What Are Meta Keywords? Rise, Fall, and Current Status in SEO
Mastering the art of distinguishing between outdated practices and those that still hold value is an underrated skill every good digital marketer should have up their sleeve. One classic point of debate that puts this skill to the test centers around meta keywords—HTML snippets found in a website’s source code.
Are meta keywords a relic of the past, or do they still hold relevance in today’s SEO landscape? To help you cut through the noise and make informed decisions, in this guide, we
- answer the question, “What are meta keywords?”
- and we trace their journey from once being a prominent SEO tool to their current status.
Spoiler alert: Google has publicly declared that they do not use meta keywords for indexing and ranking. But does this mean they are completely irrelevant now? And why do we still encounter discussions about them?
What Are Meta Keywords?
Meta keywords are specific types of meta tags that reside in the HTML code of a webpage. They were initially designed to help search engines understand the content of a page by providing concise, keyword-focused summaries of the page’s content.
In technical terms, meta keywords are inserted into the <head> section of a webpage’s HTML within a <meta name=”keywords” content=”(keywords here)“> tag. A comma typically separates each keyword or phrase within the content attribute. For example, for the online marketplace Amazon, meta keywords might look something like this:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Amazon, Amazon.com, Books, Online Shopping, Book Store, Magazine, etc.”>
In this scenario, “Amazon,” “Amazon.com,” “Books,” and “Online Shopping” would be the meta keywords for the page. They provide a brief snapshot of the content on your page and, in theory, help search engines categorize your page accordingly.
Learn more: SEO glossary 250+ terms explained.
Why Are Meta Keywords Important?
Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, search engines were far less sophisticated than they are now. The algorithms they used weren’t as refined and couldn’t decipher webpages’ content with the same level of accuracy we see today.
Enter meta keywords. These hidden HTML tags acted as a signpost for these early search engine algorithms, indicating the content and focus of a webpage. As we just described, webmasters would pack these tags with relevant keywords to rank higher in search engine results. This was thought to help search engines better understand the page’s content and, in theory, rank the page higher when users searched for these keywords.
However, as is the case with many things on the internet, this system was soon exploited. Some webmasters started employing “keyword stuffing,” where they would load their meta keywords with high-volume and sometimes irrelevant keywords to trick the search engines into ranking their page higher. This led to low-quality pages appearing at the top of search results, which was not beneficial for search engine users or the credibility of search engines like Google.
To combat this issue, over time, Google and others have refined their algorithms, placing less and less importance on meta keywords. As a result, by the late 2000s, the significance of meta keywords in SEO had considerably diminished and, in most cases, is now completely redundant.
Despite this, the debate about their current relevance still arises in certain corners of the digital marketing world. Let’s tackle this misconception now.
Meta Keywords Today: Are They Still Relevant?
Google has clarified that meta keywords do not factor into its ranking algorithm. They’ve previously stated, “The meta-keyword tag is not used by Google Search, and it has no effect on indexing and ranking at all.” They’ve also said, “Because the keywords meta tag was so often abused, many years ago, Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag.”
Not much room for ambiguity there.
Instead of prioritizing meta keywords, modern SEO practices should center around ranking factors that Google pays attention to—quality content, relevant and contextual keyword usage within the content, backlinks, user experience, and on-page SEO best practices. These factors are far more robust and less prone to manipulation, which provides a more accurate reflection of a webpage’s relevance to a given search query.
Most modern search engines have now followed suit, developing more sophisticated ways of assessing a webpage’s content and relevance to a user’s search.
That being said, while they may not contribute to your ranking, meta keywords may still have some peripheral uses. Some smaller search engines may still use them.
Do Major Search Engines Still Use Meta Keywords?
As we navigate the world of search engines beyond Google, the use of meta keywords varies, although their overall importance is noticeably diminished.
Starting with Bing, the second-largest search engine. Bing pays attention to meta keywords but not as a ranking factor. Quite the opposite. Bing uses meta keywords as a spam indicator. If the keywords listed in the meta keyword tag do not align with the actual content of the page, it could result in the page being penalized.
From Duane Forrester, a senior product manager at Microsoft, “Today, it’s pretty clear the meta keyword tag is dead in terms of SEO value. Sure, it might have value for contextual ad systems or serve as a signal to ‘bots plying the web looking for topics to target, but as far as search goes, that tag flat lined years ago as a booster.”
Moving on to Yandex, Russia’s most used search engine, its approach is slightly different. They’ve stated meta keywords “Can be used when determining the page’s relevance to search queries.” So, while Yandex doesn’t give significant weight to meta keywords for its main algorithm, it does use them in specific situations to understand the context and relevance of a page. However, their impact is minimal, and focusing on high-quality, relevant content will yield better results for SEO on Yandex.
Baidu, China’s largest search engine, made it clear back in 2012 that it would stop using the meta keywords tag in its ranking algorithm. Like Google and Bing, the decision was driven by rampant misuse and the desire to enhance the quality of search results.
Conclusion and Next Steps
If you’re still trying to decipher the relevance of meta keywords, it might be time to switch gears and invest in proven SEO strategies. That is exactly the reason you need an experienced partner by your side.
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