very little difference in SEO potential between the keyword stuffed and the long-tailed option. Sharethrough points to some missing ingredients, however, which I draw your attention to:

“The variation among engagement rates boils down to simple word choice. For example, using celebrities in your headline (sup Drake!) or humanizing the ad with words related to people (i.e. hair, friend, laugh) can increase engagement.”

I believe, after this analysis, we can proceed to round two. How much longer will the homebody long tail headline last against the hard-hitting, shit-talking keyword stuffer?

Gout Shoes with Drake.jpg

Gout shoes redux

In this round, we spruce up our headlines for maximum impact.


Headline 1 (Long tail): Do you suffer from gout, Drake? (LOL) How plastic hospital shoes could improve your hair while adding years to your friends’ lives.

Headline 2 (Stuffer): Hey, Drake! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Discount gout shoes! Hair! Friend! Laugh!


Overall score: 100%

Engagement score: 100%
Impression score: 100%


Overall score: 99%

Engagement score: 100%
Impression score: 94%


I’d like to wrap up this “study” by saying that I’ve learned something vital about content marketing, something about the relative worth of using keywords in headlines.

But if I learned anything, it’s this. It doesn’t make a difference if you cram your headlines with keywords or pad them with “human” elements like Drake, hair, laughter and friends (seriously, Sharethrough?). If you don’t believe in the brands you’re writing about, and if you don’t spend the time it takes to think of creative ways to get your readers to engage with them, you’re just selling gout shoes.

So, beware of content marketing apps. Beware of content marketing gurus. Most importantly, beware of anyone or anything that gives you a score of 99% for mentioning Drake and gout shoes in the same line.

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Bonus bogus headline

Imagine how Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump move around their kitchens at night searching for a plate of cookies

Overall score: 86%

Engagement score: 84%
Impression score: 78%

When Max Sheridan isn't crunching the numbers at Storyline Creatives, he's writing stories and designing comeback campaigns for Nicolas Cage (what, you don't think he needs a comeback campaign?). His novel Dillo was published by Shotgun Honey in 2017. Talk to Max at your own risk here.