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.