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The Myths Behind META Keywords

Thom Craver

One of the most perpetuated falacies of technical SEO continues to be the need for the META Keywords tag. Google hasn't looked at that tag on websites in several years. Yet the blogosphere is full of articles that keep coming abouthow important the tag is to use.

The history of the META keywords tag goes back over a decade. Over time, it was used for fraudulent purposes. Sites would stuff whatever keywords they wanted into the tags, regardless of relevance. Since that time, most search engines - especially Google - stopped reading them and considering them as a part of ranking. Although Google stopped using it long before, it became official in September 2009 when Google's head of spam, Matt Cutts, posted on the official Google Blog, "Google does't use the 'keywords' meta tag in our web search ranking."

He even took to YouTube creating a video of the same name.


What Happens When you Use META Keywords?

In essence, nothing. Google ignores them, as does Yahoo. Bing looks at them, but not as a ranking signal. Bing reads the META Keywords tag as a spam signal. If your site uses the tag, but the keywords contained within it do not appear in your document, your site will be penalized.

Another side effect of using the META Keywords tag is that your competitors will know your keyword strategy. Granted, now-a-days there are plenty of competitive research tools to help determine a competitor's keywords. However, when you use a tag and list them on your pages, you're essentially handing them your keyword strategy on a silver platter.

Using them potentially creates more harm than good. Close the book on using keyword meta tags.

Can I Still Use META Descriptions?

In short, yes. Though, across most search engines, META Description tags are not used for purposes of ranking either. However, they still serve an important role.

A search result has at least three main elements:

1. TITLE, often in a large blue font

2. URL, typically smaller and often in a green font

3. DESCRIPTION, set off in a lighter color.

The description used in a search result often - though not always - is pulled from your META Description tag. Its 156 characters should adequately describe the contents of your page and offer a value proposition, if possible. Next to the TITLE tag, it is the second most important part of a search result that entices a user to click through to your site, as opposed to other listings.

Use the META Description as your elevator pitch as to why a search user should choose you. You have precious few seconds. Create a unique description that helps searchers determine whether yours is the page they seek.

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Thom Craver is an international speaker, digital strategist, author and adjunct professor. He specializes in SEO and Web analytics. His last article for SEMrush was "Getting Started With Local SEO."
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