26 Feb Our Clients Ask: “Should I Use Meta Keywords on my Website?”
Once in a while, we reach into our mail bag and dig out a question that we’ve been asked because we think it might be relevant and interesting to the rest of our community. We received an email from one of our partners who had been advised that she should put meta keywords on all of her webpages. She was told doing so would improve her search engine ranking, and help her get more website traffic through organic search results. In this post we give a bit of background on what meta keywords are and whether they’re still relevant in today’s SEO landscape.
What are Meta Keywords?
Meta keywords are a special type of metadata, which is basically hidden code on a website page that tells specific information about the page to help the user experience of viewing that page.
Confused? Okay, try this: a common piece of metadata found in the header of most webpages is the language attribute, which tells the browser which natural language (as opposed to computer language) the page is written in. If the natural language of the page isn’t the same as the language setting of the local device, you might see a message pop up with the option to translate the page:
Meta keywords are special words that tell search engines what the primary content of the page is. So if you’re designing a website page about how to use meta keywords, you might find this snippet of code in the header of the page:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”how to use meta keywords“>
Are Meta Keywords Relevant?
Unfortunately, meta keywords are no longer relevant in today’s internet search landscape.
Before we explain why, let’s go back to the beginnings of meta keywords and their rise in popularity. Meta keywords were introduced back in the very beginnings of the internet, before the days of Google and Bing when search engines like AltaVista and InfoSeek were prominent. These search engines used the meta keyword tags to understand what a webpage was about and ranked pages based on what the meta keyword tags contained.
Like many SEO best practices, this way of manipulating the search engines was exploited and everyone began stuffing all sorts of keywords in their meta keyword tags. Not only did many website developers resort to keyword stuffing (frowned upon by the search engines) but they also stuffed inaccurate keywords in their meta keyword tags so they were being ranked for keywords and key phrases that did not accurately describe what was on the page content. Now, consider that the purpose of the search engines is to connect people who are searching for things on the internet to the best possible sources of what they’re looking for and you can imagine how grumpy the search engines got when meta keyword tags started getting abused.
As such, meta keyword tags lost prominence in the mid 2000’s. In 2007, search engine experts tested how relevant meta keywords tags were and found that they had little impact on search engine rankings. In 2009, Google announced that meta keywords had no relevance on search engine rankings at all and the other major search engines quickly followed.
Should You Use Keywords or Not?
When it comes down to it, putting any amount of time and effort into meta keyword tags seems to be a waste of time. So unless you’ve got nothing better to do then we recommend against adding meta keywords to your website.
And to paraphrase what SEO kingpin Yoast wrote in a 2011 blog post, instead of spending five minutes adding meta keyword tags to your website, spend that five minutes creating better content that’s more likely to engage and convert your visitors.
What’s Better Than Using Meta Keywords?
The meta keyword tag has a brother tag that, while similarly ineffective in search engine rankings, does provide a different type of value. The meta description tag also lives in the page header and while it is also largely ignored when it comes to search engine rankings, it is used to display the page snippet in search engine results.
What’s a snippet, you ask? That little bit of text that shows below the title of pages returned in a search. It is worthwhile spending time on your page meta description tags because those are useful in getting a searcher to click on your link. If you have a succinct and catchy snippet then you should see higher click-through conversions, and that’s worthwhile.
What else is better than meta keywords? Good, relevant content that people want to consume. If you take the time to understand exactly what the searcher is looking for and present it them effectively, then the popularity of your links will help improve your search engine rankings.
What else is better than meta keywords? A fresh flow of interesting, relevant and shareable content. Fresh content on your website – like an active blog – is the hearbeat of your website and if you’re not posting new content on a regular basis then your website is slowly dying.
There are a lot of experts out there waxing poetic about the best ways to improve your rankings on Google and other search engines, but the search engine ranking game changes quickly so a lot of what you might hear is dated and no longer relevant. If you’re hearing that you should take time to use meta keyword tags then you should be looking for an internet marketing company that’s more up with the times (like us!) and will focus on what helps drive search engine rankings in 2015.