There was a time when the keyword meta tag (and how many terms you could stuff into it) was all there was to SEO. Back in the good old days, all you needed were backlinks and some keyword stuffing and the traffic would roll right in.
Ranking algorithms have come a long way since Alta Vista (one of the earliest and most popular search engines, circa 1998). Flash forward to 2014, when several top search competitors like Google and Bing are actively increasing the value of search results by providing semantic “meaning” for their users and producing steady streams of ROI for advertisers.
Out with the old, in with the new. Optimizing the keyword meta tags of a website may have been one of the first effective tactics for SEO, but it also might be one of the last. And for good reason.
Keyword Repetition Looks Like Spam
Google employs a team of highly-trained human “search quality” raters to augment its search ranking algorithm. These human raters presumably follow the guidelines outlined in the infamously leaked 2012 Google Quality Rating Document.
The first step for any SEO Strategist should be: imagine you are a member of Google’s Quality Rating Team. If you were on the team, you would probably:
- Look for obvious signs of over-optimization, such as more than four terms in the KW field.
- Inspect the validity of the content as it relates to the title tag and the user query.
- Notice the number of times that any term in the KW tag is repeated verbatim in the body copy.
Stop giving search engines the appearance you are “trying too hard” to TELL Google what your website should rank for. Show them you are ahead of the curve.
Too Much Keyword Focus Can Distract Clients from Long-Term Goals
As a result of Google’s somewhat recent privacy updates, marketers are being provided with less and less keyword-specific information via the Google Analytics platform. The “not provided” bucket of keywords sending traffic to websites has grown exponentially in the last two to three years. It makes good sense to assume that this trend will only continue and that soon enough, little to no information will be “provided.”
Oftentimes, clients look specifically at the keyword meta fields on their web pages. The questions they ask range from, “Are you sure there are enough keywords in there?” to “I know we sell widgets, but we don’t want to mention widgets in the keywords. Can you take those out?”
It’s best to start the keywords vs. topics conversation with clients early on. While we do use the meta keyword field in most cases, the focus should be limited to one to three keyword phrases per any webpage, as this field is primarily used for internal reference and not to get rankings.
Any website’s long-term business goals should focus on providing valuable, useful content to the intended audience. Period. Driving this point home may be an arduous task, especially to those who have employed SEO agencies in the distant past or read an article or two in the early 2000s. Make it easy on yourself and skip using that field altogether so you can focus on the long-term.