Google May Use The Meta Keywords Tag Again

Jan 17, 2011 • 8:23 am | comments (43) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

If you had to ask any SEO what one of the most overrated and useless SEO tactics of the last decade was, most would respond overwhelmingly: the Meta Keywords tag. The tag has continued to remain a completely useless relic of a bygone era in SEO when keyword over stuffing was the norm. Most people don't even include it in their pages anymore, and for good reason as it's generally a waste of time. But new evidence may suggest that the tag may not be completely ignored by Google as most have believed.

A recent forum thread on High Ranking Forum has discovered Google using the keywords in the tag to fill out internal site search boxes. According to Jill Whalen, she has caught Google filling out her internal forum site search boxes with keyword phrases contained with the Meta Keywords tag. In the case that she describes, Google pulled the entire string of keywords (commas and all) and used that string of words in the internal site search. These searches then generated search results pages which get spidered by Google and then show up in the index.

Jill goes on to say:

"Meta keywords contained on a given page does not influence the search results for *that* page. While yes, it may cause Google to do fill out your internal site search page for those phrases, which in turn they index and the resulting page can then be found in the search engines, that seems to be the extent of it."
One of the other members in the forum asks whether the search result page that gets indexed is not just a case of some oddball human or robotic third party creating spammy links which Google then follows to find the search result page. Jill doesn’t think this is the case, while not 100% she still thinks all signs point to Google here. It will be noted that over the last couple years the search engines themselves have declared the Meta Keywords tag dead on several occasions: Google here, Yahoo, questionably here, and Bing doesn't either so don't listen to this page it's wrong.

Continued forum discussion at High Rankings Forums

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01/17/2011 01:26 pm

I reckon keywords will be the new tags very soon. I'm getting tags show up everywhere in searches Lovely :)


01/17/2011 02:40 pm

I have seen evidence of this. I had a percussion site ranking for drums, but the industrial 55-gallon kind rather than the instruments. As soon as I added meta keywords, Google started ranking the site for the kinds of drums I had listed instead.

Wiehan Britz

01/17/2011 02:46 pm

Imagine having to fix a 500-page website that has no meta keywords previously added (if meta keywords comes into play again)

Rob Griggs

01/17/2011 04:58 pm

Just goes to show that people need to stop being lemmings and start following their own judgement, testing and feelings. Google are always looking for relevancy signals so why not meta keywords? Is still good practice to use them where possible.

Vanessa Fox

01/17/2011 05:08 pm

Bing doesn't use it: (That post you link to is providing SEO advice, but isn't actually coming from the Bing search term about what Bing specifically uses.)

Ben Pfeiffer

01/17/2011 05:31 pm

Thanks Vanessa! I will update the article.

learn SEO

01/17/2011 06:48 pm

If thats is the case than how is google going to stop the spammers? thanks for the latest info.

Chris Boggs

01/17/2011 07:19 pm

sorry not trying to be snarky but the post you site doesn't come from the Bing team either and in fact is over three years old, citing "Microsoft Live Search." I do not think that is a smoking gun that shows Bing doesn't use it.


01/17/2011 08:11 pm

It is ridiculously easy to prove or disprove a search engine does not use a meta keywords tag for ranking purposes. Simply put a word in the tag that is not elsewhere on the page (or in anchor text pointing to the page) and then search for the page, limiting results in the target domain. If you see the page, the search engine uses them, if you do not, it does not.

Ben Pfeiffer

01/17/2011 10:25 pm

I had initially thought Bing doesn't use it and told people the same, but when researching for this post I found a couple Bing posts recommending the use of it. I think it would be helpful if we could get a bing search team person to confirm it's whether its used in the Bing algos.


01/17/2011 11:35 pm

That is very interesting. Now do you know anything about those search results pages being flagged as duplicate content?


01/17/2011 11:38 pm

I agree with you and currently still use meta keywords on all pages. A site I manage is approximately 19,000 pages and have currently been working on all the SEO for this site for about a year. I stick meta keywords in on any page I touch for relevancy reasons.

