One of the most asked questions I receive from clients and webmasters is does Google still utilize meta keyword tags in SEO ranking factors. Many SEO professionals debate over this controversial issue. The debates are based on an article published by Matt Cutts of Google released in September of 2009. The article, which was also accompanied by a video, informed us that Google no longer uses meta keyword tags as a SEO ranking factor. It was after this statement was made that many asked what all the other search engines were doing in regards to the use of meta keyword tags, and after much research, this is what I found out.
Google’s Standpoint: Not Used
As the article above stated, Google has mentioned they no longer utilize meta keyword tags in their algorithm for search rankings. Google did say that they will not guarantee any perminence in this decision in that there is no promise that it will never be used again, however, they did say it was highly unlikely they will use meta tags as a deciding factor in the future. There are still individuals who believe meta keyword tags can have negative ranking effects by using them on Google, however, I have been unable to substantiate this in my findings or find anything official that backs up this theory.
Yahoo’s Standpoint: Rarely Used
It was around the same time in 2009 that Google announced they were no longer using meta keyword tags that Yahoo announced, at their SMX East Conference, that Yahoo’s search engine would also no longer use keyword meta tags in their ranking algorithm. It was this announcement that was followed up with an article from Search Engine Land specifying they conducted an experiment and found the Yahoo statement to be false. Yahoo responded rather quickly to Search Engine Land with this statement:
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.
In Summary, Yahoo accredits virtually no weight to meta keyword tags. If there are no other ranking factors on your website other than meta keyword tags then Yahoo will use the tags as a last resort for your pages ranking.
Bing’s Standpoint: Not Much Weight
Bing has affirmed that they do not support the meta keyword tag and have stood by it for a very long time until Duane Forrester, a Project Manager for Bing posted the following in a blog article:
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.
Search Engine Land emailed Duane asking if this comment was true. Duane replied with the following:
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).
After seeing this conversation, it is apparent that while Bing is subscribing to a similar view as Yahoo in the fact that it does not put much weight on the use of meta keyword tags, you do run the risk of them being used against you as a negative ranking factor.
Should You Use Meta Keyword Tags for SEO?
Meta keyword tags should be used with extreme caution. I have provided information on how Google really does not use this as a ranking tool at all anymore and, how the other two major search engines do indeed take a peek at this tag. You should tread carefully as improper or spammy use most likely will hurt you with Bing, or even have your site marked as spam. If you so choose to use meta keyword tags, be sure to avoid overstuffing the keywords and do not include keywords that are not related to the specific page you place them on.
The other side of the equation is making sure your competition is not aware of your SEO plan. The downside to meta keyword tags is that, in theory, your competition can easily see exactly which terms you are targeting and in turn can pursue the same terms to rank for. If you choose other methods to attempt to rank for your terms you can do so without giving away the secret sauce to your keyword term list.
To summarize, you are running the risk of more potential harm then good when using meta keyword tags. The idea behind these tags is rather outdated and they are not worth the potential risk of the negative impact that can occur from improper use.
I will end this article with a statement made by Dr. Peter J Meyers, Marketing Scientist as 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.