SEO Tip – META keywords

October 17, 2009
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keywords SEO Tip   META keywordsHopefully last week’s SEO Tip didn’t make your brain hurt too bad – I promise not to get that geeky again for a while.

I know some you  of are already thinking up snarky comments about how useless you think the META Keywords are – take a deep breath, count to 10, and read on.  I bet I can change your mind.  Before we get into that though, if you are not familiar with them, you should review my META Tags article from a few weeks ago.

In early the days of the internet, META Keywords were a great way to help the search engines categorize your content properly.  Thanks the the spammers though, they have been degraded to providing only minor value – but META Keywords DO add value.   More about that later.

The keywords META tag is useful for three things.  First, it helps to reinforce the primary keywords which are located in your content. Second, use it to add related keywords which are not in your content. Lastly, use it to add common misspellings of your keywords.  As with all things SEO, stuffing them will do more harm than good so don’t do it.

OK, OK, you want proof, right?



Advertise at AG

I conducted a survey of SEOs and web developers in January 2009, 55% of the respondents indicated they use and believe that the META Keywords tag has some value.  If we believe, it must be true, right? Not enough?  OK, read on then Mr. doubty-pants.

For Yahoo it’s easy.  Yahoo recently caused a bit of a stir in the SEO community when they announced that they would NO LONGER SUPPORT META KEYWORDS.  Some people did not believe it though and went to work testing it.  One of those people was Danny Sulivan from the site Search Engine Land.  His test proved that Yahoo does still use the META keyword in it’s ranking algorithm.  A very important thing to note – the test Danny did also proves that a site can rank for a word that exists only in the keywords tag and not in the content.  Of course, his test page had no competition.  If it had, then using the words only in the meta would not have been as successful in getting ranked, but the page still would have been located.

For Google, it’s not quite so clear cut…yet.  Experiments are being conducted that will tell us if they are effective or not.  In the meantime, you need to be a bit of a conspiracy theorist and read between the lines of what Google tells us.  In a Google Webmaster Blog post, they highlight what tags they use and do not use.  They chose not to mention the keywords tag – to either say they do or do not use it.  Interesting.  More intriguing to me is the response from the author to a question asked in the comments.  “we generally ignore the contents of the “keywords” meta tag.”  What does generally mean? Of course, the post is a few years old – decades in ‘net years, so things likely have changed since then, but I could not find anything officially saying they are not used.  I think they are.

So should you use them?  Absolutely.  Will they rocket you to the top of page one in the SERPs?  Absolutely not.  Will they help you rank better for your chosen keywords?  YES!

It’s clear that Yahoo uses them, and that alone is enough reason to use the META keywords.  Google, well I’m sure they do, but for what and how much they count – the jury is still out on that.

Jack Leblond is a SEO/SEM professional working for a large corporation full time in Austin, TX. He is not a Realtor, he is our in-house SEO expert. Jack is the Director of Internet Strategy and Operations for TG (www.tgslc.org). In addition to managing the team that develops and maintains the company's multiple Web sites, he focuses on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), e-marketing and Social Media. Jack's background ranges from Submarine Sonar Technician/Instructor for the United States Navy, technical writer, pioneer in internet/intranet creation for McGraw-Hill and Times Mirror Higher Education, former Adjunct Professor for two Universities teaching web-related courses, has served as a city council member and co-founded Net-Smart, a web design and hosting company, where he managed networks and oversaw the development of hundreds of Web sites. As a free-lance SEO consultant, Jack performs SEO Site Audits for small/medium businesses that want their web sites to perform better in the search engine listings.


  • http://www.atlantarealestateinfo.com/ Atlanta Real Estate

    Jack:

    Good post. Unless it’s stuffed, I think we may as well go one using it, just in case. Certainly nobody is going to be penalized by having a few keywords in the META keywords tag.

    On another note, I heard what I take to be the beginning of the end on AM radio this morning. It was a local Atlanta area infomercial for SEO services! They were touting multiple URLs, multiple Blogs, and KW targeting.

    Right there on AM radio, with call-ins, testimonials and everything.