Subin Sunil

01/18/2011 05:17 am

Thanks for sharing Ben

Danny Denhard

01/18/2011 07:16 am

Good post and something I have mentioned a number of times. Meta keyword is like a guide for any search engine to refer to, why wouldn't search engines look for guidance on new pages? Remember search engines have millions of pages to view in a short time, why not help guide them then let them make up their own mind?


01/18/2011 08:08 am

I use the meta-keyword tag for the internal search engine (good place to include variations of spelling of a product e.g. TR-8208D, TR8208 D, TR 8208-D etc.). Rand Fishkin recommended not to use them due to avoid keyword spying by your competitors (at SMX Madrid 2008). Think it's a good point.


01/18/2011 09:12 am

I think it is better to use a meta keyword tag on optimised pages, even if there is only very little benefit.

Moosa Hemani

01/18/2011 09:13 am

lol i didn't stop using Meta keyword on websites and the reason is it give me a clear view of what the page content is all about so some how it may not helped search engine but helped me while going on with other things related to content and all. but if this is true i must say great!!


01/18/2011 10:13 am

Displaying a snippet and carrying weight for ranking are totally different things. Same for Meta Description.


01/18/2011 10:25 am

Search Engines lies ?! oh ! incredible news !


01/18/2011 01:38 pm

I have always filled out the keyword tag if for anything to keep focused on what the page was about. If we really take SEO seriously and like to preach best practice then training those that ask "old School" then they will have the ability to 1) track what works and not, and 2) understand the basics just in case one of the engines decides to utilize an outdated tag. I grew up driving a standard, for awhile they became obsolete and then sunddenly thats all thats out there and know one knew how to drive them.

Jill Whalen

01/18/2011 02:52 pm

Ugh. I was afraid of this. Judging by the comments here, people think that using the meta keywords tag is now somehow useful. It's still not.

Barry Schwartz

01/18/2011 02:53 pm

See what you did! ;-)

Ben Pfeiffer

01/18/2011 05:20 pm

Hey I felt I was pretty clear in the post that the Meta Keywords tag was only being used by Google to fill out internal site search fields. It's still pointless for SEO.

Ben Pfeiffer

01/18/2011 05:21 pm

There is no benefit anymore.

Jill Whalen

01/18/2011 05:55 pm

You were, as was I. But unfortunately, people only read the headlines. C'mon people...READ the whole thing so you can comment intelligently instead of making yourselves sound silly.

Shiv Bhaker

01/19/2011 04:40 am

Theare is no Base of Saying it...If u have some proof then publish such type of articles.


01/19/2011 06:47 am

That is really big news. I just hope this doesn't end up with spammers winning in the SERPs again.


01/19/2011 09:39 am

< sigh > we really need the first paragraph of every article to now come with a big, red, bold disclaimer, because it's crazy how some people even SNIFF of something they think is going to give them a magic pill for SEO. Even when there's nothing in the actual article that makes such a claim.

Ed Weidner

01/19/2011 04:17 pm

People are just voicing their opinions, inspired by the title. It's on topic enough. Relax.

Jey Pandian

01/19/2011 08:41 pm

There is no benefit anymore. If you use a meta-keywords tag - it allows competent SEOs to know exactly what your website is targeting and develop a program to eat your traffic. . If you want your website and clients to go down the drain, by all means*shrugged

John S. Britsios

01/21/2011 09:15 pm

For almost a year now I use CTags (Common Tags) which I consider far more valuable than the keywords meta tags. Thank you Vanessa: I prefer going with Web 3.0, than going backwards.

