Meta Keywords: why I don’t use them

There is one question about SEO which seems to be coming up time and time again, so let me answer it now and be done with it. Meta Keywords are useless. No search engine uses them for any real rankings. That is why by default, there is no meta keywords input field in my WordPress SEO plugin and why I never use them. The fact that “other SEO plugins do have them” isn’t a good reason for me to enable them in my plugin by default.

Let me give you the full history of the meta keywords tag’s demise. In September 2009, Google announced officially what was already true for years back then: “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”. Matt Cutts explains it in a video:

Do Yahoo! and Bing use meta keywords?

In October of that same year, 2009, almost two years ago, at SMX East, Yahoo! announced they no longer use the meta keywords tag anymore either. This turned out to be not entirely true, as they do index them, but they won’t help you one bit.

Bing said at one point, in a guide about how to optimize your page:

“It was abused far too much and lost most of its cachet. But there’s no need to ignore the tag. Take advantage of all legitimate opportunities to score keyword credit, even when the payoff is relatively low.”

So basically they’re encouraging you to do fill it out, even though the “credit” will be admittedly very, very low. I say: don’t do it at all. Don’t waste your time. Instead of thinking about which keywords to put in that silly meta keywords tag for 5 minutes, think about your content for 5 minutes longer. Really. It’s worth it.

But I want meta keywords!!!

If you really can’t live without them, go to the WordPress SEO dashboard and enable them:

Meta Keywords in the WordPress SEO plugin

Don’t expect me to think you’re cool though. The reality is, that if you’re trying to rank for any term that’s even only a little competitive, meta keywords won’t help. You should write engaging, meaningful content on a technically well optimized platform and get good links and social engagement. That’s what builds great rankings, meta keywords have nothing to do with it.

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71 Responses

  1. Noel TockBy Noel Tock on 8 July, 2011

    Not sure why this discussion keeps popping up, but I agree (and I think Google has been pretty clear about this for a long time). What I think is interesting are the sort of new-school ‘meta tags’ emerging, and how they will be weighted, i.e. Schema.org (or Google Rich Snippets). Bing for one has already announced a big reliance on Schema. However, they’ll likely face a few challenges discerning between microdata hidden from the user and the actual content it’s wrapped around. I’m sure like everything else SEO, a few black hats will find a loophole only for the search engines to pick up on it soon after. The only constant that remains is quality content.

    • Desired AppsBy Desired Apps on 8 July, 2011

      While I generally agree with you on the real value of keywords I´d just like to point out that IF you take the time to add tags to your articles then you might as well use those as meta keywords at the same time. Of course this makes sense IF tags are being used as keywords automatically.

  2. Antonio RomeroBy Antonio Romero on 8 July, 2011

    The point is why even google keep using them in many pages created by them as
    http://www.html5rocks.com/en/

    • MilanBy Milan on 10 July, 2011

      Yeah, even on YouTube pages.

    • Agnello GuarracinoBy Agnello Guarracino on 15 July, 2011

      don’t forget Ebay, MSN, Amazon, Yahoo… the list is endless, plenty of the big hitters still seem to see the relevance of meta keywords

      • Jef CollierBy Jef Collier on 15 July, 2011

        –Annnd my father still reads a physical newspaper. Don’t you think that maybe those organizations still use meta keywords just because they always used them in the past?

        Clients are always asking me to add keywords to their sites’. I’ve even showed them this video. Whether they believe it or not some folks just get warm fuzzy feeling by fleshing out keywords.

  3. Haroun KolaBy Haroun Kola on 8 July, 2011

    I know how you feel. If I had a cent for everytime a client ask me, do you do meta tags?, I’ll crack :)

  4. Todd BullivantBy Todd Bullivant on 8 July, 2011

    I disagree, everyone should include meta keywords. It makes it so much easier for me to find out what keywords my competitors are targeting!

