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What's a Keywords Meta Tag and should you use it?


The other day a client sent me a link to this video and asked what I thought of it:

What are Meta Keywords?

Technically speaking, there's a meta tag for keywords in HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) that goes in what is called the "Head" section of each web page. Several years ago it was a common best SEO optimization practice to place your keywords for the page in the meta keywords tag. Information in the Head section is only visible to search engines and browsers and gives them instructions as to how to process various aspects of the page and what they mean.

Depending upon the web technology used, a webmaster may be required to code in the keyword meta tag. The markup would look something like this:

meta keywords tag hr

To view the SEO keywords meta tag of a web page, do a right-click on the page and choose, "view page source," or something similar depending upon the browser and type of computer you're using. Then look in the upper portion of the page between the <head> and </head> tags.

A course I took 4 years ago (Sept. of 2006) called, "Achieving Top Search Engine Positions" said this about keywords and the keywords meta tag:

"A word or phrase that helps a search engine to determine the general content of a Web site." "The meta keywords tag includes keywords that tell search engines about the content of your Web site." The instructor went on to say that "your keyword list (meta tag) can contain up to 1000 characters."

Then, SEO keyword density within the tag was also encouraged. That is you were taught to repeat your primary keywords 2 to 3 times in the tag. Probably why the keywords like "kitchen," "remodels" and "bathroom" are repeated several times in the above example. You were also taught to group keywords with various combinations of words, separated by commas and use the plural tense and even include common misspellings.

Today, we know that keywords are still very important to search engine positioning when used properly and in the right places. Just not in the keywords meta tag as Google and Matt Cutts have explained.

When Keywords Lie

What led to the devaluation of the content in the keywords meta tag had to do with keyword stuffing or spamming and use of irrelevant keywords. Some unscrupulous site owners or webmasters could boost the positioning of web pages by placing highly popular keywords such as "sex," "brad pitt" and...well, you get the the tag and get top search engine positions.

Engines like Google caught on to these tricks and not only stopped using the tag in their ranking algorithm, but also penalized sites for abuse by removing them from their index.

To Tag or Not to Tag?

Conventional wisdom, and that from an advanced course on SEO from the Search Engine Academy says if you do use the keywords meta tag be careful to:

  • Only use relevant keywords to your page content
  • Don't repeat the same keyword
  • Include no more than about 6 keywords
  • Separate the keywords by spaces, not commas - the search engines will combine the terms

But, if you don't utilize the keywords meta tag it's certainly not going to hurt you. Some web technologies and content management systems have utilities that populate the keywords meta tag, and at the same time, use it to help you optimize other on-page elements. Such is true with the Scribe SEO plug-in for WordPress sites and the HubSpot software. I'll address how HubSpot's software does this next.

Keywords Meta Tag in HubSpot

HubSpot will somewhat inadvertently utilize the Keywords meta tag as a way to help you optimize pages and blog posts for your targeted keywords. As I write this blog post, the Blog Optimizer tool is showing me the following reminder:

two few meta keywordsI'm getting this message because I haven't entered the targeted keywords I have listed in my Keyword Grader in the blog editor's "Meta Keyword" field found under the "Advanced" tab. To fix that (and make that reminder go away) I enter 3 of the keywords I'm using for this post in that box like so:

meta keywords tag hubspot

Notice, the utility requires separation of keywords by comma, and that it will populate the meta keywords tag for me automatically. No big deal, I'm not concerned about using the tag. The point is: the search engine may not use this tag anymore, but HubSpot software (via the blog optimize feature and Page Grader tools) utilizes it to help ensure I am using the proper keywords in the right places throughout my content. The Scribe SEO plug-in and service mentioned earlier for WordPress themes does essentially the same thing.

The Final (Key)Word

At the end of the day you want to rank high enough on certain keywords to be visible to searchers. You also want to be relevant to what information they're looking for. I hope this article gave you some insights in the meaning and use of the keywords meta tag - and the importance of optimizing your actual content. The great thing about built-in optimization features is it takes the guess work out of it. You don't need to obsess over what to do and how to stay current on all the latest best practices. Smart people have integrated the best methodology in with the content creation and publishing tools. We just need to use them.

For those who want to find out how their web pages look from a keywords meta tag or seo optimization standpoint, request our free website analysis and competitive report.


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