Keeping up with the ever-changing guidelines introduced by search engines can be time consuming and quite difficult to follow. Search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques that were once tolerated are now considered incorrect and those who try to manipulate search engine result pages (SERP) are penalised by some of the major search engines.
One of the most talked about topics in SEO is whether keyword meta tags are still being used for their ranking factor by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Keyword meta tags have been used for a while by people who hope to boost their website to the top of a SERP. It was common practice for webmasters to fill these tags to the brim with keywords that were irrelevant to their website, and it didn’t take long for search engines to take notice.
So, let’s take a look at how some of the search engine giants are treating keyword meta tags.
Google - the company have said on their blog that they don’t use the keywords meta tag in their search results. Google can’t guarantee that it will never use it, but they are pretty confident that it will not be used in future updates.
Some believe that it’s possible that Google may use them for penalising those that attempt to falsely rank their website with irrelevant keywords.
Bing - the company have said that they don’t support the keyword meta tag and have stood by it for a long time. However, Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing, posted in a blog article:
“I’ll make this statement: meta keywords is a signal. One of roughly a thousand we analyze. Getting it right is a nice perk for us, but won’t rock your world. Abusing meta keywords can hurt you.”
Search Engine Land, a leading daily publication that covers all aspects of the search marketing industry, asked Duane if it was true, and he replied with the following:
“Yeah, you’re pretty much bang on Danny. In fact, it’s not like we’re actively trying to encourage folks to start using the tag. And you’re right – the scenario I describe is more of a spam signal, which ultimately leads to rankings (or not, as the case may be).”
Based on this conversation it’s apparent that the keywords meta tag doesn’t provide much weight on Bing search results, although misuse may result in being penalised.
Yahoo - the company have previously announced at their SMX East Conference that they no longer use the keywords meta tag on their search results. However, Search Engine Land called out Yahoo, showing evidence that the company still used keyword meta tags as a ranking factor. Yahoo released a statement stating the following:
“What changed with Yahoo’s ranking algorithms is that while we still index the meta keyword tag, the ranking importance given to meta keyword tags receives the lowest ranking signal in our system.
Words that appear in any other part of documents, including the body, title, description, anchor text etc., will take priority in ranking the document – the re-occurrence of these words in the meta keyword tag will not help in boosting the signal for these words. Therefore, keyword stuffing in the keyword tag will not help a page’s recall or ranking, it will actually have less effect than introducing those same words in the body of the document, or any other section.
However, when no other ranking signal is present, unique words that only appear in the meta keyword tag section of documents can still be used to recall these documents.”
Basically, Yahoo says that virtually no weight is given to keyword meta tags. If your website has no other SEO then it will use the tags as a last resort, although other websites will most likely out rank you.
The short answer is “no”, well at least not completely. There are some people who will strongly advise against using keyword meta tags, and some that suggest you should stick with them. Those that have used WordPress SEO by Yoast, for example, will notice that you have to check a box in the Titles and Metas settings in order to enable the use of keyword meta tags.
Even if Google, Bing, or Yahoo ignore keyword meta tags, it’s worth mentioning that some of the smaller search engines may still use them. They may not bring in a lot of traffic, but it’s still worth trying to get those few extra clicks where you can.
In conclusion, it may not be a good idea to spend a lot of time on your keyword meta tags, but it’s certainly worth using a handful of keywords you’ve chosen to focus your content on. If anything, it will help you align your content with the audience you intend to target - just don't abuse them!