    • MWDBy MWD on 9 July, 2011

      Or your competitor to find out yours :)

      In my opinion meta keywords are still somehow used by many advertising frames in order to determinate what type of ad should the frame display. I personally tested about 10 other advertising agencies and their code, posts with meta keywords had more relevant ads than posts without it. As far as the ranking? Its useless.

  5. MuskieBy Muskie on 9 July, 2011

    I still use them when I hand code HTML. And I still do hand code HTML every now and then. I just can’t be bothered to import everything I’ve ever put on to my domain into a single content management system. When I first started using WordPress in 2005, it wasn’t a CMS, my theme was hard enough to get working, without trying to put in years worth of static content. I think SEO has been overused. I think people should put there effort into writing better.

    Now a days if you want pop, you need viral, or exposure from someone who is influential or at least has a lot of followers online. Also it helps to write about something timely.

    Cheers,

  6. Roger HustonBy Roger Huston on 9 July, 2011

    Hello,

    I generally disagree with this statement. We oftem put mispellings of keywrods in our meeta keyywords tags and subsequently rank rather high on those misspellings.

    As long as something has some value, we are inclined to do it. SEO is a business of doing all the things the others are not willing to do. So the more people that listen to advice that keywords have “no value” the better for us.

    - Roger

    • andreas kramersBy andreas kramers on 14 July, 2011

      You got a good point there, but then again, isn’t it a bit of a shady way to rank for misspellings?
      What I mean to say is when I misspell a word in my search string, Google asks if you didn’t mean the “word spelled right” above the first results on the page.
      That makes the effort pretty useless I reckon.

  7. MaxxBy Maxx on 9 July, 2011

    Tags are the new keywords :)

  8. Extreme MarketingBy Extreme Marketing on 9 July, 2011

    I can understand why you want to save yourself some time if you believe they have very little value, but at the same time, isn’t some value better than none at all? What’s the harm in it? Why not have it set in your SEO plugin to list the company name and address information site wide using that tag, so it’s a one time setup for the entire site. The way I look at SEO and web sites is I want to provide the best service I can for my clients, so it’s worth a minute to copy and paste a list of keywords in there, even if only one obscure search engine uses that tag, I want my customers to have any edge they can get over other sites to get that customer on their site! That’s what they pay me for after all.

  9. Tabitha (Meet Penny)By Tabitha (Meet Penny) on 9 July, 2011

    Thanks so much for this article! I am pretty new to blogging and had no idea that I was wasting my time. Thinking up meta keywords was such a pain. I will be more than happy to give it up!

  10. Chris SchryerBy Chris Schryer on 9 July, 2011

    I remember when people used to try to defend table-based design. They were wrong, there was a stack of evidence as such, and yet they persisted. I guess meta-keywords is the new tables. (yes yes, I realize table-based design damages your ranking, whereas meta-keywords doesn’t do anything; I never said it was a perfect analogy).

    Keep making flash-based sites without a non-flash alternative and really really long thought-out meta-keywords, and the rest of us will keep outranking you happily!

  11. YeasinBy Yeasin on 9 July, 2011

    You mustbe living in the world of fools. Stop makingothers

  12. NickBy Nick on 9 July, 2011

    I still use them – mostly to humor clients who refuse to let go of old ideas they “read somewhere…” But I don’t put a lot of time into it.
    Also, it seems like some social bookmarking and sharing sites pull them when you submit a link. Haven’t taken the time to confirm that or which ones though.
    Either way, thanks for making this more clear.
    As, I keep telling clients – if you write good copy, your keywords are already there.

  13. ScottBy Scott on 9 July, 2011

    I’m glad they’re off by default in the plugin – as they should be – but I agree with the minority here, and we still use them 90% of the time. We try to use a unique set of words to the page, and only use 1-6 keywords max. There’s no harm, and it can never hurt.

    I do it myself, and I instruct employees to do so for all the reasons mentioned, including misspellings and the address (nice) in come cases.

    The only constant thing in the algorithm that any of us can can count on is that it WILL CHANGE – so I never know when they might “make a comeback”.

