Where Google Stands on the “Keywords” Meta Tag

    December 4, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google does not use the "keywords" meta tag in its web search ranking. Google’s Matt Cutts explains this in a Webmaster Central video. This is not breaking news, by any means, but there are a lot of people out there that still put a lot of stock into this.

In fact, Cutts mentions that people have sued each other for meta tag keyword theft, when really this is just a waste of everybody’s time, because they don’t even play a role in the ranking of sites on Google. Have you been under the impression that the keywords meta tag was important to ranking in Google? Comment here.

"About a decade ago, search engines judged pages only on the content of web pages, not any so-called "off-page" factors such as the links pointing to a web page," says Cutts. "In those days, keyword meta tags quickly became an area where someone could stuff often-irrelevant keywords without typical visitors ever seeing those keywords. Because the keywords meta tag was so often abused, many years ago Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag."

Just because Google ignores the "keywords" meta tag, that doesn’t mean it ignores all meta tags. In fact, there are several that the search engine definitely uses. For one, Google sometimes uses the "description" meta tag as the text for search results snippets. But even then, the "description" meta tag isn’t used to influence ranking.

Description Meta tag

Google also recognizes the "google," "robots," "verify-v1," "content type," and "refresh" meta tags. Information about how Google understands these can be found at this page in the Webmaster Tools help center.

"It’s possible that Google could use this information in the future, but it’s unlikely," Cutts says of the "keywords" meta tag. "Google has ignored the keywords meta tag for years and currently we see no need to change that policy."

So the moral of the story is, if a competitor is jacking your keywords, and using them in their own "keywords" meta tag, this will have no effect whatsoever in how they rank in Google when compared to your site. Cutts says other search engines might use the information, but Google doesn’t.

Google does note that its enterprise Search Appliance has the ability to match meta tags, but this is of course separate from Google web search.

As I have said before, these videos and other tips Google frequently gives out are worth paying attention to for any webmaster looking to rank well. Whether they’re talking about duplicate content, meta tags, or paid links, they’re all aimed at telling webmasters how it is, and clarifying any misconceptions to the contrary. Whether you agree with Google’s methods in all cases or not, the tips are for your benefit.

Like it or not, Google controls what people find on the web when they search. The company’s huge market share is just something that is. There is always the possibility that could change in the future, but at this point, it looks like webmasters are not going to be able to ignore Google for a long time, if they hope to be found on the web by searchers.

We realize (and Google surely does too) that many well-seasoned marketers already know that Google ignores the "keywords" meta tag, but webmasters are born everyday, and not all of them have been so heavily seasoned to this point, and that’s why Google puts this information out there. There is always misinformation (particularly when it comes to search), and sometimes the record just has to be set straight. Who better to do that than Google itself?

Do you find Google’s Webmaster Central videos useful or do you think they’re mostly just retreads of things you already know? Share your thoughts here.