One of the biggest topics in SEO is the dispute of the “keywords” meta tag and if Google, Yahoo and Bing still use it for ranking factors. This dispute started back in September of 2009 when Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam team, posted a video and article on Google’s webmaster blog stating that Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking. With this statement, many webmasters started questioning whether or not to continue using “keyword” meta tags in their SEO efforts and whether or not Yahoo and Bing will follow suit. Lets take a look at the 3 major search engines and their stance on “keyword” meta tags.
As stated above, Google has come out and said on their blog, “Google doesn’t use the ‘keywords’ meta tag in our web search ranking.” Google says that it can’t guarantee that it will never use it, but that they are pretty confident that it will not be used in future updates. Some believe it is possible that Google may use these for negative ranking to attempt to catch those that may be attempting to falsely rank their website for non-related terms, however, there is no evidence or statements that support this theory.
Yahoo announced that “keyword” meta tags are not supported in their search engine back in 2009, around the same time as Google at their SMX East conference. Immediately following the announcement, SearchEngineLand published an article calling Yahoo out showing evidence that Yahoo stilled used “keyword” meta tags as a ranking factor. Yahoo then released a statement to SearchEngineLand stating the following:
What changed with Yahoo’s ranking algorithms is that while we still index the meta keyword tag, the ranking importance given to meta keyword tags receives the lowest ranking signal in our system.
Words that appear in any other part of documents, including the body, title, description, anchor text etc., will take priority in ranking the document – the re-occurrence of these words in the meta keyword tag will not help in boosting the signal for these words. Therefore, keyword stuffing in the keyword tag will not help a page’s recall or ranking, it will actually have less effect than introducing those same words in the body of the document, or any other section.
However, when no other ranking signal is present, unique words that only appear in the meta keyword tag section of documents can still be used to recall these documents.
Yahoo basically says that they use “keyword” meta tags but assigned almost no weight to them. When there is no other optimized SEO on the page, your page may still be pulled up with unique keywords inside of that meta tag, however, other sites will have more weight and most likely out rank yours.
Bing has stood by saying for the longest time that they do not support the “keyword” meta tag until Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing Webmaster, stated in a blog post the following:
I’ll make this statement: meta keywords is a signal. One of roughly a thousand we analyze.
Getting it right is a nice perk for us, but won’t rock your world. Abusing meta keywords can hurt you.
SearchEngineLand reached out to Duane asking if it was true. This was their email:
It sounds like you’re saying that you see a high correlation between crummy pages and people who use the meta keywords tag with garbage – that it’s a spam signal, not a ranking signal.
If that’s the case, then I’d still advise people that you don’t use it for ranking purposes (which solves all those really annoying questions above) but you might use it as a spam signal and that people simply shouldn’t use it.
And his response was:
Yeah, you’re pretty much bang on Danny. In fact, it’s not like we’re actively trying to encourage folks to start using the tag. And you’re right – the scenario I describe is more of a spam signal, which ultimately leads to rankings (or not, as the case may be).
To summarize, Bing is stating that the use of the tag is optional and does not provide much weight. In fact, if Bing feels you may have stuffed the “keyword” meta tag, they may penalize you.
So, Should I Use “Keyword” Meta Tags?
The consensus across the SEO industry by industry experts, armed with the information above from Google, Yahoo and Bing, is that you can use “keyword” meta tags with caution. The use of these tags have a high chance of negative ranking impacts if you are seen as overstuffing. Many SEO experts believe that the potential negative impact far outweighs the potential positive factor on Yahoo or Bing, to lesser used search engines. If you choose to use these tags, be sure follow all the rules and do not overstuff.
Another thought to take into consideration is the ease for your competition to know exactly what you are attempting to rank for. Although your competition can often figure out what keywords you are attempting to rank for without the “keyword” meta tag, the tag will make it quick and easy to spot your primary keywords. This allows them easily retarget their SEO efforts for those terms to try and out rank your site.
To summarize, “keyword” meta tags are an old and outdated method for search engines and provide no benefit for Google and little benefit for Yahoo and Bing. The use of this meta tag could potentially cause more harm than good. Here is a great statement made by Dr. Peter J. Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz:
Here’s the other problem – Meta keywords has been used as a negative ranking signal, and probably still is to some degree. In other words, you might not gain much or anything from using it, but if you spam it, you could get devalued. My gut feeling is that the negative signal is much, much stronger than the positive one, and even Google may still use it as a negative signal. I’m certain that Yahoo/Bing has used it as a negative signal (not sure if they still do).
I tend to agree that the competitive fears are overblown. Any decent site’s keyword targets should be pretty clear – otherwise, it’s not a very well SEO’d site.
Personally, if you want to use them, use them – but keep them short, sweet, and relevant. Once you do, get on with your life.
I would love to hear from our readers what their stance is on the use of “keyword” meta tags. Do you use them? Have you seen any impact with the use of them? Let us know or ask a question in the comments section below.