    OK, admittedly it’s unlikely, but remember for a while, ALT tags was supposedly ignored too, but when Universal Search came in, they became more important than it ever was in the first place.

    However , I do agree that it’s not time well spent to take 5 MINUTES on selection, when you have that same 5 minutes to spend on your content – but surely 10 or 15 seconds is ample time, and I don’t feel it’s a waste of mine at all.

  14. LorangeBy Lorange on 9 July, 2011
    • ChrisBy Chris on 22 July, 2011

      The Yoast SEO plugin has a little thing called “Focus Keyword”, which you could use for the purpose of personal memos. Plus, it bolds the focus words in the snippet preview and tells you whether you’ve used it in the key places of your post or page.

      Much better than just a simple field that saves your keyword for future reference!

  15. RishiBy Rishi on 9 July, 2011

    Glad you wrote this post! I’ve been trying to convince a client that the meta keywords tag is no longer worth my time for a few days now. It’s good to have a much more credible source say so :)

  16. JackBy Jack on 9 July, 2011

    Since we are not being penalized and we don’t know the weighting (and from month to month that can change) I think the smart thing is to include them. This is just guessing at what to do. If you take a look at the top placements for your major keywords and see what the top position(s) are doing, that should give you a clue on what to do.

  17. JoeBy Joe on 10 July, 2011

    My only fear is that at some point in the future, the SE’s will change their minds and begin using them again. Then, I will have to go back to all of my sites and input the keywords.

  18. Enemy of AverageBy Enemy of Average on 10 July, 2011

    What happens when Google, Yahoo or the next big thing decides that meta keywords are now relevant? If we havent put them into any of our pages today, we will fall behind!

  19. AvadeanBy Avadean on 11 July, 2011

    Good to know, no more wasting time on keywords just sticking to tags

  20. Joseph SeeleyBy Joseph Seeley on 11 July, 2011

    I think meta tags have their uses still. Meta tags don’t really take any extra time to fill out. I do my keyword research before writing an article, have a list of main keywords to target, as well as other semantics to include in the article.

    I just paste the main keywords into the meta tags. Takes half a second. Later on when I revisit the page it’s easier to remember which keywords I was targeting. (I keep local copies, but if my browser is open why open a spreadsheet too?)

    If all the benefit is is that, it’s still worth it to me.

    … plus I don’t trust what Google says about their algorithm. They are heavily invested in obfuscating it to minimize how much it can be gamed. And as others above have mentioned, I certainly don’t trust them to not use it in the future.

  21. pranjalBy pranjal on 11 July, 2011

    That’s really informative and clears every single doubt about meta keywords! :)

  22. Ben JohnstonBy Ben Johnston on 11 July, 2011

    Personally, I still like to use keywords tags, but I do it for a different reason: a lot of the sites I work on day-to-day are quite big and I find that if I’ve got a lot of content to write for them, a keywords tag is a good way to help me “classify” each page. Essentially, I’m not worried about using them to rank, I’m worried that I’m going to repeat myself in the content and the keywords tag helps me keep it clear in my head.

    • Ewan KennedyBy Ewan Kennedy on 15 July, 2011

      Excellent point Ben a really simple but sound technique.

  23. Dave GoesslingBy Dave Goessling on 11 July, 2011

    Can anyone speak with authority on whether/which OTHER “long tail”/vertical search engines use keywords in ranking/indexing? e.g. Baidu (soon/now? to have the English results powered by Bing) Daum, Nate, Seznam (looks like using Google?), etc. I have never seen anyone comment on that…

  24. SiteSubscribeBy SiteSubscribe on 11 July, 2011

    I agree that spending time on keywords can be better spent elsewhere…the problem is educating the general public who are still willing in some cases to pay some SEO strategist to spend weeks populating their pages with keywords.

    Thank you for providing the option within the plugin for those edge cases where we need it for a client who still has old school ideas about SEO.

