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Meta keywords - are they worth it?

 7:34 am on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was going to list all of the applicable keywords I have in my database on each page as meta keywords, but I realized I would be giving away all of my keywords to competitors. Are meta keywords worthwhile?


Andy Langton

 12:06 pm on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think it's fair to say that the consensus is no, they aren't worthwhile if the aim is to improve Google or Bing rankings. See here for a longer discussion:

Google may not use the keyword meta tag - but Bing does

Google themselves have long said they don't use meta keywords as a ranking factor.


 3:51 pm on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks Andy.


 5:17 pm on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Wrong. Check out a post I made elsewhere earlier..:

I used google.co.uk to look up the word "bisous", which a rather lovely young lady from Paris used at the bottom of an email to me. Turns out it means "kisses for a friend".

As with most searches I do these days I had a good close look at the top ten. All the top positions are definitions of the word in one form or another, but there at #8 was a British site selling Belgian chocolates made to look like a human @nus... Well it certainly caught my attention... Why was this site anywhere near this serp?

Looking at the source code it transpires that the word "bisous" is included in the meta-keywords. There's no inclusion of the word in the text on the page and nothing in backlinks that I can find.

Although I'm loathe to draw any firm conclusions, it does suggest that Google is paying some form of attention to the meta-keyword tag. As this tag is an obvious place to keyword-stuff it might merit another look at your tags. I actually went through my site a couple of weeks ago and reduced the content of the keyword tag to one word or a two-word phrase that best described the page at hand. I think this example serp justifies the effort that took.

Incidentally, that serp still stands at the time of writing if anyone wants to do any further research...

Mods note: Noting that the source of the above self-quote is from this WebmasterWorld thread...

Penguin Recovery Tips - a think tank thread

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 6:54 pm (utc) on Jun 30, 2012]


 6:56 pm on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

ok, but there is no other actuel text on that "bisous" page, except in the head section


 6:57 pm on Jun 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

That doesn't mean he's wrong.

Andy Langton

 1:50 am on Jul 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

@themaninthejar I think you're mistaken because you're not looking at external signals correctly.

But regardless, the question is whether the time to write meta keywords provides enough benefit to justify the effort involved, and I've been confidently saying no that question for years now. YMMV :P


 11:07 am on Jul 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

whether the time to write meta keywords provides enough benefit

My view is that the 5 seconds it takes to type a word or two is time well spent to cover the chance (however slim) that it might be used now or in the future.


 11:30 am on Jul 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

What about presenting all of your keywords to competitors in a nice neat little list? That doesn't bother anyone?


 11:38 am on Jul 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

What about presenting all of your keywords to competitors in a nice neat little list? That doesn't bother anyone?

Yes, it bothers me.

Robert Charlton

 5:32 am on Jul 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

that "bisous" page

The body of that site is essentially all graphics, and the mentioned query term appears to be in the meta keywords tag and nowhere else on the site. The term "bisous", in addition to meaning "kisses from a friend", relates to what are known as "chocolate kisses", idiomatic in both French and in English.

The page isn't ranking because of the magical powers of meta keywords, though. Those, IMO, are in the ancient history of SEO, along with the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.

The page is ranking because of inbound links along with years of quirky online marketing. Several of the meta keywords appear to be supplying a confirmation to Google that the inbound links containing them aren't unwelcome Google bombs, but the meta keywords themselves are not otherwise causing the page to rank.

Some years back, I remember that on a search engine conference panel, when asked about meta keywords, Yahoo said that it referred to meta keywords only when all other signals had been exhausted. On the same panel, Matt Cutts said that Google wasn't using meta keywords, but that it reserved the right to do so when it wanted to. ;) In the case of disabling the Google Bomb filter, this might be such an instance.

I'd say that, all in all, this ranking appears to be fairly accidental, as one might expect from a site that's got all its text in graphics. In a way, though, the ranking is also a lesson in the power of social citations for related terms over the past four years, and several queries that bring up the site have gotten engraved in Google auto-complete because of wide usage among a target audience.

