Do I need to use Meta Keywords ?
In another of our series about onsite search engine optimisation methods, we investigate here “Do I need to use Meta Keywords?” A subject of much confusion amongst many site owners we demystify the whole subject of keywords and their value (or not) to Search Engines.
What are Meta Keyword Tags?
Meta keyword tags are an attribute of meta tags. In HTML to assign a meta keyword you would need to use a HTML command such as: <meta name=”keywords” content=”one, two, three>, etc.”
Some examples of other popularly used meta elements include (bingbot, description, googlebot, language, robots, slurp and title).
Basic Facts about Meta Keyword Tags
Here are some basic facts about meta keywords tags:
Meta keyword tags are invisible on the webpage itself to visitors. To view them visitors would need to click “view source” and see the code lying underneath the page. That’s why this is called Metadata, i.e. the “data underneath the data”.
Meta keywords tags are not invisible to search engine bots. As they visit sites they will read the values of meta keyword fields and index them in their results.
The “meta” prefix originates from Greek and can be said to be a substitute for the word “about”. So Metadata means “about data”.
How to find Meta Keywords tags
If you are wondering how to find the meta keywords tags for a given website we’ve provided full instructions below for finding them on a Windows PC.
Follow these easy steps to find the meta keywords for the page:
Right hand click your mouse on the desired web page
Select the option from the drop-down list – “View page source”
To start a text find within this page, press Ctrl+F (at the same time)
Next copy this information string into your search bar: <meta name=”keywords”
How do Google, Yahoo and Bing Search Engines Use Meta Keyword Tags
The meta keywords tag was actively used by SEO Companies and website owners alike until September 2009, everything changed with the following announcement from Google:
“Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”. Information about Google’s thoughts on meta keywords can be found at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html
The following video from Matt Cutts, head of the Google Web Spam Team explains why (due to abuse) the meta keywords tag became totally ignored by Google.
Yahoo uses the meta keyword tag only where the keywords within the tag are not found elsewhere. Whilst this has marginal benefit it’s still not significant enough in our opinion to warrant adding the keywords.
In October 2009 Yahoo issued an e-mail to Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land about Yahoo’s meta keyword usage:
“What changed with Yahoo’s ranking algorithms is that while we still index the meta keyword tag, the ranking importance given to meta keyword tags receives the lowest ranking signal in our system.
Words that appear in any other part of documents, including the body, title, description, anchor text etc., will take priority in ranking the document – the re-occurrence of these words in the meta keyword tag will not help in boosting the signal for these words. Therefore, keyword stuffing in the keyword tag will not help a page’s recall or ranking, it will actually have less effect than introducing those same words in the body of the document, or any other section.
However, when no other ranking signal is present, unique words that only appear in the meta keyword tag section of documents can still be used to recall these documents.”
The meta keywords tag lives on but only as a spam indicator with Bing. This tag can only do your harm and no good on the Bing Search Engine.
In an e-mail exchange between Duane Forrester of Bing Webmaster Tools and Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land the following discussion arose:
Thread 1 – Duane Forrester, July 2011
“I’ll make this statement: meta keywords is a signal. One of roughly a thousand we analyze.
Getting it right is a nice perk for us, but won’t rock your world. Abusing meta keywords can hurt you.”
Thread 2 – Danny Sullivan to Duane Forrester, October 2011
“It sounds like you’re saying that you see a high correlation between crummy pages and people who use the meta keywords tag with garbage – that it’s a spam signal, not a ranking signal.
If that’s the case, then I’d still advise people that you don’t use it for ranking purposes (which solves all those really annoying questions above) but you might use it as a spam signal and that people simply shouldn’t use it.”
Thread 3 – Duane Forrester response
“Yeah, you’re pretty much bang on Danny. In fact, it’s not like we’re actively trying to encourage folks to start using the tag. And you’re right – the scenario I describe is more of a spam signal, which ultimately leads to rankings (or not, as the case may be).”
Thread 4 – Duane Forrester further response:
“The main thing people need to keep in mind if they decide to use the tag is to follow the known best practices. Ultimately, it’s the overt keyword stuffing that gets noticed and makes us want to look a little closer. If you’re willing to stuff pointless keywords into the meta keywords tag, what else might you be inclined to do?”
So Should I use Meta Keyword Tags?
We would recommend you don’t use meta keyword tags for the following reasons:
1) In Online Media Direct’s opinion it’s totally pointless to add meta keyword tags. These will not boost your SEO campaign at all. Infact they can only do harm and will not do any good for your sites tanking positions. They will be particularly harmful if the page is associated with keyword stuffing.
2) Meta keyword tags take a surprisingly long time to think up and add to your content management system. This time can be fruitfully invested in other areas of your website operations.
3) Their use actually helps your competition to understand the keywords which are important to you; after all you are giving them a free list. This topic is covered in more detail later.
4) As a bit of humour here’s what the Yoast SEO Plugin says about adding Meta Keywords:
Clearly Yoast are not exactly advocating use of the keywords tag either?
If you still want to use meta keywords then follow these rules:
At most use a maximum of 10 keywords / key phrases – any more will be classed as spam and is likely to do more harm than good
Make sure the keywords sets used are absolutely unique per page. Many sites copy keywords from page to page and/or implement the keywords site-wide. This will be detected by the search engines and is rank bad practice. If you intend to implement keywords they must be unique per page.
Ensure that the keywords are 100% relevant to the page. The keywords need to be directly relevant not semi-relevant. So for example on a page about meta keywords, the terms “meta and keywords” are fine “whereas other meta tags like “title” and “description” wouldn’t be.
So many keywords to choose from !
We’ve analysed the following websites for keywords, so do they use them, let’s see:
http://www.amazon.com/ – Interestingly Amazon has 43 keywords, they obviously haven’t read this article and its recommendations!
http://www.onlinemediadirect.co.uk/ – No, we don’t use meta keywords on our site either.
http://www.pinterest.com/ – No keywords are used on the Pinterest website.
http://www.searchenginejournal.com/ – No keywords usage present.
http://twitter.com/ – No keywords are used on Twitter.
So of these 5 sites only 1 uses Meta Keywords, we can’t really say why Amazon continues to use Meta Keywords some five years after Google’s statement on the subject.
Never abusively stuff a page with keywords including the metadata element
Am I giving information to my competitors if I use Meta Keyword Tags?
Another aspect to consider is the information you are giving to your competitors by the use of keywords. Any self-respecting website will target their competitors, if your website is populated with various keywords which are important to you and that are being targeted well that’s information you are giving to them for free.
The daily SEO tips mentions meta keywords here !
Here for example are the meta keywords for a well know jewellery Company:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Gold, jewellery, silver, platinum, watches, diamond, sapphire, rings, earrings, ruby, bangle” /> Although these are fairly obvious, this is still giving away information to competitors. In some areas of operation, e.g. pay per click (PPC) this can be quite useful in giving competitors terms to bid for.
We hope you have enjoyed this guide to the meta keywords tag and have found it useful. If in any doubt just avoid using this tag, it’s likely to only do harm.
This is one of a series of SEO tips issued by Online Media Direct. If you’d like to discuss this further please call us, we’re always delighted to hear from our website visitors.