SEO Glossary / Keyword Stemming

Keyword Stemming

What is Keyword Stemming?

Keyword stemming refers to Google’s capacity to recognize and understand the different forms of the same word in a specific search query. Instead of showing results only for the exact terms that you typed in, SERPs will also include other variations of the original word.

The name “stemming” comes from the fact that a “word stem” - the base or root form of a word - is used to analyze the meaning of the search query and display relevant results. In other words, Google’s smart enough to pick up on the variations of a word - along with the “stem word.”

Here’s an example of what keyword stemming looks like:

If your query contains the word “garden,” Google’s algorithm would recognize some variations of the word - “gardening” and “garden” - and render them in bold.

It is worth adding that stemming is often mixed up with “lemmatization.” While the search engine uses both methods to analyze the meaning behind a word in the search query, there is a difference between the two:

  • Stemming relies on a word’s “stem” or root, cutting out common prefixes and suffixes.
  • Lemmatization considers the context in which that word is being used.

That said, both serve the same purpose in Google’s eyes - getting to the root form of a word and returning more relevant results.

Why is Keyword Stemming Important?

Keyword stemming lets Google go beyond the “exact match” keyword recognition and match the original keyword to its variations when relevant. Considering that Google’s focused on providing better and more relevant search results, the importance of keyword stemming is undeniable.

And at the same time, it also benefits content creators:

  • Natural Writing: It allows them to write in a more “natural” manner, include some variations of their main keyword, and avoid keyword stuffing.
  • Visibility: Using several different versions of the root keyword can make your content more “searchable,” which can drive more traffic to your site.
  • SERP Inclusion: Even if your page does not contain the exact keyword the user searched for, Google will still be able to recognize the variations you used in your content - meaning you can still show up in SERPs.

Can You Use Keyword Stemming in SEO?

Yes, keyword stemming can be helpful SEO-wise, but not in the way you might have imagined it to be.

Google can recognize a “keyword stem” and return search results that contain certain variations of that keyword. You’ll notice this in most SERPs. So, you can potentially increase your chances of ranking for multiple queries by including these keyword variations in your content.

However, manual keyword stemming - where you add different prefixes and suffixes to the main keywords or use plurals and common misspellings intentionally to rank for multiple keywords - may just be recognized as keyword stuffing. And that could lead to your content being demoted in SERPs.

Writing more freely, with the end user in mind, and using natural language - rather than focusing on Google’s algorithm - is a much safer route here.


Is keyword stemming a ranking factor?

No, keyword stemming isn’t an actual ranking factor. While Google recognizes the word “stems” and uses stemming as a way to understand the page’s content and match it to the search query to meet the user’s intent, intentional keyword stemming won’t automatically help you rank higher in SERPs.

Google’s continuous developments and algorithm updates have allowed it to better comprehend each search query and the user’s intent behind it - which, in turn, delivers highly relevant search results. There might still be instances where you’d want to avoid stemming. If that is the case, you can put your search query in quotation marks to indicate to Google that you want the results to include that exact phrase.

For more details, visit Ranktracker's SEO Guide.