October 8, 2009 by Alain Saffel
One of the ongoing controversies in the search engine optimization field is whether or not you should use the keywords meta tag.
Recently word came from Google, apparently confirming that they do not in any way, shape or form, use the keywords meta tag.
Bing recommends the keywords meta tag. While people may write Bing off, it is only going to continue to increase in popularity. It’s certainly got the financial clout of Microsoft behind it. The Bing Webmaster Center team also talks about using the meta keywords tag here.
Yahoo also indicates that using the keywords meta tag is good practice to obtain good rankings. I think it’s safe to infer from this that they use the data in the keywords meta tag, otherwise, why would they say anything about it?
Gone are the days where you only optimize for Google. If you can make a small change in how you do SEO (add the keywords meta tag) and start ranking better in 10 per cent of the search market, why not? You’re building a foundation for the future.
With Yahoo at nearly 20 per cent of the search market, if you don’t use the keyword meta tag, you’re turning your back on almost 30 per cent of the searches out there. Can you really afford to do that? How about your clients?
SEO is a bit of a competitive field and you’re bound to find lots of strong opinions out there about using keywords meta tags. You’re likely to find incendiary blog posts saying that SEOs that the keywords meta tag are idiots and likely the reverse as well.
Let’s get one thing straight: there isn’t an SEO person out there who actually knows what is in the algorithms of the major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. While those same search engines may say they do or do not use a particular metric in their algorithm, there’s no independent method to verify it.
The algorithms of all the search engines have changed over time and hopefully improved. There are also examples of search engines making substantial changes in how they handle things such as nofollows, like Google’s admission recently.
Running a search engine company is extremely competitive and they don’t like to give out any information they don’t have to. Do you really think you absolutely know one way or the other exactly how the search engine algorithms operate? Good luck with that.
SEO isn’t a field like chemistry where there are bedrock scientific principles we can rely on to make decisions. So, we make educated guesses about what is or is not the case. Sometimes you can count on explicit statements by the search engine companies, and sometimes you can’t.
My experience with the keywords meta tag
I’m not going to sit here and take pot shots at one SEO practitioner or the other and say they don’t know what they’re talking about. I think it’s probably better to base our decisions on whether or not to use the keywords meta tag based on evidence.
I actually do use the keywords meta tag and how I use it has changed from the time I started doing SEO until now.
I look at it this way: I don’t know the algorithms the search engines use and, as far as I know, it’s not hurting the search results of my clients.
One argument that could be raised is that by stuffing a keywords meta tag with all your keywords, you’re just giving your competition a leg up and allowing them to take advantage of your hard work. There’s some truth to this.
The best practice, according to my research and talking with other people in the search engine optimization field, is to use 5-7 keyword combinations in the tag. Varying from that isn’t going to hurt you, but that’s more or less ideal.
Listing dozens of keywords in the keywords meta tag will certainly make life easier for your competition. I’m not giving away the company store by telling you that one of the first steps in SEO is to see what your competition is doing. If you’re not doing that, then what are you doing? It’s just good practice in any business.
On the other hand, just because you research your competitors and drop all their keywords into your list doesn’t mean you’re instantly going to rocket to the top of the search results.
I’ve had good success getting my clients ranked well for the keyword phrases that I feel will work best for them. I’ve done it while using the keywords meta tag.
Evidence Google uses the keywords meta tag to determine rank
Just this past summer I had read something that indicated that Google does use the keywords meta tag in its algorithm, but only a small part. It’s one of over 200 factors Google uses apparently. Think I can find that now?
It stuck with me because that runs counter to all I’ve heard. I’m quite sure it was an official source too. I PDF almost every article I read, but I can’t find it now. And I would have bookmarked that. Typical!
I’ve also read anecdotal evidence from others where they’ve just changed the keywords meta tag and have had their rankings in Google shoot up. Of course I can’t independently verify that, but it is interesting.
Use the keywords meta tag or lose it?
I am going to err on the side of using the keywords meta tag. It doesn’t take that much extra work to construct it and unless I hear that Google and the other search engines are actually dropping pages because of it, I’ll continue to use it.
I’ve found explicit statements by Yahoo and Bing that they factor the keywords meta tag into their ranking decisions, so it makes sense to continue using them.
I’m not worried that my clients’ competitors are going to be able to siphon huge amounts of competitive information from the keywords meta tags. There’s not that much there for them. There are other ways of figuring out what the best keywords are and they’re not necessarily going to be the same for everyone, even in the same industry.
I’m also not going to criticize other SEOs for using the keywords meta tag or not. I would like to hear about why you use it or why you don’t. Like I said earlier, this isn’t physics or chemistry. We don’t really know the ‘laws’ that govern SEO in any firm way.
As long as we’ve got competitive search engines, we’re not likely to either. Even if we only had one search engine, they’re not going to tell you how they rank sites because they know there are thousands of people out there who will try to game the system.