SEO Basics: The Meta Keyword Tag

SEO Basics is the eCreative IM blog column written for SEO beginners just learning the basics of search engine optimization. You can find all our SEO Basics articles by browsing the SEO Basics Archive or find the specific tips you’re looking for in our SEO Tips & Guides page.

We talked about the meta keyword tag a bit in the Meta Tags overview, but it’s worth taking a moment to really stress that this is essentially an obsolete meta tag. Rarely does a month go by at the Ecreative Internet Marketing office when a client doesn’t ask us about this tag, or want to make changes to it or add to it, so let me stress this:

The meta keywords tag will not improve your search engine rankings. Not even a teensy little amount. As Matt Cutts of Google said, “we don’t use that in our rankings, not even the least little bit.”

If you’re trying to use the meta keywords tag to improve your rankings, you’re more than a decade behind the SEO times.

The met keywords tag was useful for rankings for only a very brief window in SEO history — and that window was around 1996 to 1998. During that time period — before the days of Google — some search engines actually used the meta keywords tag in their ranking algorithm and it could have a significant impact.

However, it quickly became evident that it was very easy to abuse the tag, and that abuse happened a lot. Since end users never saw any of the text, webmasters felt free to stuff that tag with dozens of keywords: adult sites in particular were fond of stuffing the tag with keywords that had nothing to do with their site. You search for stamp collection and then, surprise! Or it was coupled with invisible text on page and other spam tactics. This happened a lot during those days, and made search results far worse as a result. Thus: paying attention to the meta keyword tag made search engines worse. It’s no surprise that they very quickly started ignoring it.

By the late 90s the search engines responsible for the vast majority of all searches were not using the meta keywords tag for ranking Google launched ignoring the meta keywords tag and the tag has never improved your Google rankings. (Google publicly stated that they do not use it for rankings here). Yahoo referenced the tag for quite a while, but now their Bing-powered results only use the tag as a spam signal (so it can hurt you, but not help you). (Bing has confirmed that they only use the keywords tag as a spam signal, and that it won’t help).

Update: With the Google Webspam penalty algorithm change, it’s possible that keyword stuffing the meta keywords tag could hurt you in Google as well. As always using it reasonably will not hurt, and of course still won’t help either.

Should You Use the Meta Keywords Tag?

Whether you want to use the meta keywords tag or not is entirely up to you, as long as you understand that it will not help improve your rankings at all. Here at Ecreative Internet Marketing we sometimes use the tag just as an on-page reference note so we know what keywords we’re targeting on a particular page. That way if another person — or the same person several months down the line — goes to work on that page, they know what the SEO intent of the page was.

For many sites that we work with on a regular basis as part of a monthly SEO program we don’t use the tag at all, since we have a single person assigned to each site and they’re familiar with the site and know off the top of their head what they’re trying to rank for on each page.

Many SEO professionals argue that the only thing the meta keywords tag is good for is making it easier for your competition to know what the good keyword phrases are.

Ultimately use it or not, it’s up to you. Just don’t stuff it with keywords, and understand that it’s not going to help your rankings for anything even in the slightest bit.