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I think it would be helpful to start a discussion strictly about these two topics. I'll get the ball rolling here. I'd like to preface this by saying this is what I've observed, not tested. Here are some common questions asked by new SEOs about the keyword meta tag.
"Do search engines still use keyword meta tags?"
"How many keywords can I use in the keyword tag before it's considered spam?"
"Should I use commas in between keyword phrases?"
"Do I list my keyword phrases separately, by phrase? Example: blue widgets, red widgets or blue, red, widgets"
As far as I can tell, this tag is depreciated. For the newbies, this means the search engines no longer give weight in their algorithms to the keywords in this tag. So in essence, the answer to all of these questions, don't use keyword tags any more. I must admit I still use the kw tag on the home page, and top navigation pages. Maybe it's just the old school SEO in me ;-)
I see very few little discussion about the meta description tag, which is too bad since that's the one that matters. Here are my observations.
1. Meta KW tags have zero effect in Google rankings. I'm not as sure about Yahoo and MSN.
2. Meta description tags are still alive and well. Use them. I find them in the SERPS most often in Yahoo, but also in Google and MSN. This is an excellent way to make your page stand out in the SERPs and show compelling copy to pull in those extra click-thoughs. All you really need to do is spend the time to craft a few great descriptions. Then you just replace your KW phrase for every page.
3. I've also seen description copy bolded in the Google SERPs for long search phrases, and quoted phrases. I think this means that a small amount of weight is still give to these keywords in the algorithm, but I'm not exactly sure.
There are many questions, opinions, and theories in this forum regarding these meta tags. What are your observations? Results from testing?
Keyowrds may be depreciated but I found something interesting for the description tag. Others on the forum here suggest I try this and it worked. I was having a hard time getting all my pages indexed as regular returns. Most were coming up as supplemental. The titles were different but the description was the same on every page. This was especially true in a forum I run that had in excess of 5000 pages. I changed the coding to alter the description on each page to reflect the top subject of that page. In other words, the description would be... "MySite Forum has posts about (insert top subject) and all things related to Keyword Phrase." This effectivley changed the description for every page. I also went and changed the description on all other pages including a pretty big directory I have on the site using the same method. A couple weeks later, pages started returning in the SERPs. A few weeks after that, all the pages were returned.
My conclusion is that the description may not play a role in ranking, but it is important for two reasons. First is that usually (except for some dmoz grabs in G and URL only returns) the description is what is displayed under the link in the SERPs. Very important as to whether someone will click that link or not. The second reason is that I believe it plays a roll in the dupe content penalty (or whatever you want to call it). All the pages that are now returning as regular pages in the SERPs were supplimental results and now they are just returned normally. It seems to avoid this, you must look at changing more then just content. I would recommend changing the description, title, keywords (maybe) and content.
It seemed to work for me.
The second reason is that I believe it plays a roll in the dupe content penalty (or whatever you want to call it). All the pages that are now returning as regular pages in the SERPs were supplimental results and now they are just returned normally. It seems to avoid this, you must look at changing more then just content. I would recommend changing the description, title, keywords (maybe) and content.
The keyword meta seems to us on top sort of having no positive, but a negative filter effect. As if the SE would use the meta keywords to watch then closely for "overoptimizing-spamming". We usually do not use the meta keywords, resp. leave it empty, and works fine.
Two important keyword phrases for my industry are of the form:
many door widget
many door gadget
The two phrases refer to exactly the same type of product.
About 4 years ago we decided to use "many door widget" exclusively. We've been ranked No. 1 on Google for "many door widget" ever since. However, this left us out in the cold with "many door gadget." Our main competitor uses "many door gadget."
The new marketing manager at my company recently modified the homepage description and keyword metatags to include "many door gadget" (in both tags), but the phrase appears nowhere else on the homepage (not even in the browser page title).
We are now ranked No. 5 or 6 on page 1 of Google for "many door gadget" (95% of our search engine clicks come from Google).
Is it possible that Google has recognized the synonymity of the two phrases, saw from our description and keyword tags that we wanted to be ranked for this phrase, and then rewarded us accordingly?
I'm tempted (but reluctant) to remove "many door gadget" from the keyword tag to see if it's JUST the description tag that's giving us such a high ranking.
I've had to eat some crow since in the past I told my boss (i.e., the marketing manager) several times that the description and keyword tags were not considered any more in keyword ranking algorithms. Forthunately, she was gracious enough to accept my apologies.
So it looks like the tag (which was marginalized by the engines for quite a while) is now figuring into the spidering patterns in a new and important way. It also gets used a lot more as the abstract that Google shows on the search results.
I can't quite grasp why this change is now in place -- but it appears to be.
We've all seen the snippets that read like ransom notes as well as those that read Home ¦ Stuff ¦ more stuff ¦ etc.
Carefully constructed meta descriptions seem to reduce the likelyhood of getting stuck with those kind of snippets. The keywords here are "carefully constructed".
The description is might still get the ransom note treatment depending on the search query it is being used in response to, but by carefully contructing it you might have a tiny bit of control over what the ransom note generator chooses from when it rips text apart and reassembles it.
As far as keywords go, they may be devalued, that seems to be the general thinking. But if you are going to use them consider this.
A while back (last summer?) MSN showed keywords as the snippet for at least short time. That might well have been a glitch or something, but imagine your snippet reading like...
Ugly as all get out, just about impossible to read easily, not likely to encourage clicks. So if you are using them, and if they really are devalued, why not use a comma AND a space.
blah, blah, blah, blah....
At least they are readable by a human being in the unlikely case they show up as a snippet.
When all of the words in a search string can be found in your page title it is highly likely that the description will be used by all 3 major engines rather than a snippet.
That is unless you are with DMOZ then you seem to be stuck with that description. Same if you are in the Yahoo directory Yahoo uses that description.
This whole area of what to put in the page's abstract on a search page seems to be a hot one for the search engines. They want their users to click on SOMETHING, and will continue to tweak their interface to get better and better results. I predict more fooling around with this by all the majors -- but I'd also say that unique descriptions with keywords that are tailored to that specific page will be a best practice for quite a while.