Meta keywords are an artifact from an earlier age in search engine optimization (SEO) history. But are they still worth the time it takes to optimize them? The short answer is “Not for U.S.-based SEO,” and here’s why.
What Are Meta Keywords (And Where Did They Come From)?
The short and sweet answer is, meta keywords are searchable terms or phrases added to a page’s HTML code. While visitors cannot see meta keywords on your page, they’re readable by search engines in the code. To find a meta keywords tag on any web page, look in the <head> section of the code for something that looks like this:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”seo, digital marketing”/>
Decades ago, it was common SEO practice to insert meta keywords on web pages to help boost visibility and ranking. Meta keywords suffered from widespread overuse in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and as a result, they became a far less trustworthy signal for search engines. Often, sites would include irrelevant or spammy meta keywords in an attempt to increase rankings and fight for visibility. This resulted in many search engines ignoring meta keywords completely.
For over 10 years, Google has been consistent and clear on whether or not meta keywords affect Search ranking. As reiterated last year by Google’s search relations team lead John Mueller, meta keywords are not a ranking factor.
Why Should You Stop Using Meta Keywords for SEO
Simply put, devoting time to meta keywords isn’t worth the effort. At a bare minimum, your work will be in vain, especially with Google accounting for 92.6% of the search engine market share as of June 2023, according to StatCounter. While there are a handful of international search engines like Yandex that still use meta keywords as a ranking factor, there are others that view too many or irrelevant meta keywords as a signal that your pages are potentially spammy. Used poorly, meta keywords can actually be a negative ranking signal.
Bing, for example, has been notably wishy-washy on the issue of meta keywords. Previously, Bing has stated that meta keywords are not used as a ranking factor. However, as Frédéric Dubut from Bing points out, there’s an opportunity to categorize websites with overstuffed meta keywords as potentially spammy and harmful.
In addition, do you really want to advertise the keywords you’re trying so hard to rank for? It makes it easier for people working on competing websites to do their competitive research. Why make their jobs easier?
Is There Ever a Reason to Use Meta Keywords?
For reasons other than SEO, there could be a time and a place to use meta keywords. Generally speaking, meta keywords offer a way for larger companies or sites to categorize their information for their content management systems. Some internal site search systems also use meta keywords to help improve their relevancy in returning internal site search results.
So there you have it: solid reasons not to use meta keywords in your U.S.-based SEO program. They don’t work, they could be harmful, and your competition can use them to research your keyword strategy. Unless you must have keywords to target one of the international search engines that still use them, or your CMS or internal site search requires them, save yourself time and effort by skipping meta keywords entirely.