    ~Jeff

  25. Mark BrownBy Mark Brown on 11 July, 2011

    If meta keywords are useless should I use my main keywords in the tags section instead?

  26. Garrett VBy Garrett V on 12 July, 2011

    Well I certainly won’t argue that the keywords tag is deprecated and has very little value!

    I figure it’s better to be honest with the client, explain that keywords are not very useful, but offer to spend a very minimal time putting them in anyways.

    Some still believe that SEO is all about filling in keywords. If the client runs into someone like this who looks at their site, they might exclaim “wow, you don’t have any keywords! That’s bad!” A knowledgeable client might be able to explain why, but it’s better to just cover every single possible base.

    Posts like this one are great though, because it provides a reference to help educate clients about modern SEO.

    Plus, there are website “graders” out there that might throw a flag if they see no keywords meta tag or an empty one. Then, some third party grades the site lower than it should be. So, after all the discussions about keywords, I say it might actually save time and confusion by just filling them in anyways – spend 30 seconds at most – just do it real quick, and move on. If a Client continues to ask about keywords, educate them, and be a good consultant!

    I figure, let’s use the keyword meta tag as a storage place to list keywords we want to target anyways. Then we pass third party inspections without having to take 10 minutes to explain ourselves. Thanks for the educational post.

    • Ewan KennedyBy Ewan Kennedy on 16 July, 2011

      Some good points there Garrett. I have to admit to using keywords tags for some of the reasons you’ve mentioned (and others – see below). I try and stick to less than 5 words so that, if the tags do come under scrutiny, at least it’s evident I’m not a spammer and using them conservatively.

  27. Carol RylesBy Carol Ryles on 12 July, 2011

    I agree, we stop using meta keyword a long time ago 2+ year, minimum. It’s a waist of time just like you said. But the thing is I did notice bing actually like meta keywords and give a more value then its saying. But I didn’t entirely test this theory. As you said I try to make better content instead.

  28. ItamBy Itam on 13 July, 2011

    I am running a virtual art gallery for my stephfather (the artist). But since I mostly use pictures instead of written content, i am wondering how to optimize my webstie now for searchabilty and ranking. Do you have any ideas about this?
    I told my stephfather to use a lot of tags in his posts, but reading the above this doesn’t make much sense.

  29. Tony PayneBy Tony Payne on 14 July, 2011

    While I hear what you are saying, I am sure that something out there is using Meta Keywords, and omitting them has affected my traffic.

    Soon after Associated Content was purchased by Yahoo, they removed Meta Keywords, and I do believe that this is one reason they lost a lot of traffic.

    Before this the slideshows on AC did not have meta keyword tags, and the traffic was worse than expected. This did not drop anywhere near as much after the takeover as the articles did.

  30. Sue SurdamBy Sue Surdam on 14 July, 2011

    I am getting the message about keywords, but I am not sure if anyone really answered the question regarding adding tags to gain rank. I thought I had read that tags weren’t that highly ranked either. Anyone have support of why we should use tags? I currently organize my site with categories, but don’t use tags.

  31. Bill (LoneWolf) NickersonBy Bill (LoneWolf) Nickerson on 14 July, 2011

    The meta tag is used to describe what your document contains. Keywords is one part of that. SEO is only one of the intended uses so the fact that they no longer affect SEO doesn’t mean that we should ignore them.

    It wouldn’t hurt to have them hold the tags or categories for a post.

    But Joost is right to have it disabled by default in his plugin since its focus is on SEO.

  32. JamesBy James on 14 July, 2011

    What about when a site uses meta keywords as part of its own internal search facility?

  33. mark robertsonBy mark robertson on 14 July, 2011

    Meta Keywords are the most important on-page SEO factor on earth….

