Why Don't You Use the Keywords Meta Tag on Your Website?

Do I Need a Keyword Tag on My Site?


Why Don't You Use the Keywords Meta Tag on Your Website?

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

On a few (rare) occasions, some people have written to ask me why I don't use the keywords meta tag on the pages on thesitewizard.com. One of them even asked me how he could hide his keyword meta tag so that his visitors could not see what keywords he placed in it. This article is an attempt to answer this question.

What is a Keywords Meta Tag?

The keywords meta tag is a type of HTML tag that webmasters place on their web pages. It generally looks like this:

<meta name="keywords" content="your keywords here">

It is not displayed by the web browser.

Why The Keywords Tag is Now History

To understand why I no longer use the keywords tag, a little history is in order. Note that the dates below are rough dates, based on my vague recollection of the events. I didn't bother to record the actual dates when it happened and it was a very long time ago.

  1. 1995-1997: The Rise and Abuse of the Keyword Tag

    In the old days before Google, back when Alta Vista was considered one of the ruling search engines, the keywords tag was used by webmasters to tell search engines that the words listed in the tag can be regarded as being part of the content of the web page. It was indexed in addition to the words that appeared on the web page itself. It had its uses, such as to place common spelling mistakes of keywords on the page.

    As you may have guessed, there was widespread abuse of this tag, with some webmasters dumping words that had nothing to do with their web page in the hopes of attracting visitors to their site. Others saturated the tag with terms they considered important, in the hopes of improving the keyword density of their site.

  2. Circa 1997: The Demise of the Keyword Tag

    The end result of this was that, one by one, the search engines took steps to end the keyword abuse by not indexing anything in that tag. If my memory serves, the last to do so was Alta Vista. They even took it one step further: words occuring in the keyword tag that did not also occur on the web page itself would cause the page to be penalised.

    Google was born around this period. Learning its lessons from the search engines that came before, Google simply ignored the keywords tag. It continues such a policy to this day.

    The other major search engine in use today, Bing, was born long after this era. I understand that it recognises ("recognizes" in US English) the tag, but that it regards it as a lower-class version of words occuring in your main content. That is, it's more worth your while to put a word you consider important in the displayable body of your web page than in the keywords tag. There are also hints that their engine treats the abuse of the keywords tag as an indication that the web page is of low quality (and should thus rank lower in the results). This means that the keywords tag potentially carries with it some undefined risk with Bing, since you don't know if they will regard your tag as falling into the "abuse" category.

In other words, by the end of the 1990s, the keyword tag was no longer useful for any purpose.

What to Do with the Keywords Tag

Although my older pages on thesitewizard.com have half-hearted attempts at including keyword tags, all my newer pages do not. Those older pages either pre-date the death of the keywords tag era or were based on an older template of my website that had the keyword meta tag. With the updating of my site design somewhere after the turn of the century (or whereabouts), all my new pages no longer have the tag.

If you also have old pages with keyword tags, you can do the same as I do: just ignore them. Alternatively, if you can be bothered, you can also remove them at your leisure when you happen to update the page. Where Google is concerned, they neither do your site any harm nor help it. (It's the equivalent of adding nonsensical HTML tags to your web page: they will simply be ignored.) Of course, if you think you stuffed your old keywords tag with so many words that it becomes suspicious, you may want to remove it so that Bing doesn't downgrade your site in their search results.

If you have a new web page, don't even bother with the keywords tag. If you feel you must use a meta tag somewhere, see my article How to Use Meta Tags for Search Engine Promotion for more useful ones instead. The tags mentioned there are still recognized by today's engines.

Why Are You Asking This Question in the First Place?

I think the more important question is why a person might be asking about keyword tags in the first place.

  1. Are You Being Conned?

    As you can see from the brief history given above, the keywords tag has not been relevant to website creation since the end of the previous century.

    If you obtained your information about the keyword tag from someone claiming to be a search engine optimization specialist, purporting to help you update your site for a fee, be very careful.

    The fact that anyone, in this day and age, can still be talking about using keywords meta tag tells you something about that person. They are either incompetent and outdated (and are thus not going to be able to help your site) or are trying to bamboozle you with strange esoteric terms like "keywords meta tag" which they think will mystify a layman (in which case they cannot be trusted).

    I myself have also been contacted by such charlatans before, so I won't be surprised if the visitors asking me this question are doing so because they have heard from such people. If you are one of those who have received such emails, or have met such web designers, take this warning to heart. Don't fall for that line.

    If you want to make sure your website is search engine ready, see my article How to Create a Search Engine Friendly Website instead. It may not contain mysterious magical incantations that pretend to help you rise to the top of the search engine results, but they are practical, straightforward and realistic tips that have helped many webmasters.

  2. Stay on the Straight and Narrow

    Another class of questions that I receive concerning the keywords meta tag comes from those who want to hide the tag from their visitors, so that the latter cannot see what keywords tag they use.

    While of course the tag is no longer relevant, so whether you hide it or not does not matter, the question betrays an attitude to website creation that is, in my opinion, not beneficial to the webmaster in the long run. It seems to me (and I may be wrong, of course) that someone asking such a question is trying to find some underhanded way to get to the top of the search engine listings and hiding that information from others who may examine their web page for such tracks.

    Here's how I look at web design: when you create a website, your site is just a means to an end. If you are selling some product, then the site is there so that you can make online sales. Ultimately, you want to spend your time fulfilling that goal -- making sales, shipping the product, improving the product or whatever. The same goes for other types of sites, be it a blog, social networking site, tutorial site or some other type. The website is just a way for you to reach your goal. It is not the goal itself.

    If you go down the path of using unscrupulous methods to "game" the search engines, you will find that you will have to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort working on the "means" itself, year in year out, instead of the "end" (your goal). This is needed because you have to stay ahead of the search engine programmers who are always tweaking the search engines to weed out such trickery. And those programmers work full time on their engine (and there are many of them). To stay ahead of them, you will practically have to work full time to figure out new tricks to replace obsolete ones and hiding those tricks.

    This is of course not something webmasters want to do. They want to create a site, and then focus on what the site lets them accomplish. If it's an online shop, they prefer that the site run on autopilot so that they can just concentrate on shipping their goods (etc). Even if yours is a blog or tutorial site (which obviously can't run on autopilot since tutorials and blogs don't write themselves), you will still want to spend your time coming up with new posts or articles rather than running around frantically trying to protect your dark secret.

    Focus on the content and purpose of your website. Improve its quality. This yields far better results in the long run than going with some shady fad-of-the-week.

Conclusion

So, the short answer to the question of why I do not use keyword tags on my site is that they are no longer relevant today. And they have not been relevant for a very long time.

Copyright © 2008-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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