The Fate of the Keyword Meta Tag

Nowadays, the Web is absolutely bursting with search engines poised to deliver hits to your website. But of all the search engines out there, arguably none is more revered than Google. (We don’t even "search" for information online anymore–we "google" it.) So when Matt Cutts, a long-time Google employee and sometimes-official blogger for the company, revealed that Google does not use the keyword meta tag as a signal in its web search rankings, we couldn’t help but take notice.

The keyword meta tag, which first appeared in 1996 and was used throughout the ‘net in the late 1990s, is essentially a line of code hidden in the HTML of a website that contains keywords about the site’s content. Search engines use the keywords in the tag to determine if the site is relevant to a user’s search. For example, if I were developing a website for i5 web works, I’d include keywords like "web development," "SEO," and "Dallas" in our meta tag so that search engines would know to direct users to i5ww.com when they searched with those words.

This technique seems like a great SEO tactic, so why doesn’t the granddaddy of all search engines (or many other search engines, for that matter) recognize it now? Because frankly, it’s very easy to abuse. Consider this scenario: Susan and Richard both own landscaping businesses. Susan plays fairly on her website by using keywords like "flowerbeds" and "crabgrass" in her meta tag. Richard is a bit sneakier–he puts "photography" and "cheesecake" in his keyword meta tag to increase the odds that his site will show up in all types of search results (even when the searcher isn’t seeking his services). He also puts Susan’s business’s name in his tag so that when potential customers search for her company’s site, they see a link to his as well. These tactics might be good for Richard’s business, but they find no favor with search engine users who don’t want to be bombarded with irrelevant search results.

Of course, by no means does Google’s announcement indicate that keywords are generally irrelevant. On the contrary, keywords in a site’s URL, domain name, content, and title tag are some of the over 200 SEO factors Google and other search engines use to rank pages. With so many other SEO options available, you don’t have to worry that the extinction of the keyword meta tag will negatively affect the traffic flow to your site.

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