    Joost, we have to continue to let SEO wannabees think that is the case :-) I used to filter through SEO candidates I was hiring by asking them the question, “How important are meta keywords” and I cant tell you how many people that looked good on paper answered that wrong…. :-)

    • Agnello GuarracinoBy Agnello Guarracino on 18 July, 2011

      you talk a good game… but fail to practice what you preach…

  34. Ewan KennedyBy Ewan Kennedy on 16 July, 2011

    I’ve come across one or two business directories that will not accept your site unless it has a complete meta description tag on the page you are submitting. The directory may be ill-informed in making this a requirement but those who want to be listed have to play by their rules.

    • Ewan KennedyBy Ewan Kennedy on 17 July, 2011

      Sorry, I meant to write “meta keywords tag” above, not “meta description tag”. It was late …

  35. ClaudioBy Claudio on 16 July, 2011

    I only use the meta tag keywords only to remember the keys the page has been optimized for. Otherwise as all of you said, it’s useless.

  36. Graphixter MediaBy Graphixter Media on 16 July, 2011

    So bye to Meta Keywords, if someone using for rankings purpose.

  37. ABTOPBy ABTOP on 18 July, 2011

    Don’t forget, that many CMS’s use meta keywords to automatically display other related articles within the same site, so kinda gotta use them in such a case.

  38. Shoaib HussainBy Shoaib Hussain on 18 July, 2011

    Even though meta keywords are not used by search engines anymore most people still use it for reference purpose I guess. Even most of the big brands use meta-keywords on their websites. Wonder Why?

  39. Anny HubertsBy Anny Huberts on 18 July, 2011

    I recommend using keywords not specifically using for the keyword metatags, but to keep the writer focussed on the content. What are the main keywords on which you want to be found. Also these keywords or tags if you like, are your main keywords in your html title and even more important to use in your meta description. My point is, you should think of them anyway. Besides that, adding meta keywords should benefit the internal search of your website, which in my opinion is also very important. Especially when it concerns big company websites. About internal search i would like to hear some more opinions; true or not true keywords benefit the internal search? Thanks!

  40. Jerry AsemotaBy Jerry Asemota on 18 July, 2011

    I dont use any meta keywords though and i still see huge improvements. A blogger with quality original contents on wordpress shouldnt bother about meta-keyowords.As simple as that. And by the way if Google had dropped it, along with bing and yahoo, why do i still need it?

  41. Oliver NielsenBy Oliver Nielsen on 18 July, 2011

    I find that many non-techy people, like most of my clients, confuse meta-keywords with the general SEO use of the word “keyword” so they figure “there’s that keyword field they’re all talking about, I wanna get on top in Google, I’ll write every word there that I can think of in order to really get found on Google…”

    It gets REALLY mixed up when people also think meta tags and taxonomy tags are the same. Then they start MEGA TAGGING every post with 50 keywords and think their SEO is all great and good.

    I digress.

    Thanks for not including a keyword field by default in WordPress SEO Yoast. Good initiative I would wish more plugin and theme authors would follow.

  42. Michael OwenBy Michael Owen on 18 July, 2011

    I haven`t used meta-keywords for my own sites or clients, and have continued to have success ranking sites organically on the first page, even brand new websites on new domains. I don`t understand people who refuse to accept that the world has moved on. That`s like saying `the engine in my car might die, so I think I`ll tie a horse to the bumper just in case`

  43. BhaskarBy Bhaskar on 19 July, 2011

    Ok meta keywords are useless.

    Guess the best option now is to use metatags, with a noindex, no follow option eneabled for metatags to avoid the duplicate content issue associated with them.

    Is is how you do it ?

    After, All in one SEO and platinum SEO plugin, I recently switched to your SEO plugi. I now realise, how many important things, i had been missing till now.

    Thanks for the awesome plugin and for all your insightful posts.

  44. EdBy Ed on 21 July, 2011

    Useful information, and interesting views on the pro’s and con’s regarding the use of Meta Keywords…

    Ed:)

  45. JosephBy Joseph on 22 July, 2011

    I am no expert but it makes sense to tell the robots that my contents are related to blahblahblah with meta keywords before it really parse the text.

