Meta keywords Why we don't use them - and neither should you
You would think this post would be redundant by now: people know that the meta keyword tag is useless nowadays, right? Yet we still see site owners using meta keywords on their websites and, according to Google Trends, people are still searching for meta keywords, although there seem to be fewer queries than some years ago. Which is why we’ve updated this post about the uselessness of meta keywords for SEO once again.
What are (or were) meta keywords?
The meta keywords element dates back to 1995. People were still searching the web using AltaVista and Infoseek and the web was still gloriously innocent. You could add a meta tag on a page, indicating that page’s main keywords. It looked something like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="seo, search engine optimisation, search engine optimization, search engine ranking">
This meta keywords element (like all meta elements) is invisible to visitors but visible to search engines. The keywords you put into this element’s content attribute would then be used as a ranking factor by the search engines.
If this sounds like you’re asking Google directly to just rank you for whatever keyword you want: that’s what it was. If you think “that’s too easy”: you’re right, it turned out to be. Of course, as the web became more commercial, people started spamming this keywords element and search engines began ignoring it.
It’s important to note that the meta keywords tag has nothing to do with the focus keyword in Yoast SEO. The focus keyword is a feature of Yoast SEO that is used to determine whether you’ve optimized your page well for the keyword you want to rank for. It’s not a signal that we give to search engines in and of itself.
The demise of the meta keyword
Let me give you the full history of the meta keywords tag’s demise. Already in September 2009, Google announced officially what was true for years back then: “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”. Matt Cutts explained it in a video:
Do Yahoo! and Bing use meta keywords?
In October of that same year, 2009, 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 also stated in 2014:
“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.”
Earlier, they even implied that using them – the wrong way – could work against you, because it’s rather seen as a spam signal than a ranking signal.
So don’t waste your time on the meta keywords tag. Instead of thinking about which keywords to put in that silly tag for 5 minutes, think about your content for 5 minutes longer. Really. It’s worth it. Or spend your time doing actual keyword research, because while the meta keywords tag is dead, keywords are still very much alive.
But I want meta keywords!!!
No, you don’t. For years, Yoast SEO had a setting to turn on a meta keywords input field. We kept this around for people who really couldn’t live without meta keywords. These people could turn this feature on by flipping a toggle. Since Yoast SEO 6.3, that ‘feature’ has met its end. There is no longer an option to activate a meta keywords input field.
No worries, because today, SEO consists of many other tactics that do have an impact. Because 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.
Read more: Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section »
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