Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Don’t Use the Keywords Meta Tag

People still use the keywords meta tag.

I shouldn’t have to write this post. Everyone should know that the keywords meta tag has been useless for years, right? Then why do I still see websites using sometimes elaborate and excessive meta keywords tags?

The red X meand don't use the keywords meta tag.Stop it! Don’t use them.

Why? A little history might help.

This meta tag began to be used more than twenty years ago — even before there was such a thing as Google. We were using search engines like AltaVista and InfoSeek and Ask Jeeves and Lycos.  And we were advising our clients to use the keywords meta tag.

They weren’t very sophisticated.

The keywords meta tag was designed to help them know what searches to rank a page for. Sounds easy, right? Well, maybe a bit too easy.

Quick story:

Back in 1995 you could look to see what the most popular search terms were. You still can, actually.

Star for Britney Spears on the Hollywood Walk of FameAt the time, one of the most popular search terms was Britney Spears. For some website owners that was compelling. The theory went that if millions of people were searching for Britney Spears, let’s put her name in our keywords meta tag. Then search engines will send those millions of people to our website. Surely some of them will want to buy what we sell!

So they added “Britney Spears” to their keywords meta tag to fool all the search engines into sending Britney fans to their website. And back in those days excess was the rule. If having Britney Spears in the meta keywords tag once helped to rank for people searching for her, putting it in there a dozen times should bring even more of them! So that’s what they did. It might have looked like this:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”shoes, Britney Spears, women’s shoes, Britney Spears, pumps, flats, Britney Spears, high heels, Britney Spears, patent leather shoes, Britney Spears, red shoes, Britney Spears, brown shoes, Britney Spears>

It didn’t take long for the search engines to notice that the actual content on the web page  — the stuff that people could read — wasn’t about Britney Spears at all. They spotted the cheating tactic and began to treat it as search engine spam. The result was they stopped using the keywords meta tag at all in deciding what a given web page was about or what searches they should rank it for

It’s been worthless ever since.

But myths and legends die hard. And as recently as 2008 Google Engineer Matt Cutts had to produce a video explaining that Google definitely does not use the meta keywords tag in ranking websites. Yahoo and Bing have confirmed that as well.

But it gets worse.

A keywords meta tag in your code might be seen as a spam signal: a ham-fisted attempt to fool search engines into ranking you better than you deserve to be. Spam signals are bad. Really bad. They hurt your rankings instead of helping them.

You can still do it. But don’t.

For some reason enough people still think they help that one of the most popular plugins for WordPress sites, the Yoast SEO plugin, includes an option for it. But with this warning:

Yoast SEO plugin option for adding the keywords meta tag

[Update 2/15/2018] Beyond that, the good folks at Yoast have just now removed any reference to the meta keywords tag and they explain why here.

Bottom line: just don’t do it.

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