    So I will still fill the meta keywords according to my content (don’t have to think, you know what you are writing!) even though it doesn’t give any boost,

  46. PeterBy Peter on 22 July, 2011

    I agree that Meta Keywords have no impact anymore. However, while teaching people how to use WordPress (or any other cms) to publish their content I regular experience that it helps them to think about Meta Keywords in order to make up their minds what the content is targeting. So even if it has no direct impact, it helps people who are not dealing with SEO on a regular basis to write keyword optimised copy.

  47. ChrisBy Chris on 22 July, 2011

    One of my clients recently asked “How many meta keywords is too many?”

    I said “One”.

    • Ewan KennedyBy Ewan Kennedy on 22 July, 2011

      Very good Chris.

      But I have to disagree.

      I think the answer is “four, 4, FOUR, IV”.

      :-).

  48. David BruceBy David Bruce on 24 July, 2011

    Why is this debatable? Meta keywords can be added in 20 seconds. If it can only help the site might as well add them.

  49. Bas | Profit TempestBy Bas | Profit Tempest on 25 July, 2011

    Hmm that’s interesting I always thought they did use them, less work for me, yay! lol

  50. BSLugnutBy BSLugnut on 27 July, 2011

    I believe that you should still enter the Meta Title and Description.

    What are your thoughts?

    Additionally, does the plugin creates a meta description field in “Edit Product Category” in WP-Ecommerce? Or any additional SEO fields for the BIG 3 search engines to query?

  51. JyleBy Jyle on 28 July, 2011

    While I’m fine with agreeing that the keywords meta tag is indeed useless, i still use it.

    Why? Well, because using Yoast’s awesome seo plugin (thanks heaps! btw you said you would included www/http canonicalization but im yet to see it?) i still enable Meta keywords, and then in the Titles settings, i simply make all my meta keywords tokens %%tags%%, so while im adding my tags, im also adding my meta keywords too. Really, while it doesn’t attribute to any real ranking success, i still feel its good form, and promotes proper seo.

    But really anyone can do what they want. SEO is someones own perception of whats effective and what isn’t, i just do it because its automated and keeps me on the ball with my tags.

    I suppose on a down side your competition ‘could’ use it to see what keywords you’re targeting, but i wouldn’t really think that’s a big threat :P

    Thanks again for this awesome plugin, definitively my #1 for seo :D

  52. Mike McKoyBy Mike McKoy on 29 July, 2011

    Thats information I needed. Thank you.

    Isn’t there a good chance that an app, blog search engine, or some other type of engine might still use meta keyword?

  53. Mr. HawkBy Mr. Hawk on 29 July, 2011

    @Mike McKoy: No, but som internal searchscripts use metakeywords (finding the relevant results…)

  54. SEOGetBy SEOGet on 29 July, 2011

    This is userful article , don’t waste too much time on the keywords mate tags .I will agree with you !
    BTW, i will translate this article to chinese , I hope you can allow . Thank you !

  55. Chip CopelandBy Chip Copeland on 1 August, 2011

    While meta keywords might not have anything to do with SEO rankings, does it have a benefit when it comes to search? Does it increase the opportunity that someone might find content specific to your site?

    • Ewan KennedyBy Ewan Kennedy on 1 August, 2011

      Hi Chip,

      Can you clarify your question please? Assuming, as you have, that meta keywords have nothing to do with rankings, how are you envisaging that they can therefore increase the opportunity (chance?) of the content being found?

  56. Sherice JacobBy Sherice Jacob on 2 August, 2011

    Tags > Meta Keywords. Also, in regards to Chip’s question above, I don’t think meta keywords will help anyone find your site – not the way they used to operate anyway. These days, it’s more about content, context, landing pages and funnels.

  57. MercerBy Mercer on 4 August, 2011

    If using keywords can’t hurt you, why not use them? At worst, they are ignored… at best they are utilized in some way, no?

  58. NavinBy Navin on 7 August, 2011

    yeah we don’t want useless things :P cheers