Regarding the #8 ranking, I should note that in the several days since this discussion began I've seen the ranking for the single word example drop (in several different browsers) from about #12 (where it was when I first saw it) to about the sixth page. I have no idea of cause and effect in relation to our discussion.

I've kept all of the details of the above kind of vague on purpose. There are good reasons to avoid discussing specifics or reverse engineering sites publicly... and we generally don't go there. We've allowed this example because it did seem like it needed to be addressed in a meta keywords discussion, but let's try to avoid other specifics, please.

Robert Charlton

 7:11 pm on Jul 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

PS to the above. The ranking for the bisous page is #13 on google.co.uk. I must have checked its position on google.com.


 11:06 pm on Jul 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Google may not use the keyword meta tag - but Bing does

Yes, Bing does use the meta keyword tag. But they use it as a *negative* ranking factor. If a site is spamming their meta keywords then they get flagged as a potential spam site.

Here's a quote from SEL:

A Spam Signal
I contacted [Bing's Duane] Forrester to ask if it was true, and to see what further answers he could provide. After some back and forth, it seemed clear to me that Bing is looking at the tag as a spam signal, not a ranking signal....

And his response was:

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).

So use the tag? Sure, if you want to take a chance that by overstuffing it, you'll cause Bing to think you're spamming. Be safe, be smart, save your time. Don't use it.


[edited by: tedster at 12:17 am (utc) on Jul 6, 2012]
[edit reason] Add quote for attribution, Fair Use [/edit]


 7:12 am on Jul 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

a chance that by overstuffing it, you'll cause Bing to think you're spamming

Which is exactly why I've gone through all my pages and reduced the content of this tag to one word or a two word keyphrase (without separating commas). How Bing, Google or the Wizard of Oz choose to interpret that is (as ever) subject to change without notice...


 7:30 am on Jul 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

Bing is looking at the tag as a spam signal

This is the worst news if true. Shopping carts and all, you name it, even articles posted on PR sites, they all have a form field to fill in for KEYWORDS... comma separated.

So this guy is saying that by using any keywords you kill your product's chances? Sounds more like false information to undo us all.


 8:14 am on Jul 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

It has been accepted wisdom that keywords are not normally relevant for SERPS for a long time. Checking my current main site, I haven't bothered to use any and it ranks well for all major searches.

With regard to negative ranking I did read, long ago, that stuffing with keywords that didn't appear on the page was a "bad thing". I also have a vague memory of reading that Adsense did use keywords for targetting content.


 1:15 pm on Jul 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

So this guy is saying that by using any keywords you kill your product's chances? Sounds more like false information to undo us all.

Not the simple presence of the tag - the STUFFING of the tag can be one small signal for Bing. Overreaction has destroyed more hopeful SEOs than many other flaws.


 3:30 pm on Jul 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

If we consider Google are interested in providing separation between natural pages/sites and their over optimised counter-parts.

To that end we need to consider what systems/methodology Google may use in the separation process

Things like:

1. The stuffing of keywords into meta tags

2. The use of the meta keyword tag

3. Over use of keywords in the body of text

4. Over use of h1's

5. Over use of anchor text

6. Incorrect tagging of images

7. Unnatural, excessive, spmmy link building techniques.

8. Spinning

Personally I feel if you over-do any of the above you're asking for trouble, if not today, then certainly in the future.

Of the 17 sites I manage only 2 were negatively affected by Penguin. Most remained unchanged a couple rose.

Of course all of the above is just my own thoughts, please feel free to ignore


 6:29 pm on Jul 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

@ themaninthejar

I don't know what link checking tool you use, but the one I use found two links where the anchor text included 'bisous' within the first 20 of over 130 links.

Try this test: add a gibberish phrase, or completely unique character string, to a keywords tag on one page in a site you have access to. Once the page is reindexed, search Google for that phrase/string. If your site appears in the SERPs, post back here.

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