Answer: No! (I’ll elaborate a bit… otherwise this would be one short post.)
This is the most common misconception we encounter. If your SEO expert or website developer has said “We’ll optimize your meta tags,” you should seriously reconsider your contract.
If you’re not familiar with meta tags, you may want to read this post before continuing: How to Use HTML Meta Tags.
Meta Keywords Don’t Impact Rankings?
Nope! Don’t take my word for it, though. Google made a very clear announcement about it way back in 2009:
This summarizes the entire announcement: “Too many people have spammed that too much, so we don’t use that at all… We don’t use that information in our ranking even the least little bit.”
Matt Cutts, head of the search quality team at Google, couldn’t have made this point much more clear. Google made this announcement back in 2009, but our tests showed they stopped using the meta keywords at least a year before that.
What about Bing and Yahoo?
It looks like Bing uses it, but not as you would hope. In fact, Forrester did some testing and found that Bing is only using meta keywords as a spam signal. In other words, it’s not likely to help you if you use it properly, but it’ll probably hurt you if you abuse it (as many SEO “experts” tend to).
A Case in Point
Why did Google decide to stop paying attention to meta keywords? Because it was the most widely abused ranking factor on websites for several years. Back in the early 2000’s, you could simply pack the meta keywords tag full of all the terms you’d like to rank for, and shoot to the top of search results.
Even though the tag has been effectively useless for 4 years, many web developers and SEO companies continue to spam them. We came across this example on a brand new site just this week:
(Identifying names were replaced with —– to protect the victims).
There’s no excuse for the above mess of keyword stuffing. It’s a lazy tactic that hasn’t worked in years, and, when used like this, is actually harming the site.
The ONLY Time We Use Meta Keywords
The only time we use meta keywords is when researching competitors. Take another look at the example above. If they’re a competitor, I should send them a gift basket and a thank-you card, because they just saved me hours of keyword research. I can copy that entire list and start incorporating them into my own SEO efforts (but focusing on areas of the site that will actually help me rank!).
Do Meta Descriptions Impact Search Engine Rankings?
Nope. Those won’t help you rank either. Google announced that back in 2007 when they said “they won’t affect your ranking within search results.”
Now, unlike meta keywords, the meta description is still useful and important. The meta description is displayed in Google’s search results as the text below your main link. In other words, treat the meta description as your elevator pitch to Google searchers: why should they click your link rather than the other 9 links on the page?
I won’t go into too much detail on this subject – I wrote a more exhaustive post about meta descriptions and SEO, which includes a number of tips for getting the most out of this field. The key points to remember: make them unique to each page, keep them short, and write to entice users, not search engines!
The next time someone asks you if meta keywords and descriptions impact search rankings, what will you tell them? The next time a developer or SEO guru promises to improve your rankings by optimizing meta keywords, what will you say? Hint in the movie below…
Has someone told you otherwise? Are you an SEO who still uses them? Let us know in the comments.