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Don't let Meta Keywords Hurt your SEO

Are you still using the Keywords Meta Tag? FYI - Search engines no longer respect them! Learn the facts & get your search optimization back on track.

Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo

Eric is Chief Growth Officer and President of Meticulosity.

In the SEO of "four score and seven years ago," meta keywords were a huge ranking factor and a big part of every organic strategy. Quite frankly you wouldn’t even rank without this metadata listing out your keywords.

However, the methods to optimize and rank up in Google’s SERP have changed - for the better. You no longer need to use this SEO meta tag for keywords. In fact, it could actually be harmful to your SEO.

Check your Keywords Meta Tag and find serious issues affecting your site’s indexability.

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What are Meta Keywords

Meta Keywords is an HTML meta tag once widely used by marketers and SEOs to optimize a web page for search results. The keywords tag would help describe the content of the web page to search engines. However, because of misuse, this metadata is no longer considered a ranking signal.

History of the Keywords Meta Tag

Once upon a time it was very common to see the following metadata in the HTML of your web page:

The keywords meta tag is placed within the head section of your HTML

Back when search world relied on simple engines like Excite, AltaVista and Ask Jeeves, these keyword tags were very important to ranking. These keywords used to be placed within a specific keyword meta tag within the <head></head> section of HTML source code. While this code isn't visible to website visitors, search engine crawlers could scan this information and use for indexing.

SEO Strategies Have Changed

As human nature goes, there are those always looking for an unfair advantage. And, since the tag was easily accessible it was an easy target. So, unscrupulous site owners realized it was easy to exploit the keywords meta.

SPAM was now evolving! Many digital marketers abused this meta tag by stuffing it with irrelevant keywords and spam. Thankfully, Google and other search engines eventually stopped respecting the keywords meta tag.

Keyword Tools

Even popular tools like Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress, changed, and no longer turns the keyword meta field on by default. In fact, the plugin warns you if you try to override the setting as it’s irrelevant to modern search engine optimization efforts.

Instead, Yoast asks for a focus keyword so it can scan your page content and determines whether you have the keyword appropriately in your meta description and title tags.

Why We Don’t Use Metadata Keywords

It was September 2009 when SEOs witnessed the death of meta tag keywords. In fact, Matt Cutts, who is largely regarded as the man in SEO for Google, stated "Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking." Yahoo and Bing followed suit later that year.

Mainly the keywords tag is seen as an untrustworthy signal since it’s aforementioned abused for so long. You don't need to use this tag anymore to rank up for certain keywords, anyway.

You should write longer content, answer questions to hit for long-tail keyword content, and write for voice search. If you spend more time on researching the top search queries for your keywords, you’ll see areas for improvement and how to add to your content creating more opportunities for your site to rank up.

Need more inspiration to quit using the keywords meta tag?

How to Figure Out the Best Focus Keywords and Where to Place Them

Your focus keyword includes the search term that you want your page to rank for in a search engine results page (SERP).

Focus keywords should have these characteristics:

  • Relevant and specific to your page's content
  • Commonly searched for by your audience
  • Relates to your expertise and industry
  • Mid to high search volume
  • Competitors ranking for it in top results pages

Where do you Place Focus Keywords?

Google doesn't share specifically where to place keywords, but there are some common rules on where to put keywords to help search engine crawlers recognize your content and what you want to rank for.

Title Tag

The main "h1" of your page is called the title tag or headline tag. This is the headline of your page and it should include your main focus keyword as creatively and uniquely as possible.

Meta Description Tag

This is a meta tag that also goes in the head content of your page's code. It has a maximum of 160 characters. You should place your focus keyword within the first 10 words of your meta tag description. However, you should only use the keyword or a keyword variation once or twice in this content.

First Paragraph

Your main keyword should go within the first three sentences of your page's content. As a general rule, we like to see it within the first 100 words where possible.

Include in a Subhead (H2) Tag

You can also include a keyword, but it's better to include a keyword variation to expand upon the keyword and also prevent the crawler from seeing evidence of "keyword stuffing." Include a similar process with h3s, h4s, etc.

Link with Anchor Text or Variation

If you’ve already used the keyword a few times in the body, you shouldn't go overboard as that may look like keyword overuse. However, you can use keyword variations and link them with keywords for your anchor text.

Answer Questions for Long-Tail Keyword Variations

Voice SEO is more naturally formed as a question. As the use of Siri, Alexa, and Google Home become more prevalent, you’ll need longer keyword phrases that pertain to your main keyword topic. For example, if you have "diet pizza recipes," then someone may ask, "What's in a cauliflower pizza recipe?" or "Are cauliflower diet pizza recipes any good?" You can include content like this in a frequently asked questions section.

Avoid Keyword Stuffing

While it's unclear how many instances of a keyword constitutes "stuffing," it's best to only mention the exact match keyword 2 to 3 times in the body of the article. This includes subheads (h2, h3, h4, etc) and your paragraphs or body content. Keep a good balance of variation in your speech especially your keyword phrases and you’ll be just fine. 

Remember, no amount of keywords will make your content better and Google knows it. It’s important to note that we want you to write super helpful and informative content for real people and not the search engines. Good luck with your search engine marketing!

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