    I thought to myself, when this stuff is being broadcast on AM radio, it’s time to look forward and find the next thing on the horizon!

    It’s like the housing bubble or stock market bubble – when it gets this hyped and common, it’s typically over already!

    I’m a big proponent of search, and maybe that theory does not apply in this case, but who knows.

    RM

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  • Bob Wilson

    Love the pre-emptive strike there Jack.

    IMO what this proves most and is extremely valuable when it comes to SEO is that it is such a fluid medium that quoting almost anything as gospel that is not current may not be very wise.

    It was Danny Sullivan who wrote about the death of the keyword meta tag in Oct 2002. Then again in Sept 2007 Danny wrote again about the meta keyword tag. In that article he said, “Even Evan Roseman from Google said at one point that Google reads the meta keywords tag, suggesting no doubt to some that Google uses the tag. To be clear, Google doesn’t. I’ll prove it further below, but it doesn’t, OK?”

    I was at that SES session and still have the notes. That is what makes this post so valuable, as it is the same Danny Sullivan who writes three days ago in the link Jack referenced that its no longer a sure bet, again.

    The moral of the story here and something Danny does better than anyone in search is to not be married to the opinion, as the game and the facts frequently change.

    And fwiw, read the articles Jack links to in his posts.

    • http://nmlab.com Benn Rosales

      Here’s the thing, operating a content management system (CMS) is not a pain if your total content archive contains 200 articles or less, and lower than 9 static pages with 10 total topics- you have a small enough website that the architecture is well understood by search engines in most cases, but over the years and accumulation of content you’ll regret not building a structure of cataloging for each piece of merchandise properly- it’s the equivalent of having merchandise piled into a room without an inventory control sheet and expecting the auditor to to guess what’s under all of those boxes.

      Keywords, meta tags, and categories go a very long way to long term management of content, and over the years equate to a well documented inventory of what’s in the warehouse that is your site. Anyone ignoring it today will surely end up having to spend a few weekends cleaning out the warehouse later in order that the CPA (search engine, or consumer) get a good idea of the value of the merchandise in the warehouse.

      Ignoring keywords today, fine, tomorrow, it’s one big ass mess. Who cares what the search engines do, it’s really about how well your consumer finds and consumes the product.

      Carefully merchandising each piece of your inventory as you create it, only ensures a productive end- your image illustrates my point.

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  • http://www.revealrealestate.com Claudia Gonella

    Another benefit of Meta taga is that they can serve as a short, text hook in your search results. The engines have character limits for these (I think Google limits to 160) so look out for that. If you write them well enough, it could increase your traffic by getting you more clicks from the search pages.

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  • http://RealEstateCrusher.com Alexis Jameson

    Good post and commentary. I think Realtors internet marketing is great but people
    are getting way to caught up with it and think that if you
    are great at blogging and marketing…the $$ just rolls in.

  • http://www.JackLeblond.com Jack Leblond

    All – thanks for the feedback. It’s amazing how something as simple as meta tags can create such controversy in an industry.

    As for those AM radio SEOs, they are probably the snake-oil type that every industry eventually gets. Unfortunately a lot of people will get burned by them, but they will eventually be figured out. People need to educate themselves before they hire an SEO.

  • http://www.atlantarealestateinfo.com/ Atlanta Real Estate

    Jack:

    I agree but was still surprised nonetheless to hear this nonsense on AM radio. “Our next caller wants to know what a BLOG is….”

    LOL!

  • http://www.uscybertek.com Brian Jambor

    I disagree with your article from the standpoint that Google announced on September 21, 2009 that they do not use the keywords meta tag in search engine placement. The blog post you referenced in your article was from 2007. I agree that you should still use meta keywords in your website from the standpoint that they may play a small part in other search engines (a.k.a. bing). Read the post below…

    http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html

  • http://www.jackleblond.com/why-frames-bad-seo/ Jack Leblond

    Brian – thanks for the link. Good to see Google being clear and not forcing us to read between the lines.

    As you said though, since Google is not the only game in town, it is a good idea to still use them.