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In the old days, it was a big no-no on many engines to have any keyword in the META tag that wasn't on the page. Is this of any importance at all today?
The reason I ask is that I just took on a site with big fat keyword metas, and in more than a few cases, they list kw's that are not anywhere on the page. I'm tempted just to ignore this, at least for now, but wonder if the site might be taking a hit on some search engine or other.
AV used to treat keywords as if they were just text on the page. Some of the keyword metas I've seen are such diffuse wish lists that if this AV model were used, the keyword meta would actually be reducing relevancy for desired words... or else they'd be gathering a spam penalty for excessive repetition.
In most cases, the pages involved couldn't possibly rank on many of the keywords in the list, so why have them there?
Yes... I've always felt that keywords should be highly focused on a page. And ever since one of Brett's first theming articles, I've tried to maintain a pretty tight focus on a site as well.
In the article I'm thinking of, Brett suggested choosing 10 or so of your most important keywords to be the only keywords in the keyword metas throughout the site, to appear at least once on every page... and then of course you'd focus individual pages via page content, titles, and headings for a subset of these. I've used a variant of this strategy with great success since.
I agree with outtatheblue that if the words don't appear on your pages, get rid of them, but I can't answer your question about whether superfluous words bother the engines. Inktomi once said they attached a spam penalty to meta keywords that didn't appear on the page. AV once said that they treated superfluous keywords as part of page content. Later I'd heard that AV only looked at the first 80-characters of the keyword tag. How much of all this is true now I can't say.
But, again, those extra keywords really aren't going to help, and there are all sorts of ways they could hurt you. An exception to this might be an odd misspelling or two, something really unusual, where the inclusion might not hurt you very much and might help you get found on one or two of the engines.
One thing I like to do when I need to convince a client to trim a tag, is to run a position report on all the phrases in the tag. I always make them a deal.
Any phase that shows up in the position report can stay. Any phrase that dosen't show up get removed. After we're done, the tag usually contains only the 10 -15 words listed in the first paragraph of the page. :)
For now he's OK'd cutting the keyword meta tags down to 100 characters -- and that makes me feel a lot easier. I would imagine that lots of fringe words would at least depress keyword density for the real bread-and-butter words.
Alta Vista used to have a page where they explicitly stated that keywords in the meta tag did not need to be on the page. Can't find this content now, but I remember a few hefty paragraphs from AV about how to use the kw meta tag as far as their engine was concerned.