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How Important Is the Meta Keyword Tag?

Written By: Ken Evoy (CEO, SiteSell) in Ken's Blog | May 5, 2009
Ken’s Blog

Good question. Google has never given a clear answer to this question, either side-stepping it or being vague.

First a bit of history…

The meta keyword tag used to be abused by early SEOers (along with the comments tag), who’d stuff this tag with the same keyword 50 times (easy to detect and shut down, of course) or with every word possibly related to the topic. (Bad strategy, how’s an engine going to know what your page is about if you include everything plus the kitchen sink?)

Fast forward to today when tags are respected, and encouraged, everywhere else… blogs, Flickr, countless Web 2.0 sites, etc. And we’re supposed to believe, according to some SEO sources, that the engines totally ignore this tag?

That makes no sense to me. And I’ve learned to trust common sense over the no-way-they-can-know utterances of SEOers, no matter how “surely” they state it….

SEOers tend to talk categorically. They don’t like saying, “I don’t know.” But the fact is there’s no way they (or I) can know. There are just too many off-page criteria to be able to measure the importance of any single parameter, on-page or off. So instead, I fall back on my question that has stood me in good stead over all these years…

“If I were Google, what would I do?”

Here’s what I would do. If you submit a meta keyword tag with not more than a few keywords and with no evidence of spam, why wouldn’t I account for the fact that you are trying to tell me what a page is about in just a few words? I’d likely take the first word to be your most important.

The truth is that no one really knows, but it’s safe to say that a well-formed meta keyword tag can’t hurt. It’s likely not important, but I see no reason for it to be totally ignored if it’s well-formed.

SBI!, of course, uses the first meta keyword to help you focus on “one topic (keyword) per page.” The system uses the meta keyword tag to know which word your page is focusing on. This tag is also used for such things as…

  • Analyze It! — Get a page “analyzed” correctly for that one keyword. That way, SBI! can report on how the page is ranking for that keyword.
  • Rank reporting — the rankings of each page at each engine are for your page’s Specific Keyword, which is the first keyword you enter for each page.

Bottom line…

1) I would not give up this tag, even though it’s not the most important tag on the page. And even if it’s ignored, its presence can’t hurt you — there are just too many sites that use the tag.

Is it essential to be found at Google? No, nothing (not even your title tag) is a “must.” But the “sum of all parts” is competitive, so I’d not give up any little on-page edge I can get.

And, of course, write solid, original content to grow your off-page criteria.

2) It focuses you on the topic of that page (first keyword = the Specific Keyword). If you do a Keyword Search Report, of course, you’ll find that many of your pages get found for other keywords, too. Many of these aren’t even in your title tag — rarer ones may only be mentioned once on the entire page.

So again… nothing is a “must.” But offline criteria (ex., bounce rate, inbound links, etc., etc.) make this too complex to be able for anyone to categorically state the importance of this or any other factor.

3) SBI! “counts” the first keyword in each keyword meta tag as your “Specific Keyword” for each page. And, as mentioned above, it uses that info to help manage your site.

4) Finally, there’s definitely much more “on the page” than the meta keyword tag. The title, meta description, headline, body copy, etc., are all places where you’d still use your Specific Keyword.

I’d love to see Google’s response to this discussion about the meta keyword tag…

And I don’t mean a statement that says it’s not important (not too many of the factors would be considered “important”) or that they “basically” ignore it. I’d like a clear and direct statement from Google, not a quote, but an actual reference on a URL that says they totally ignore the meta keyword tag. Period. No maybes, ifs, ands or buts.

If Google was to come out tomorrow and clearly say, “We totally ignore this tag,” I’d believe it. It wouldn’t change anything in your site because it’s not harmful, other engines still use it, and so does SBI!. But I don’t think you’re going to hear that.

SEOers are simply in way over their heads when they pretend to know Google’s algorithm. There is simply no experiment to run that would conclusively prove anything of significance because there are simply too many variables (some, I’m sure, that we don’t even dream about).

So, and this has been the philosophy from the very beginning of SBI!…

Keep it real. Don’t “beat” the engines. Give them what they want. That coincides with what humans want… useful, original content. Get the on-page stuff right, build a diversified inbound links program until the traffic snowball starts rolling and the off-page criteria keep growing on their own.

And then pour it on some more!

All the best,

Ken Evoy (CEO, SiteSell)
Ken Evoy is the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of SiteSell Inc. He is the creator of SBI!, SiteSell's comprehensive Web business-building system. Ken is also a successful inventor, author, and emergency physician. He feels strongly that solopreneurs can be empowered by leveraging their income building potential online.
Ken Evoy (CEO, SiteSell)

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