May 19, 2010

SEO and the Keyword Tag Fallacy

Ross Ross Gerring

You’ve spent thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars on a new website. It looks great, functions like a charm and does everything you could have ever hoped, including making your morning coffee. There’s only one problem, no-one knows about it!

Seeing a failing, you get in contact with a reputable SEO firm that optimises your content, puts in meaningful page titles and good description tags, and it works! Slowly but surely your site starts to appear in rankings on Google and other search engines and life is good, the customers start coming, and you’re feeling very happy about your site.

Then you get a call from a different SEO company, and they question you as to if you have an SEO strategy. “Of course I do”, you state, “I’ve been working with Company XYZ for a few months now developing and deploying our strategy, and it’s slowly working.” This is when it starts to get interesting. “Company XYZ?!” bellows down the phone in a tone which can only be described as a mix of disgust and pity, “they don’t even do the most basic things! They don’t even use the keyword tag. Our company covers the basics, we use the keyword tag. If you were using a keyword tag you’d be on page 1 of Google! At the top! You should really be using a proper SEO company like ours.”

At this stage you are probably flabbergasted. How could this “so called” professional SEO company leave off even the most basic of things, this keyword tag which would have gotten you that page 1, position 1 ranking on Google! Now, before you switch over to this new company and forever disparage Company XYZ, let’s take a quick look at the rise and fall of this mysterious keyword tag, and see if if it has any real relevance in the internet of 201x.

The <meta name=”keywords” /> tag, a brief history

When the internet was just starting to hit mainstream in the early to mid 90’s, a need for search engines arose to aggregate and bring back useful webpages. To help facilitate their need for organising and ranking results, they started to rely on the meta keyword tag for assistance. So what is this tag? In brief, the keyword tag is used to list a series of words that you would like your website to found when searched for. For instance, a website that operates out of Adelaide that sells oranges might implement a tag such as this:

<meta name="keywords" content="oranges,fruit,fresh fruit,fresh oranges,adelaide" >

For your 1990’s era SEO strategy, this was a solid idea. However, things got messy very quickly. Unscrupulous people started to employ a tactic known as “keyword stuffing”, meaning that they put in keywords unrelated to their website content in a bid to get more visitors. This tactic was used most infamously by adult websites luring unsuspecting visitors searching for harmless terms such as the latest videogame console.

Due to this, the new breed of search engines that started to appear in the late 90’s, most famously Google, decided that the keyword tag was redundant at best and malicious at worst. Instead of relying on arbitrary keywords that might not have anything to do with the website content, these engines paid more attention and importance to the actual page content and what was found there. As a result, Google has never used the keyword tag, and for their web search engine, they ignore it.

This resulted in the keyword tag falling out of use amongst some websites, and there are numerous articles from the early 2000’s talking about the decline, and irrelevance of the tag. So why is it now, in 2010, that there is still use of and discussion about this now redundant tag? There are a few very good reasons why.

1. Search Engines are secretive about their workings

Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing do not come out and say how they rank websites. If they did this, then everyone would know the best way to optimise their site to get a great ranking, and the advancements in ranking technology would be available to their competitors.

As such, what does and doesn’t work is generally vaguely danced around. For sure, they all give tips about how your site could be better optmised, but as for the nitty gritty specifics, they are closely guarded secrets. This gives rise to the second problem.

2. Charlatan SEO Companies and Sales People

As in our example previously, it is all too easy for such charlatan companies and sales people to call website owners and bamboozle them with some slick technical jargon and promises of high rankings in search engines for little effort. After all, who doesn’t love a fast acting scheme!

You can rest assured that if any sales person or “SEO Expert” talks to you about the importance of keywords to your search engine rankings, they are clearly deceiving you. Unfortunately, due to search engines not always talking about what they don’t use, it is all too easy for “used car salesmen” of the web to take unsuspecting website owners for a ride in their confidence scams. All of the attention of the redundant keyword tag takes away value from what really matters in SEO.

Content and Construction are King

Nothing gets you up the search engine results pages quicker than having relevant, well written content on a website that is constructed in a way that makes the search engines job in reading that content as easy as possible.

At Itomic, we pride ourselves on constructing fundamentally search engine friendly websites, which encompasses solid coding, using SEO friendly url’s (think instead of and generally ticking all the boxes of a best practice website. When it comes to content, we can and have partnered with professional copywriters to provide excellent, keyword rich but still relevant body copy for clients websites, and can also give our own advice when it comes to writing content that will improve a websites search engine ranking. Give us a call to try us out!

One of the best examples on the internet of content and construction being the most important factors to a websites ranking ability is Wikipedia. Almost every non-esoteric website search will feature Wikipedia as one of the top 3 or 4 links; and usually it is the number 1 organic link. All this with no use of the keyword tag. It’s also worth noting that Google themselves do not use the tag on their own websites, testament to how redundant they feel it is.

The Contradiction

If this is the case then, and the meta keyword tag is truly redundant, a relic of the 90’s and a waste of bandwidth, why do some Itomic clients and Itomic themselves use the keyword tag on their websites? Why do Itomic provide tools to edit a site’s keywords?

Unfortunately this stems back to our original example of the charlatan SEO Company. Yes, unfortunately the web world is filled with unscrupulous sales people that would sell their grandmother to make a quick sale, and highlighting a website’s lack of keyword tag is one of the key ways this can be done.

To keep these sort of salespeople from using Itomic’s website negatively or confusing clients, we will often times use the meta keyword tag on websites we create. Yes, we know it doesn’t do anything! We do educate as many clients as we can on best web practices, however we do not expect everyone to be an expert about all things internet related.

So the next time someone discusses an SEO strategy with you that mentions the importance of the keyword tag, refute them! Do not spend time “tweaking” this tag in the hopes you will improve your search engine ranking. Spend time on the things that matter, good content and a well designed website!