I’ve been following a discussion over at the SEOChat Forums about an experiment with meta tags that, while far from conclusive, is demonstrating a situation where meta tags don’t matter, at least where search engine optimization is concerned.
Meta Tags are most commonly used to distinguish the keywords that are relevant to a page’s content. They are placed in between the
<head></head> tags and look like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, business, marketing, etc"/>
If you do a “view source” command from your browser (right click on a webpage in the Internet Explorer browser) and look at the code you may find the above tag at the top, full of keywords relevant to the page you are looking at.
In the early days of pre-Google search meta tag keywords were reasonably powerful tools for search engine optimization, and combined with the keywords within a page made up the main driving forces that dictated how high up a page would show up in search results. Back then the search engines were quite primitive by today’s standards and often you would have companies paying the prominent search engines to make sure their websites showed up high in results for certain keywords. Google of course equalized the playing field somewhat but the legacy of meta tags lives on and you will see countless articles still instructing webmasters of the importance of meta tag keywords. This quite frankly, is dated information.
The reality nowadays is that meta tag keywords are considered far from crucial for good SEO and if abused can even be bad for it. The argument circling around SEO circles is that meta keywords are akin to keyword stuffing, a “black hat” SEO technique where websites are “stuffed” full of keywords and hidden, either with code or by using a text color the same as the background color. Of course this is frowned upon and if found out the website will be banned from Google. Meta keywords, while not quite as insidious as keyword stuffing, is similar in the sense that keywords are “stuffed” into the code of a page, hence search engines do not give much, if any weighting to them. Most of the major search engines ignore them altogether.
Should you be using meta tag keywords at all?
Yes and no. It definitely should not be prioritized and if you have other, better SEO things to do worry about don’t spend time on your meta keywords. If you insist on using meta keywords use them sparingly, only a handful, about 10 maximum, and keep them very relevant to the page content. Less is more in this case.
Meta keywords are a legacy of web 1.0 and are slowly being phased out completely. Your title tags, heading tags and content play a much more important role and really if you have time to spare to work on SEO you should be writing great new content that people will link to, not cramming your pages with redundant keywords.