Doc Sheldon

01/21/2011 10:55 pm

According to Jill's piece which you referenced, Ben, there never was any benefit to the KW meta tag. ;)

John Mueller

01/22/2011 08:41 pm

We've been crawling forms for quite some time now, in particular in an attempt to find new and unknown (to Google) content: When we find forms (in particular search forms), we have to use some keywords to search for, so our systems may resort to using anything that we can find on the site, including meta-tags, in an attempt to find something new. For any website that you all are working on (I'm pretty certain :-)), this will not be an issue as we'll probably be able to crawl through to all content anyway (at minimum with a Sitemap file or feed, right?), but on some reference sites you can only find the content by searching. If you know someone who runs such a site, instead of pointing them to meta tags, it's better to help them to make their site crawlable, or at least help them to create a set of Sitemap files.

John S. Britsios

01/23/2011 03:43 pm

And what happens with the site search results pages? Won't they be indexed?

John Mueller

01/23/2011 04:39 pm

Sometimes it makes sense to have those pages indexed (eg when the individual entries can't be accessed via URL alone), sometimes it doesn't help that much, it depends a bit, and is sometimes hard to determine ahead of time. Also, just because a URL is indexed doesn't necessarily mean that it's visible in search results for queries. That said, if this is about a site that you're working on, I'd definitely recommend working to make sure that site-search results aren't indexable (we also recommend that in our Webmaster Guidelines), and instead just make sure that the actual content can be discovered naturally by crawling (or at least through other methods like Sitemap files or feeds).

Arnie Kuenn

01/23/2011 05:49 pm

Feel compelled to add my 2 cents here... as recently as last quarter, we helped 2 different websites greatly improve their rankings in Google by fixing their spammy keyword tags. In both cases they were using a tool that inserted keywords into their KW tag on every single page. So of course they thought it would be a good idea to cover every KW possible. Every keyword tag on every page had exactly the same keywords - maybe as many as 20 of them. We went through and removed them all, then for 2o or 30 of their core pages we just added 2 or 3 of the terms that made sense for each page. Within about 48 hours, they saw a dramatic improvement in their rankings. Like many terms on page 1 of Google SERPs where they were no where to be found before. It felt like SEO circa 2002. We would have written it off as an anomaly if we had not seen it happen twice in a span of 2 or 3 months. Naturally we still check clients' KW tags as we think spammy ones can actually hurt. Would love to know if anyone else has seen this so we can confirm, 2 instances is not exactly conclusive.

Lyena Solomon

01/23/2011 08:22 pm

Wish you removed all keywords from the meta tag and waited to observe the impact. Then, added keywords to selected pages and track any improvement. Otherwise, it is not very clear, if the ranking improved because of no spammy keywords or because of better ones. Or, because search engines suddenly recognized, how great the site actually is.


01/26/2011 06:12 am

to be honest and being my first time on this typical seo site id say the article is pretty much a link bait, the information is not new and even worst the conclusion is even more bogus

Daniel Chavez Moran

02/01/2011 06:32 pm

The headline of this story is completely opposite of the last (hastily written) line of the article: "Google here, Yahoo, questionably here, and Bing doesn't either so don't listen to this page it's wrong." Shouldn't the headline read "New Evidence Falsely Suggests Google Uses Meta Keywords Tag Again?" In that case, it wouldn't be newsworthy at all. Basically, this article shouldn't exist.


02/20/2011 12:27 pm

There is no doubt that meta tags are still in use, you will observe them in the serps. The key here is to insert a really catchy add into the meta content tags. Of course if the meta keywords to match up with your content, citations etc...... I've never ignored the meta content because I learned a while back that they where still worth a few points. My assumption here is that Google are so confident of the other aspects to their algorithm that they feel they can begin using them again in the fashion that they where originally intended.

White Wolf

12/03/2011 06:18 pm

It's all your fault now Jill! ;)


01/12/2012 12:40 am

I have had this feeling too - changed my keywords, changed my result ranki

Kelvin Jones

09/10/2012 11:22 am

Ok, this is an old thread now but... You may find that Google was applying a mild penalty for taking up the bots time reading through the spamy code. By removing the bloat the next crawl pinged the the site up the results.

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