• Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

That is an excellent question.  One which is asked (and debated) as often by experienced SEOs and Web designers as it is by people new to the industry.

The keywords meta-tag  was created when the web was young to help site designers let engines know what a Web site was all about, and it worked well.  Too well.  Early SEOs started abusing the system by stuffing them with popular search terms that were not at all related to the current page to drive up rankings and page views.  The search engineers figured this out pretty quickly and either decreased the importance of the tag, or ignored it completely.

So why the debate then?  Because two of the major engines, Google and Yahoo seem to have different opinions of the tag.  Yahoo tells us to use it to improve the ranking of our sites.  Though they give no indication of it’s importance.  On the other hand, Google says nothing about the keyword meta tag.  They don’t say to use it, but neither do they say they ignore it, as they do with other tags.

I recently conducted a survey of SEOs, Web Designers and E-Marketers to see who uses the keywords meta-tag.  45% of respondents said they do not use the keywords meta-tag.

In September, 2007 Danny Sullivan from proclaimed his hatred of the keyword meta-tag and attempted to kill it once and for all.  His article was well researched, articulate and convincing…to some.  Scrolling to the bottom you’ll see the same debate again with some agreeing with Danny, others disagreeing.

So what’s the average Joe to do when the experts can’t even agree?  That’s a decision you’ll have to make on your own.  However, I will tell you that I use them.

Why do I use them?  First because it’s easy to do.  Second, if I don’t stuff them and the engine(s) use them, I get a boost (however minor it may be) in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).  If the engine(s) don’t use them; well, I’m only out a minute of my time.

Yahoo tells us they use it, so that’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned – why waste a little help?

Google, well that’s a bit more tricky.  Their silence on its use makes me suspect that it is used by the algorithm in some minor way.  Perhaps as a part of an overall keyword checklist;  I think they read all the places a keyword might appear (page title, URL, description, keywords, content, alt tags, headings, etc.) and compute a score.  Of course no one but the engineers know for sure.  So again, if they do use it, great.  If not, well I’m not out anything but a minute of my time.

If you decide to use them, use only about 15-20 words that relate to the content of the site – DO NOT STUFF THEM WITH SPAM.

So what will YOU do?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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15 Responses

  1. If you think of Google as a database of websites…..

    your URL is the identifying record.
    The keywords tag is like your categories.. Google may not use them to rank your website, buy they may use them to decide what your “keywords” your website ranks on???

    think about it.

  2. 2
    Olivier  //

    To tell you the truth, it’s the last thing we do and we usually invest as little time as possible by sticking in the most pertinent words from the page or post and that’s it. No density tests or much research invested. We’ve taken this philosophy ever since Google Webmaster Tools started reporting on Title and description but not keywords. That was the indication of where it stood and where we should stand.

  3. 3
    Nicki Hicks  //

    Jack, you bring up an interesting dilemma. Although since Google doesn’t seem to either confirm or deny using keywords, I simply avoid using them all together.
    Since they can be so over abused, I’m floored Yahoo continues to use them.

  4. I agree with you completely in your relatively neutral take on keyword meta tags. Tons of seo experts whom I respect and admire say they aren’t worth anything for ranking, but I haven’t seen a single one say they hurt your rankings.

    If it only takes an extra minute, and it doesn’t hurt me, I’m putting them in.

  5. 5
    Charles Sipe  //

    Why spend your time on something that you don’t know will help you, when you can spend your time on something that you know will help you? I would suggest spending more time on researching and creating valuable content, and building inbound links. If you have time left over, you can add metatags, but it isn’t the best utilization of your time.

  6. Sure we use the keyword meta tag. It may not help much, but it certainly doesn’t hurt and the amount of time is miniscule. Just throw in some phrases you are already using on the page and perhaps a couple of common mis-spellings and you’re done. 60 seconds tops.

    Another way to do something all engines will “see” is to place a visible “tags” section somewhere on each page. You’ll basically include the same phrases that would also go in the keyword meta. Copy & Paste. It’s so easy.

  7. 7
    Ann Cummings  //

    I had been taught, and have continued to read, that using well thought out keyword meta tags did play a big role in how you’re find, as long as they’re used appropriately. And to make sure to use them in alt titles and pictures, if appropriate.

    Based on Phil’s comment above, I understand now why tags are visible on many sites. I had always wondered why those would show – now I understand a reason for that. Thanks

  8. 8
    The Medical Plus  //

    I still add them since they mean no harm, then keyword tag is a place to put secondary keywords because title and description tags has limitation of character length.

  9. 9
    Brian  //

    I dont think it’s so much that “it only takes a minute and cannot hurt”. I think the argument for not using them is that if you do not know how to implement them in the correct fashion, they can wind up hurting your ranking for some of the big-guys like Google.

    Example: you have a dog site, and in the keywords you have the words “canine” to try and catch some more audience. However, you do not have that word written hardly anywhere in your site’s content. While your mindset may be “Well, it only took me a minute and it can’t hurt”… what if (and a big what if, as I am not saying I know what’s going on, this is just speculation) Google looks at that and immediately writes you off as a potential spammer?

    I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to do some reading on the proper usage of these tags, before assuming it’ll only take a minute and it cannot hurt.

    I will say however, that I have spent MONTHS fine-tuning my tags and have noticed a major improvement in terms of visitors from Yahoo (NOT Google).

  10. 10
    Eric  //

    This is something that has bothered me more for the fact that so many people think it’s a huge element in proper SEO. I still use it because it’s easy to use (and Yahoo and do check it out), but I definitely don’t put much weight into it.

    I’ve heard from some it’s a good place to put in commonly misspelled keywords, although I think that’s a little too black-hat for me.

    I did read that Danny Sullivan article, and he did some good tests – I personally believe Google ignores the keyword meta tag (and always has), which is why I don’t think it’s worth putting too much time into. As you said, they’re quiet about it, so there’s no way to know for sure – my suspicion is that, if anything, they check it for keyword spamming may punish such sites for doing that.

  11. 11
    Annen  //

    I always thought that while Googe does not say anything about the meta tags, it does play a minor part in their algorithm.

  12. 12
    DJ Morris  //

    Great post and it was really helpful to read, but I had one questions…how many mets keywords should you add to the settings and to each blog post? 5, 10, more, or doesn’t it matter? Thanks

  13. 13
    Jack Leblond  //

    You’ll want to keep the total character count (regardless of number of words) under 65. Keeping in mind that as of right now the only major engine still using these is Yahoo, and they have minimal effect (if any) on ranking.

  14. 14
    T. Marie Kennedy  //

    Thank you so much for this post. I was lost and now I’m found… Much Appreciation!