One of the most common questions I am asked by clients and webmasters is if Google still uses the meta keyword tag for SEO ranking factors. Many SEOs debate back and forth over this issue. The debates started based on an article published by Matt Cutts of Google back in September of 2009. The article which was also accompanied by video, stated that Google no longer uses the meta keyword tag as an SEO ranking factor. After this statement was made, many wondered where all the other search engines stood on the use of meta keyword tags, and after plenty of research, this is what I was able to dig up.
Google’s Stance: Not Used
As the article above stated, Google has stated they no longer use the keyword meta tag in the algorithm for search rankings. Google did give themselves and out by saying that they will not guarantee that it will never be used again, however, they stated it was highly unlikely they will use it in the future. There are several that believe the keyword meta tag can have negative ranking affect by using them on Google, however, I have been unable to find anything official backing up this theory.
Yahoo’s Stance: Rarely Used
Around the same time in 2009 that Google announced they no longer use keyword meta tags, Yahoo announced at their SMX East Conference that their search engine would no longer use these tags in their ranking algorithm. This announcement was followed up with an article from Search Engine Land stating they conducted an experiment and found it was false. Yahoo quickly responded to Search Engine Land with the following statement:
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.
To summarize what Yahoo stated, they assign almost no weight to keyword meta tags. If there are no other ranking factors on your website, then the keywords meta tag is the last resort they will use to attempt to rank your page off of.
Bing’s Stance: Not Much Weight
Bing has stated they do not support the keyword meta tag and have stood by it for a very long time until Duane Forrester, a Project Manager for Bing posted the following 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 emailed Duane asking if this comment was true. Duane 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 off this exchange, it is clear that while Bing is similar to Yahoo in the fact that it does not put much weight on the use of keyword meta tags, it may actually use them against you as a negative ranking factor.
Should You Use Keyword Meta Tags?
The use of the keyword meta tag should be done with caution. While Google does not use it at all, the other two major search engines do at least take a peak at this tag. You must tread very carefully as improper use could hurt you with Bing, even have your site marked as spam. If you use keyword tags, be sure not to overstuff the keywords or include keywords that do not relate to that specific page.
I will end this article with a statement made by Dr. Peter J Meyers, Marketing Scientist as Moz:
Here’s the other problem – Meta keywords has been used as a negative ranking signal, and probably still is to some degree. In other words, you might not gain much or anything from using it, but if you spam it, you could get devalued. My gut feeling is that the negative signal is much, much stronger than the positive one, and even Google may still use it as a negative signal. I’m certain that Yahoo/Bing has used it as a negative signal (not sure if they still do).
I tend to agree that the competitive fears are overblown. Any decent site’s keyword targets should be pretty clear – otherwise, it’s not a very well SEO’d site.
Personally, if you want to use them, use them – but keep them short, sweet, and relevant. Once you do, get on with your life.