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I am baffled by the fact that you have received such fantastic results in the search engines without the Meta Tags. Is this a result of concentrating on a few keywords at once, and then having a content rich page? I would love to rack your brains on how I can achieve some better positions!
There is more to be gained from having the microsecond faster loading page without the keywords than the rankings influence with them.
Meta description on the other hand, continues to play a large role in those engines that use meta descriptions.
I still think that with the algo's used by the search engines, the meta tags shouldn't be forgotten, as you can never tell what the SE's will deem as valuable in a week, or a month from now. Am I thinking on the right wavelength or no?
Yes, themes is almost a layout and design function -an SEO technique applied at the site level, like css. It doesn't really exclude any optimization on the individual pages. IMO, title tags and meta descriptions are well worth the effort. On the other hand, meta keywords aren't worth the time.
As a general rule of thumb for many major search engines I would agree. However for some of the lesser, more focused, or even up-and-coming search engines keywords are still important. I still put them in ready for when I have a little time on my hands to do the rounds of submitting to these lesser engines. I think they are still worth some small effort and help in some ways to keep you focused on the main theme for that page. IMHO of course.
I would agree that it can be a bit difficult to predict how SE's will continue to evolve, but I'm fairly confident that we will never see any major SE move back to an algo that assigns a great deal of weight to the meta keyword tag. Doing so would dramtically reduce the quality of their indexes.
The biggest problem with "meta tag menucia" is that the time spent on it is usually time taken away from more important areas like developing effective design and navigation strategies.
On top of that, the way most people write meta tags, (the proverbial santa's wish list)usually results in page that can easily be penalized.
Regarding up-and-coming engines, it is true that many do place greater emphasis on the keyword tag. They can do this because they don't generate enough traffic to attract spammers. As soon as they become a big enough player, they will also remove/demote the keyword tag from their algos.
IMHO, the best approach is to follow the strategy Brett mentioned, (Detlev Johnson also laid out a great meta tag strategy in yesterday's I-Search [list.media.com])and then move on to more important areas.
That and what WG said are very true. I think 5-10 words are more than enough to get the point home. Any more than that, is bascially spamming. Alta looks for 2 duplicates right now and downgrads a page if it finds 3.