Google: Actually, Meta Tags Do Matter.
Google posted a new Webmaster Help video from Matt Cutts today. The question at hand this time is: How much time should I spend on meta tags, and which ones matter?
This one is also significant because Cutts submitted the question himself. That means, he felt this was an important enough issue, that even though it wasn’t submitted it by a user, needed to be addressed.
“So the conventional wisdom a few years ago was that meta tags mattered a whole lot,” says Cutts. “You really had to tweak them and spent a lot of time to get your keywords right, and did you have a space, or a comma between your keywords, and all that kind of stuff. And we’ve mostly evolved past that, but the pendulum might have gone a little bit too far in the other direction, because a lot of people sometimes say, don’t think at all about meta tags. Don’t spend any time whatsoever on them, and so let me give you a more nuanced view.”
“You shouldn’t spend any time on the meta keywords tag,” he says. “We don’t use it. I’m not aware of any major search engine that uses it these days. It’s a place that people don’t really see when they load the browser, and so a lot of webmasters just keyword stuff there, and so it’s really not all that helpful. So we don’t use meta keywords at all.”
This is actually not the first time Cutts has posted a video about this topic. There was one from several years ago, where he basically said the same thing about the keywords meta tag. At the time, Google talked about how it used the description meta tag, as well as the meta tags “google,” “robots,” “verify-1,” “content type,” and “refresh”.
Here’s a chart from Google Webmaster Tools, which breaks down how Google understands different meta tags:
“But we do use the meta description tag,” Cutts continues in the new video. “The meta description is really handy, because if we don’t know what would make a good snippet, and you have something in the meta description tag that would basically give a pretty good answer–maybe it matches what the user typed in or something along those lines, then we do reserve the right to show that meta description tag as the snippet. So we can either show the snippet that might be the keyword in context on the page or the meta description.”
“Now, if the meta description is really well written and really compelling, then a person who sees it might click through more often,” he says. “So if you’re a good SEO, someone who is paying attention to conversion and not just rankings on trophy phrases, then you might want to pay some attention to testing different meta descriptions that might result in more clickthrough and possibly more conversions. So don’t do anything deceptive, like you say you’re about apples when you’re really about red widgets that are completely unrelated to apples. But if you have a good and a compelling meta description, that can be handy.”
“There are a lot of other meta tags,” he says. “I think in the metadata for this video, we can link to a really good page of documentation that we had, that sort of talks about which stuff we pay attention to and which stuff we don’t pay attention to. But at a 50,000-foot level, don’t pay attention to the keywords meta tag. But the description meta tag is worth paying attention to.”
It sounds like SEO still matters.