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Are you still using the keywords meta tag? Or are you stuffing your description meta tags in hopes that it will help your rankings?

If so, Google has a reminder for you: you're wasting your time.

Although I don't think it's a secret amongst SEOs, a post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog explains that Google does not look at the keywords meta tag. The reason is somewhat obvious: it's such an easy tag to abuse that it has no value.

This doesn't, of course, mean that the keywords meta tag is dead. From the Washington Post to the Huffington Post, plenty of sites still use the useless tag. There's plenty of reinforcement that it has value (example: the popular WordPress plugin All-in-One SEO Pack auto-generates the tag for bloggers). And I still occasionally run into people who believe that copying their competitor's keywords is somehow an effective SEO technique.

While one could argue that it doesn't hurt to include the keywords meta tag on pages, the widespread use of a tag that has essentially been depreciated shows that old habits die hard in the world of SEO.

And so do myths. Which brings us to the description meta tag, something that Google does utilize:

...we do sometimes use the "description" meta tag as the text for our search results snippets...

Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don't use the description meta tag in our ranking.

The important point: the description meta tag isn't a ranking factor. But once you're ranking, the descriptions you provide can be valuable in helping convince users to click when Google uses them as snippets. Therefore, each description meta tag should contain a simple, concise and compelling summary of your page's content. The goal: enable a real human being to determine if your page is relevant to his or her query.

What the description meta tag is not: another place to stuff keywords. Using 20 keywords that you'd like a page to rank for in your description is not an appropriate technique and most importantly, if your keyword-stuffed description somehow manages to get used as a snippet in the first place, there's a good chance users won't click on your result, defeating the purpose of your SEO efforts in the first place.

Of course, none of the information Google has provided will come as a surprise to SEOs and experienced online publishers. When it comes down to it, content is king and quality is his queen. No meta tag can change that; if it was that easy, everybody would have top SERPs.

Photo credit: billadler via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 September, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2377 more posts from this author

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Raphael

To be more precise : meta description tags are still very much in use (for example as a snippet on search engine result pages). Only meta keywords tags are not used by Google...

almost 7 years ago

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Ben Rush

Pretty misleading article title. META descriptions are pretty critical to organic success as far as I am concerned. Type in a load of rubbish, badly formatted vs. a nicely formatted description full of relevant information and I wonder which version will get a higher click through rate. META descriptions may have been dead for a ranking factor for years, but they certainly aren't a waste of time.

almost 7 years ago

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unnikrishna menon damodaran, web content and print production specialist at ae

true. meta description is still valid with organic search. but Google has to be transparent about the search engine ranking process to clear the new confusion among relatively new SEOs.

almost 7 years ago

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Duggy Moore

I'm not 100% on this, but didn't I read somewhere that although Google doesn't use the meta keyword tags, Yahoo and other search engines do?  If that is the case, then using the keyword tags is still quite important, even if Google does monopolise the search industry.

almost 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Ben, As I make clear in the post, descriptions are important for snippets and click-throughs. The problem is that many people believe they're used as a ranking factor and their effort is spent stuffing them with keywords and/or writing descriptions for crawlers, not humans. That's a waste. Duggy, My understanding is that Yahoo still looks at the keywords meta tag. Obviously, if Yahoo is important to you, it may make sense to invest time in adding keywords. That said, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who get substantial traffic from Yahoo search these days. So it's really a matter of deciding where to invest your time. If you get 5000 visits per day from Google and 100 from Yahoo, chances are you'd be better off investing in improving your Google SERPs.

almost 7 years ago

Ian Harris

Ian Harris, CEO at Search LaboratorySmall Business Multi-user

On a big site that is localised into other languages the keyword tag provides a really good place to note the 2-3 keywords that are targeted on a page.  When localising the page, the translator can pay special attention to these keywords and find the best version in their language. 

Building these into an electronic glossary will ensure that every time they appear on the page they will be translated in the same way and the page will be naturally optimised for the keywords in the target language.

Summary: Use the keyword tag for a site that will be translated.

almost 7 years ago

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charlotte

If you listen clearly to what Matt is saying and not saying you will find that he does not say the Meta Description tag is not used as a ranking factor. You need to pay attention to what he does not say as much as to what he does say. !

almost 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

charlotte,

The post on the Google blog makes it very clear:

Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don't use the description meta tag in our ranking.

No reading between the lines necessary...

almost 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

OK, I understand the logic of what Google is saying - however, does that mean categorically that there is no point using the meta keywords tag ever anymore? If it is that clinical then I would expect no SEO specialist to optimise meta content for keywords and focus on other areas of SEO.

What is the new SEO mot de jour? Is it rich snippets? Is it social media optimisation? Where do the search specialists amongst you think Google is directing its algorithm's beady eye?

Thanks

james

almost 7 years ago

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Ryan Dearlove

The fact the google makes all your keywords bold in your description is enough reason to do it - Your click-through rate will be much higher.

over 6 years ago

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Marenda

Does anyone know when Google will release an operating system for download?

over 6 years ago

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David

Completely agree with some of the comments here. About keyword metadata has benefits for larger sites for translation and also in the description for highlighting. I am not certain of yahoo's stance but it seems they give it the lowest factor in their SERPS, but their may be benefit using unique keyword phrases which are not mentioned in the page but relevant to the content. Any ideas on this? Also don't agree with the article necessarily on just considering Google. Internationally Google is not the only search engine and particularly in APAC is not necessarily dominant. Even if you get 5% of your traffic from yahoo and bing this may equate to 10s of thousands of users. For certain sites yahoo and bing may convert more effectively and per visit value may be double that of Google. Therefore they shouldn't be discounted completely.

over 5 years ago

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