meta keywords tag - don't use it

Meta keywords
Why we don't use them

Meta keywords: why we don’t use them

May 17th, 2017 – 32 Comments

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 5 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 optimised your page well for the keyword you want to rank for. It’s not a signal that we give to search engines in and off 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.

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But I want meta keywords!!!

Because of all the reasons above, the meta keywords input field in our Yoast SEO plugin is off by default. If you use Yoast SEO and you really can’t live without them, you can however turn it on. You’ll first need to enable the advanced settings before you can change this. For a detailed explanation on how to do this, check out ‘how to enable meta keywords in Yoast SEO‘.

turn on meta keywords in yoast seo

Don’t expect us 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.

Read more: ‘Metadata and SEO part 1: the head section’ »

32 Responses to Meta keywords: why we don’t use them

  1. Richard
    By Richard on 28 May, 2017

    I run a local business and working on content to help rank better. A competitor of mine ranks page 1 for several “keywords + suburb” for suburbs that only appear in meta keywords and nowhere else within the site/source code. The website is a single page with poor content and little reference to main keywords and only 1 irrelevant backlink. How can a site like this rank for terms that only appear in “keyword meta” if what you are saying is correct?
    Not sure if its ok to name the site but here it is, you can delete if inappropriate
    Ranks for “driving school werribee” “driving school point cook” and several others
    Check it out and I challenge you to explain how meta keywords are NOT used for ranking

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 29 May, 2017

      Hey @Richard,

      that is weird indeed. I’ll be looking into this.

      • Richard
        By Richard on 30 May, 2017

        I look forward to your thoughts. Maybe SEO is a lot less complicated than Google wants us to believe

  2. Hilaryt
    By Hilaryt on 26 May, 2017

    Hi there, I am looking into Yoast and learning about SEO and this article was very helpful. I am wondering if Yoast allows you to set different keywords for separate pages on a website? For example, one for the home page, one for a services page, an about page, etc.

    Thank you!

  3. JoAn Guevara
    By JoAn Guevara on 26 May, 2017

    Great article, thank you very much for the data. I did not know that it can be considered as spam signal. Removing keywords. Thanks.

  4. Brad Mangas
    By Brad Mangas on 23 May, 2017

    I know the whole name of the game here is SEO, so this article is to the point. But as a photographer with thousands of images on a wordpress site meta “keywords” are crucial for search capabilities within the site. With thousands of images visitors/customers absolutely must have a way of finding images according to keywords.
    Wordpress has never been good at this and even strips out keywords from uploaded images so one must rely on third party plugins. So far I have not found any good way of doing this successfully.

  5. Estudio 27
    By Estudio 27 on 23 May, 2017

    great post. Thanks for sharing

  6. Michael Kohlfürst
    By Michael Kohlfürst on 22 May, 2017

    #2 – how about puting in wrong keywords for your competitors :-)

  7. Michael Kohlfürst
    By Michael Kohlfürst on 22 May, 2017

    Take a different look at the “meta keywords input field”. How about seeing it as a reminder. A reminder for everyone updating a Blog Post later on. Forget XLS lists – just put the important keys in the most important order in the “meta keywords input field”. How about that?

    By AVERILL RING on 22 May, 2017

    I guess the software strips out code This is the blank line in my previous comment:
    meta name=”news_keywords” content=”content writing, keyword research”

    • Joost
      By Joost on 24 May, 2017

      Hi Averill, you’ve noticed that correctly. Although it looks a lot like the meta keyword tag, it is the meta news_keywords tag, which only works for news publishers which are sources in Google News. It’s created to allow publishers to be a bit more creative in their page titles and copy. It’s something different, but I understand the confusion.

    By AVERILL RING on 22 May, 2017

    What then does this mean?

    as in the code for this page?
    Not trying to push any buttons, but wondering about this
    (sent this earlier from a different email addy and never got the confirmation request)

  10. Mourin
    By Mourin on 22 May, 2017

    If i use meta keywords, is it can be a minus point for website?

    • Daniel
      By Daniel on 22 May, 2017

      Not really.
      But you are giving away your game by telling Google what keywords you are pushing the site to rank for for & to your competitors as well.

  11. joe satria
    By joe satria on 20 May, 2017

    I will remove my meta keywords now. I was convinced
    thanks for sharing the information.

  12. Go Helper
    By Go Helper on 20 May, 2017

    Excellent! I truly really like how it really is easy on my eyes it truly is. I’m wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I’ve subscribed to your feed which could do the trick? Have a nice day! Go Helper

  13. amin
    By amin on 19 May, 2017

    thanx for sharing the information

  14. Tec Crowd
    By Tec Crowd on 19 May, 2017

    If I used Meta keyword, Is it harm to my website ?

    • Joost
      By Joost on 23 May, 2017

      See my response to Matt

  15. Fahim Ahsan
    By Fahim Ahsan on 19 May, 2017

    I’m a new blogger. I’m using Yoast plugin and it’s worth using. I think I shouldn’t change its default settings. But I was thinking about the meta tag because knew that it works for SEO. Thank you so much a clearly written post. I understand now why I shouldn’t waste my time on meta keywords.

  16. Marsha Kelly
    By Marsha Kelly on 19 May, 2017

    Thanks for clarifying this seemingly endless debate in SEO circles. I appreciate that Yoast gives me the option to turn them on or off. My competitors all use them so I will be turning them on. Appreciate the SEO tutorial

  17. Paul
    By Paul on 18 May, 2017

    Can it do any damage to have them there though?

    • Joost
      By Joost on 23 May, 2017

      Hi Paul,
      See my response to Matt :-)

  18. shashi
    By shashi on 18 May, 2017

    this article totally change my thinking about meta keywords

  19. Adam Godsall
    By Adam Godsall on 18 May, 2017

    Great recap on an issue that seems to still get asked to this day, I often get asked why i don’t you meta keywords. Next time ill just show them this article and not waste oxygen.

    • Joost
      By Joost on 23 May, 2017

      Great strategy :-)

    By SK SADAT HOSSAIN on 18 May, 2017

    very good article.
    i think it is important.

  21. Matt
    By Matt on 18 May, 2017

    I wonder if it has any negative affect on ranking or if it’s rather just a waste of time to add meta keywords?

  22. Gordon Diffey
    By Gordon Diffey on 18 May, 2017

    In reality, using meta keywords does only one thing. It makes it easy for competitors to see what you are trying to rank for.

  23. Abdul
    By Abdul on 18 May, 2017

    Using keywords like as a necessity.

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