Meta Keywords: Good, Bad, or Indifferent?

by Julie Gomoll on December 16, 2011

screenshot of source code with "meta keywords" written over itNobody questions the value of most metadata in helping with SEO. Every SEO 101 article will explain the importance of page titles and meta descriptions. And for a long time meta keywords were considered a must-have. For the last year or so, though, the value of meta keywords has been questioned and debated. Even Google has publicly stated that they don’t use meta keywords in ranking.

A common conclusion is “well, they might not help, but they don’t hurt providing you don’t abuse them.” I reached that same conclusion, and have expressed that very sentiment to my clients.

Not any more.

Definition of Metadata

While metadata actually encompasses a huge range of values (see the Wikipedia definition of metadata), for the purposes of this article, I’m referring to Meta Titles (also referred to as Page Name, Custom Title Tag, or Page Title) and Meta Descriptions.

The Meta Title of an article is what appears as the primary link on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). It may or may not match the actual title of your article. The Meta Description is the brief paragraph that appears on the SERP right below that link. Without an explicit Meta Description, what will appear are the first 150 characters or so of your post.

(click to embiggen)

Screen shot showing Title of Post, Meta Title, and Meta Description

Notice the title of the post is different than what the SERP shows, and that the meta description on the SERP is not the first 150 characters of the post.

If you’re using WordPress, you can modify these using a plugin like All In One SEO Pack. If you’re using Thesis (as I do on this blog), you don’t need a plugin — it’s built right in. For me, the fields for SEO details appear right below the text editor, and look like this:

screenshot of SEO details fields in Thesis for WordPress

Why I Won’t Use Meta Keywords Any More

Yesterday I read this excellent article on conducting website audits on Tamar Weinberg’s blog casually mentioning the fact that Bing flags all pages using meta keywords as spam.

What?!

So I did some digging. And the evidence began to pile up. When I saw that Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land talked with a senior product manager for Bing webmaster outreach who confirmed that meta keywords are basically a bad idea, I was convinced.

There’s no need to panic here. It does seem that Bing, like Google, penalizes you for using useless keywords more than anything. But if the mere presence of keywords is a signal for possible spam, it seems best to err on the side of caution.

So. No more meta keywords for me.

Are you still using them? Does the Bing news change your mind on the issue?

 

  • Chris

    I do use meta keywords in my optimizations. Not because Google appreciates it anymore, but as an organizational tool to keep me focused while keyword-seeding the body copy: if it’s in the meta-description, it must also be in the body copy. And what could it hurt? Besides, perhaps one day google will consider it again, and we’ll be glad it’s already there. Interesting to note about Bing. In my experience Yahoo and Bing are generally 2-fers, meaning I get them for free when optimizing around Google.