Keywords have always been a hot topic when discussing SEO, but the context has shifted considerably over the years. You may remember a time when sites would have a list of meta keywords a mile long – and in some cases those keywords weren’t even relevant to the content of the site, they were simply chosen to put the site in view of as many people as possible. For example, the meta keywords may have included names of popular celebrities or even some less-than-savory terms. These were used in hopes that the site in question would come up in as many searches as possible, even if the person doing the search wouldn’t have any interest in viewing the actual content of the site.
These methods of trying to fool search engines into displaying sites that aren’t actually relevant to the user’s needs are the main reason why meta keywords have not been used in Google rankings since 2009.
What exactly does this mean? Let’s break it down.
What Are Meta Tags?
Recently we talked about using SEO plugins to optimize your search engine listings. We focused on using those plugins to specifically determine the titles and descriptions that will show when search engines display your site in their results. What these plugins are actually doing is making it easy for you to edit meta tags.
Meta tags are a way of storing information within your site that isn’t actually viewable by the user, but that is used to describe your site and its contents for search engines. When Google made their statement about no longer using the meta keywords tag there was a great deal of misunderstanding – many people thought that this meant that Google was no longer using any of the meta tags, when in fact this isn’t the case at all. Many other meta tags are in use and can, in fact, be extremely helpful to your SEO. We talked about using plugins to easily set “title” and “description” tags, and future posts may explore how other tags can benefit you.
Keywords Still Matter, But Content is the Real Key
When we say that keyword meta tags are no longer important to Google, do not take this to mean that keywords are no longer important to Google. Keywords are simply terms that users may type into Google when looking for something in particular, and in a previous post we talked about how to fine tune the keyword usage on your site.
Since Google no longer looks at the meta keyword tag, what that means is that it is especially important to make certain that your keywords are present in your content. This means that your content needs to be well written and representative of what you do and the service that you’re presenting on your website.
Should You Ignore Meta Keywords Altogether?
Some SEO experts have taken an aggressively anti-meta-keywords stance. If you’re using WordPress SEO by Yoast you will actually have to check a box in the Titles & Metas settings in order to enable the use of meta keywords. Next to said box is this statement: “I don’t know why you’d want to use meta keywords, but if you want to, check this box.”
Others take a more middle-of-the-road approach. No, Google doesn’t use the meta keywords, but other search engines do. Filling in a few of your focus keywords certainly isn’t going to hurt anything, and if they’re pulled by some of the smaller search engines they might even do you some good.
I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time on them – simply copying in the handful of keywords you’ve already chosen to focus on should be more than sufficient. I definitely don’t recommend trying to keyword-stuff – the shady practice discussed at the beginning of this post. Don’t be that guy.
The take-home message here – as it frequently is when discussing SEO – is that well constructed, carefully thought out content is the most important thing to focus on, for your SEO and, more importantly, for your users.