Do Meta Tag Keywords Matter Anymore?

By Yaro Starak
18 Comments

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.

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18 Comments

  • (I hope this works out or won’t I look the fool ;-P )

    The example meta tag you’re trying to display should be escaped thus:

    <meta name=”keywords” content=”entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, business, marketing, etc”/>

    which is to say replace the less than sign with the ampersand symbol followed by lt;

    Same with the great than sign, except instead of lt it’s gt.

    You probably already know this and had just not noticed it missing after posting.

  • Thanks Ben, you are quite right and noticed it quicker than I did. I had this as a future post so I didn’t see it go live. All fixed now.

  • Certainly this is a good news. I have been using meta keywords haphazardly on my site for a while now, since I use web applications that run a lot of pages using the same meta information.

    I am glad that search engines are giving less and less weight to this often abused SEO factor.

  • Are meta tags useful or not?

    There’s been some debate about the usefulness of meta tags among aficionados of search engine optimization (SEO). Some SEO consultants think you should drop them entirely and rely entirely on the page title, headings and body text to get good rankings…

  • Like I said in another comment to a similar article here, I’m sick of the SEO “hype.”

    Create your web site with/for it’s purpose. Don’t create your web site around “optimized” code.

    This doesn’t mean to not use tags at all.

    Use them, yes, but don’t depend on them and don’t overdo it. They are only a tool.

  • Another useful tip is to create web sites without using TABLES for the layout.

    Search engine bots look a lot more favorably on pages created with pure css. Beside that fact, for complex pages using table layout, it’s a lot easier to maintain, make changes and the code – once completed – ends up being around 40%-60% lighter than the original. Bottom line, use css for layouts, not tables, and reap the – to some, seemingly insignificant – benefits.

    By the way, Yaro, I see you finally got breaks to be read properly within comments. Great job!

  • [...] Yaro, besides being a phenomenal researcher, is a teacher and a leader. Here’ s what Yaro says about meta tags in his document, Do Meta Tag Keywords Matter Anymore? 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. [...]

  • This is definately true with Google. However I have my doubts about the effectiveness of not using meta with the smaller SERPS. Until I know for sure I’m going to continue the tried and true.

  • I agree that meta keywords has no relevance well at least not as much as before. I say that because, I have meta keywords in my blog. But all the visitors I get from search engines, did not come by using those keywords. Instead of placing the keywords in meta tags, we should consantrate more in using those keywords in our content.

  • [...] I’ve been doing some research in this matter. It all started after I read the post at Entrepreneurs journey blog. The post is Do Meta Tag Keywords Matter Anymore? I decided to do a personal snooping. It is true that meta tags are always emphasized in SEO tutorials. But, isn’t it out dated in some way ? Well, you guessed it. It is, I mean, not completely. But, it doesnt seem to make a difference. I’ll stress on this some more. [...]

  • Alexander,

    I’d be very, very interested to see what proof you have for saying that CSS-designed sites rank better. My opinion is that is designer-hype from 2005 which I suppose is when you made this comment.

    Just want to make sure nobody else that happens by this article and is new to SEO believes you. CSS makes changing designs easier… to a point, but has no ranking value whatsoever. 100% CSS can actually make designs harder to implement and more expensive (about 3x the cost of table-designs). My design firm uses a hybrid – CSS as much as we can, but tables for major layout blocks and areas where CSS is inconsistent between browsers.

  • Meta tags plays one of the important role in the indexing.

    But only adding these kind of meta tags will not provide u the enough traffic.Getting SERP will depends on lot of factors.

    lot of times you can see the keywords of the same frequency of two different sites have their two different SERP.

    So we can’t expect such traffic only adding the meta tags in our site. Meta tags are only instructors to crawlers about pages.

    So Nothing will be improved if the site will not concentrate on other factors rather than using only meta tags.

  • Good information on meta keywords. It makes sense that Google does not place too much value in them. It is just not that easy to be ranked high in Google just by getting your meta keywords right.

  • Thanks for the insights and clarification for this non-techie internet marketer. Thought you might get a chuckle from an actual meta-tag I found on a competitor’s site who came up on Google’s first page for “small business internet marketing”:

  • now meta tag keyword not included in search result google, yeah meta tag keyword not use again in google for google result, but thank’s for your information yaro

  • I’m not quite sure whether it works. What I do think is that is doesn’t have that much a big factor into seo as towards what backlinks have.

  • Great info but my question is I hear that it is all automated by the engines spiders and if so what is it they read to give the site link its sentence or phrase or whatever when the site is viewed in Google search results?

  • All the more reason to focus on Title and Description tags!

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