Why the meta keywords tag is a waste of time

05 May 2006

Adding metadata to information or content makes it easier for computers to sort it, and therefore allows people to better find what they need.  So why shouldn't you bother with the keywords tag on your website?

Example

For example, the front page of this site could have a meta keywords tag of:
<meta name="keywords" content="nerdoftheherd, php, html, xhtml, css, mysql, nerd"> in the header.

History

Meta tags were pretty widely supported by the older search engines (Infoseek, AltaVista, Inktomi and Lycos) in the mid 1990s.  However, after a fairly short time, site owners found that engines which gave a fair weighting to the keywords tag could be manipulated to give their site an unfair advantage.  This was done simply by filling the keywords tags with huge quantities of the sort of keywords that the site would like to be found for.  When this was being done on a large scale this made some of the engines look pretty silly.

Current Situation

Currently Yahoo is the only engine which might use the keywords tag - but even if it does, it will be weighted so low in the algorithm that it makes almost no difference.  More recent search engines (for instance Google) have never supported the keywords tag.

This means that the keywords tag is either ignored, or regarded so little in all of the current search engines that they really don't count when it comes to improving the position of your site in the rankings.

Other Meta Tags

This article only applies to the meta keywords tag - other meta tags, particularly the description tag still have a perfectly valid uses.  For instance, although the meta description tag is ignored in the ranking process, Google and some of the other search engines will use this for the page summary shown to the user if appropriate.

Why not use it anyway?

Because the keywords and description tags are the most widely known part of search engine optimisation, a lot of site owners or optimisation firms will still use the keywords tag because others tell them that it is important, or because it keeps the customer happy.

Telling other site owners or your customers that the meta keywords tag isn't important, and the reasons why will get you a lot more respect than if you just continue to use it because "it can't do any harm".

Although it is true that carrying the redundant tags on your site is harmless, you will have spent time creating the tags, which will have stopped you from doing something more constructive.

Better things to concentrate on

Instead of spending time adding the keywords tag to your pages, you should instead make sure that your pages validate as (x)html, and that they are designed in a way that makes it easy for search engines to read and index them properly.