The Meta Keyword Tag
An Indepth Look At How The Search Engines Crawl And May Choose To Ignore, Your Meta Keyword Tag In 2009
Meta Keyword Experiment
If you’ve taken a look at my meta keywords tag on the front page of my site lately, you’ve probably noticed an odd keyword phrase in there.
<meta name=”keywords” content=”spelt grain, canadian virtual, canadianvirtual”>
Why would I be using this keyword phrase for a site that’s geared toward small business owners and online search marketing?
Spamming? Some shade of grey seo tactic? You would be right to wonder, but some of you may have already had the realization that this is only a test. I chose spelt grain because it had nothing to do with my site at all. Any search I did on my site proved fruitless for this phrase, pre-this-post of course. It was also a great term because I could not only test indexing, but I could also test rank. I decided to do this test, not so much because of SEO Paranoia, but more because information on the meta keywords tag is sparse. To clarify, I should say that any real information on the usage of this tag is sparse. There’s lots of conjecture out there, and forums full of opinion.
Google Hates Keywords
Now how is that as a linkbait title?
Google doesn’t actually hate keywords, but as a search engine, it definitely ignores the keyword meta tag. Here is their Google Approved chart from their support docs, “Google understands the following meta tags (and related items)”:
|<meta name=”description” content=”A description of the page” />||This tag provides a short description of the page. In some situations this description is used as a part of the snippet shown in the search results. More information|
|<title>The Title of the Page</title>||While technically not a meta tag, this tag is often used together with the “description”. The contents of this tag are generally shown as the title in search results (and of course in the user’s browser). More information|
|<meta name=”robots” content=”…, …” />
<meta name=”googlebot” content=”…, …” />
|These meta tags can control the behavior of search engine crawling and indexing. The robots meta tag applies to all search engines, while the “googlebot” meta tag is specific to Google. The default values are “index, follow” (the same as “all”) and do not need to be specified. We understand the following values (when specifying multiple values, separate them with a comma):
As a side-note, you can now also specify this information in the header of your pages using the “X-Robots-Tag” HTTP header directive. This is particularly useful if you wish to fine-tune crawling and indexing of non-HTML files like graphics or other kinds of documents.
|<meta name=”google” content=”notranslate” />||When we recognize that the contents of a page are not in the language that the user is likely to want to read, we often provide a link to a translation in the search results. In general, this gives you the chance to provide your unique and compelling content to a much larger group of users. However, there may be situations where this is not desired. This meta tag tells Google that you don’t want us to provide a translation for this page. More information|
|<meta name=”verify-v1″ content=”…” />||You can use this tag on the top-level page of your site to verify ownership for Webmaster Tools. Please note that while the values of the “name” and “content” attributes must match exactly what is provided to you (including upper and lower case), it doesn’t matter if you change the tag from XHTML to HTML or if the format of the tag matches the format of your page. More information|
|<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”…; charset=…” />||This meta tag defines the page’s content type and character set. Make sure that you surround the value of the content attribute with quotes - otherwise the charset attribute may be interpreted incorrectly. More information|
|<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”…;url=…” />||This meta tag sends the user to a new URL after a certain amount of time, and is sometimes used as a simple form of redirection. However, it is not supported by all browsers and can be confusing to the user. The W3C recommends that this tag not be used. We recommend using a server-side 301 redirect instead.|
What is most interesting is this snippet below the table:
“This is not an exclusive list of available meta tags, and you should feel free to use unlisted meta tags if they are important to your site. Just remember that Google will ignore meta tags it doesn’t know”. It’s also interesting that this table renders with tbody tags, but I’ll save that for another post.
So it is quite clear that Google completely ignores the meta keyword tag. Trying to find any “official” information from MSN/Live/Kumo has been next to impossible. Ask has some meta tag information, but no specific offering, directly or indirectly on the meta keyword tag. Yahoo however offers this advice, here:
“Use a ‘keyword’ meta-tag to list key words for the document. Use a distinct list of keywords that relate to the specific page on your site instead of using one broad set of keywords for every page.”
Out of the major search engines, Yahoo is the only one that actually advocates its use, you rebel you, Yahoo!
The Meta Keyword Tag Real World Test
So why am I doing this test? Many sites don’t even bother to include the meta keyword tag anymore, and based on the above findings, I don’t blame them. There is a certain amount of freedom in not having to worry about this tag anymore. There are some sites that still use this tag however, so who is right? Let’s find out.
There is one search engine that can identify which Engines still use the meta keyword tag for indexing and discovery. Check out what MetaCrawler found out below.
Sure enough, Google and Live completely ignore the meta keyword tag, while Yahoo, Ask, and others still accept its use. I could include screencaps from all of these engines, to prove what MetaCrawler says, but for brevity of this post, MetaCrawler is all the evidence we need.
I added “spelt grain” to my meta keywords tag on March 8th. On that day I found 363,000 results on Google, 306,000 results on Live, and 1,570,000 on Yahoo. We can safely remove Google and Live from this part of the discussion, as they clearly are not showing me any results related to spelt grain, using advanced search operators to filter searches, based on my site. However, do you think www.Canadianvirtual.ca appears anywhere in the now 1,600,000 results on Yahoo? 0 in 1000. This site doesn’t appear in the first 1000 positions on Yahoo, the maximum number of listings that the search engines allows you to see.
Meta Keyword Benefit
Having the meta keyword tag in your pages has benefit in terms of discovery for some search engines, but not all. However don’t be sold on this tag as a work horse in your SEO stable. Also, if you are a business owner looking to hire a search marketing consultant, run, don’t walk away if he or she tries to sell you on the virtues of using keywords in this meta tag to rank in the engines, because quite clearly, you won’t.
You could consider having some misspells in your meta keyword tag, if you feel so inclined to use it, based on Danny Sullivan’s post here. The internet gods do have sense of humour, I only found this post after I launched my experiment.