Recently, Matt Cutts published on the Google Webmaster Central Blog  that “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking”. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to most SEOs as the Meta Keywords tag has been rapidly degrading over the past few years as a result of its previous abuse by the pioneers of SEO. This once mighty tag used to be the key to ranking gold. But as most good things go, it was a short-lived exploitation and today, many wonder if Google even pays any attention to this anemic tag. Well on Monday, September 21, 2009 at 10:00 AM, Matt Cutts confirmed our assumptions by stating to the world that Google could care less about the Meta Keywords Tag. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the original architects of the Google algorithm shudder in disgust every time someone mentions the word “Meta Keywords” (or was it Niagara Falls?). In any case, the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of the Meta Keywords tag.
WAIT! There’s more!!!
Another revelation in this recent Matt Cutts video post was in regards to the Meta Description tag. He stated that “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.” This is a bit more shocking, but it has been rumored that the Meta Description was next in line after the Meta Keywords tag to get the axe. Well, the axe has fallen and the Meta Description has lost its head.
So what does this mean for SEOs who list the Meta Description and Meta Keywords tags as important tags to include for each page and optimize? The answer….nothing at all!
Nothing at all???? But Matt Cutts said…..
Yes I know what Matt Cutts said, and it’s great that he does provide us with this information about Google, as it allows us to create cleaner, more robust sites without completely burying our content as a result of poor search engine detection. But the revelation about the Meta Keywords and Meta Description tags actually doesn’t change a thing in regards to SEO meta content best practices.
WHAT??? POPPYCOCK!!! SO DOES THAT MEAN….
Ah, ah, ah…just hold that thought for a second. I already know what you’re going to ask. So here are the answers to your (assumed) questions:
YOUR FIRST QUESTION
Q: Should we continue to optimize meta keywords tags even though Google just said they don’t consider it for ranking?
A: Yes. Just because Google doesn’t use it, doesn’t mean other search engines (big and small) don’t. I’m sure you would appreciate traffic from any search engine, so just because Google doesn’t care about it, doesn’t mean it’s a completely dead tag. It does mean, however, that you shouldn’t slave over creating the meta keywords tag. As long as you have a set of keywords/phrases in your Meta Keywords tag that relate directly to the content on your page, there’s no harm done.
Golden Rule…make sure your Meta Keywords tag contains keywords and phrases that are relevant to the page content. If you can’t make the Meta Keywords tag on your page unique, don’t have it at all. It’s better to have nothing than something that may appear as spam/keyword stuffing.
YOUR SECOND QUESTION
Q: Since Google says they don’t use the Meta Description tag to consider rankings, should we still optimize it?
A:Yes. The fundamentals of Meta Description tag optimization are 1) keyword phrase usage, and 2) length. These two elements are important whether Google analyzes the Meta Description tag for ranking or not. It’s beneficial to have the main keyword phrase you want your page to rank for in the Meta Description tag because when Google uses it for the snippet, we get the bolding effect — which we know from a user interaction perspective can be beneficial because it’s visual validation that your listing has the information the searcher is looking for. This does mean, however, that you don’t need to slave over keyword counts in the Meta Description tag. And as for length, since you don’t want the description of your SERP result cut off, you want to make sure it’s of an ideal length/character count. Although we have seen the rise of the expanded description being used in some Google SERPs, it’s not used in most cases, and the shorter description is what you typically see in current Google SERPs.
YOUR THIRD (AND FINAL) QUESTION
Q: So what the heck does Google use to figure out rankings?
A: It’s looking like the Title Tag, on-page content (including Header tags), and semantic word usage (and of course linking — internal and external — and clean site architecture) are the winners…Oh and a hundred other things we’ll never know.