The value of using the meta keywords tag has long been contested amongst SEOs.
In september 2009 Matt Cutts of confirmed the commonly held view that Google has never used meta keywords tag. It’s unusual for Google to be this direct so apparently this issue hasn’t been easy to ignore and they probably thought this would be the final nail in the meta keywords coffin.
Some people mistakenly believed that Bing was paying attention to Meta Keywords tag based on an SEO 101 guide they put together for webmasters which included a section recommending their inclusion. However in a comment on an article discussing Yahoo’s use of meta keywords, Stefan Weitz from Bing confirmed categorically that Bing does not include meta keywords.
One of the main reasons given by advocates to continue to include them was that Yahoo considered them as part of its relevancy algorithm. Just 12 months later Yahoo’s search function is being powered by Bing so this remaining argument is no longer valid.
In the most recent SEOmoz Ranking Factors study based on the opinion of 72 ‘experts’, the Meta Keywords tag was voted as the least important on-page ranking factor although it somehow still managed to get a score of 5%.
Despite being ignored by the big search engines, there are still a few arguments to keep using them.
5 Reasons to Use Meta Keywords
5 Reasons NOT to Use Meta Keywords
Before sharing our conclusions, we wanted to measure the the current level of meta tag usage on the web and find out how common they still are.
We analysed the home pages of the top 100,000 websites for the US according to Quantcast.
The domain list provided by Quantcast includes only the root domain which we preceded with a www. subdomain to generate the test domains. In some instances this did not work. e.g. Blogspot.com is listed as a top domain due to the high number of subdomains so www.blogspot.com is not representative. The final number of domains which returned a page that could be analysed was 89,506 which should be a sufficiently large sample.
Note that these are the most popular websites, not a representative sample of all websites.
We used our DeepCrawl site architecture tool to crawl the home pages and extract the meta keywords tag if available. This was extracted using customised regular expressions as the meta keywords tag is not supported by default in our tools.
Sites were crawled from a UK IP address which might have led to redirection in a small number of cases or sites failing to be returned.
Apple has taken a minimalist approach which is either a breathtaking display of brand arrogance or more likely a light-hearted approach to reinforcing their philosophy of simplicity.
<meta name="Keywords" content="Apple" />
Despite being part of Google, YouTube is continuing to use them. The keywords themselves are unusual and don’t appear to have been formulated by someone with a knowledge of search who would surely omit words like ‘discover’ and ‘engage’.
<meta name="keywords" content="video, free, simple, search, find, discover, watch, engage, share, sharing, upload, entertainment">
Our analysis looks at websites which may retain legacy meta keywords tags that have been in place for many years and there might be a much lower rate of inclusion of meta keywords on newly developed websites. This would require a set of data identifying newly developed websites which is not available.
We are planning to re-examine this on an annual basis and see if there is any change in their use over time. We’d hope to see a reduction over time but it’s likely that the meta keywords tag will remain on many sites for the foreseeable future.
Our advice to clients remains the same. The ‘potential’ value of the meta keywords tag doesn’t warrant the effort and time that could be put to better use on pretty much any other type of SEO activity.
For the same reasons we don’t recommend active removal which also takes time but we would suggest removing them at the next convenient opportunity.
We’ve also made the decision not to support the Meta Keywords tag in any way in our products.
Let us know if we’ve missed any good arguments for using them.