This field, made accessible to WordPress site managers either through SEO-friendly framework themes such as Thesis or SEO plugins, purports to give you a space to tell the search engines what keywords used in a search should lead to a specific page of content.
It sounds great, right? Keywords are what it’s all about, after all. Your prospects use them to find relevant information. SERPs (search engine results pages) are based on them. What could be more direct than simply telling the search engine ‘bots what keywords should be associated with your page?
Then the question becomes: How do you use them? What should you do with that meta keywords field, when you’re adding new content to your blog or website?
My short answer: Nothing. Leave it alone.
Here’s why I say that.
From Use to Abuse to Ignored: Why Search Engines Ignore Meta Keywords
Once upon a time, the meta keyword field was important. (Well, we think. It is SEO, and if anyone ever tells you they know exactly what factors rank in what order and how to game those factors to get your site to the top of the first page of SERPs, laugh politely and run like hell. Especially if they want your money.)
But then, the meta keyword field went from used to abused. Site owners — especially the spammy kind — began stuffing this field full of keywords. Dozens and dozens of them. And not just applicable keywords, or even arguably applicable keywords. They’d stuff keywords based on their competitors’ names in this field.
So users would type in the name of a business — say, Bob’s Oranges — and search for BO’s (hee) website. The user would click on the first link and — what’s this? It’s not Bob’s Oranges at all! It’s Sally’s Oranges! But because Sally’s Oranges’ website developer stuffed the home page’s meta keywords field with variations on “Bob’s Oranges,” and Bob’s Orange’s website didn’t have those tags, Sally’s site ranked first. For searches for Bob’s business. Because of the keyword tags.
Hardly fair. Totally game-y and unethical as hell.
At least from 2009, possibly before, the major search engines began deprecating their reliance on the meta keyword field. Google doesn’t use it at all for ranking sites. Yahoo doesn’t use it for ranking purposes, either. Bing uses it only to identify spammers.
Note: the keywords meta tag is not completely ignored for all purposes. For instance, a unique keyword can and will still call a page up that has that keyword in the field. But Google’s ranking results will not be affected by those keywords. So if you and your competitor both have pages about a particular subject, and he uses the keyword whereas you don’t, the fact that you don’t have the keyword will not affect your page’s ranking compared to his page.
Why Ignore the Meta Keyword Tag?
If the search engines don’t look at the meta keyword tag for ranking purposes, then you might well ask, “Well, what’s the harm in using them, then? It might help, and it can’t hurt …”
Except that it can hurt.
First, go back to that warning I issued above: Anyone who says they know exactly how to game the search algorithm is misguided at best, or is just a flat-out lying con artist. The algorithm particulars are closely guarded secrets, and they change over time as engineers learn how spammers are gaming the system and craft new code to block those gaming attempts.
Remember this: the search engines do not care about you, the website owner. They care about the searcher, and only the searcher. Keep that in mind whenever you address optimization issues on your site, and you’ll avoid at least half the mistakes that can drive your site down the SERPs list.
And we know that the search engines don’t like keyword stuffing. The reason why is obvious: it’s a cheap, low-effort way to try to game the system. They want to give searchers the most useful, most reliable, most current information on the searcher’s subject of choice.
As we move farther away from the days of highly technical “tweak this, tweak that” approaches to SEO, the search engines get closer to that goal of ferreting out the best information available on the web for a specific set of keywords.
And that requires looking at the actual information on the page — not some random set of keywords stuffed into the meta keywords tag. Google’s even gone on record as stating that every other kind of text on your page is more important than the meta keywords tag content.
Now add to this the fact that search engines are committed to weeding out spam pages and the fact that to achieve this goal, one of the things they’re going to look at is the meta keywords tag. If that tag is stuffed with keywords, at some point the search engines will label the page spam. Or just “spammier than these other pages that aren’t carrying stuffed keyword tags.”
Either way, putting keywords in those tags will only hurt your page. It can’t really help.
Your Takeaway: Leave Meta Keywords Field Alone
I agree with Danny Sullivan on this point: the better practice is to not even bother.
- Put that time and attention towards crafting better content, and ensuring that your content delivers value on the keywords you’ve chosen for the page.
- Tweak your <h2> and <h3> headings.
- Make sure your earlier paragraphs deliver the keywords in a natural, “real language” way (read the content out loud to check yourself on this point).
- Craft a short, solid meta description and custom title tag, if your actual headline doesn’t deliver the keywords naturally.
- And ditch the meta keyword tag altogether.
What’s your take? Do you use the meta keywords field? Am I wrong? Make your case in the comments!