After writing this post in attempt to make some lighthearted points as to why you shouldn't worry about using the meta keywords tag within your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy to rank on the Internet, I was bombarded by a few folks who were adamant about setting me straight in regards to usage of the meta keywords tag. Thanks to those rather colorful individuals (you know who you are), I thought I would set the record straight and further clarify a few things.
Keywords: A Cornerstone of SEO
First and foremost, keywords are a cornerstone of SEO. They are categorically necessary and not once did I intend for my previous post to come off at all as though I don't understand the critical importance of them (keywords, that is). Perhaps the day will come when you can rank first-place for a competitive keyword based solely on synonymous copy (e.g. ranking for "funny" or "comical" when all you've targeted on- and off-page is "humorous"), but that time is certainly not here and now. (To note, Google does pay attention to synonyms). Even still, if such a day does come, then keywords will *still* be a cornerstone. You have to establish relevance with your content somehow, right? Ergo, the importance of keywords cannot be stressed enough. The only reason I mention this is because one of the individuals who prompted this response from me started divaricating into keyword-related territory outside the boundaries of just the meta keywords tag (which is all I was focusing on). As I've said previously, keyword research should be the foundation of your SEO strategy.
Meta Keywords Tag: Internet
To start, it's not going to hurt you if you populate your meta keywords tag... that is, unless you've done extensive keyword research and you place those keywords within it on every single page of your site (I see people do this). A populated meta keywords tag makes competition analysis much easier (right-click, view page source and done). Don't underestimate the value of a good keyword -- especially if you're in a competitive market/niche! Having said that, feel free to populate your meta keywords tag with keywords you've got on the page or with generic keywords relevant to your page. Maybe it helps provide a reference to page meaning for you or maybe it makes you sleep better at night, but if there were only 10 matrices with which to rank a page, the meta keywords tag would undoubtedly be the most irrelevant of them all. Google has 200+ of such matrices with which to rank pages... and that's just what they've noted publicly. Care to guess where the meta keywords tag falls within that list?
So, by all means, feel free to utilize your meta keywords tag, but don't do it out of hopes that it will help you rank higher for the keywords you populate it with. It won't. And also be aware that you could very well be doing your competition a favor. You would benefit exponentially more from having exact keywords in the page title (2, maybe 3) and throughout the copy of a page, then building a "dofollow" link (the more, the merrier) with exact anchor text pointing to that page. At that point, you're already far beyond anything the meta keywords tag would ever do for you (as it stands now, at least).
And should the day come when using the meta keywords tag will actually behoove you, you can without fail count on someone within the SEO industry discovering it and making such knowledge public. And if that happens, then you simply go back and populate the meta keywords tag using the time it would have taken you to do as such in the first place. Easy peasy!
If anyone cares to test out the meta keywords tag to see if something will rank based purely on it, create a blank index.html file and populate it with a <HEAD></HEAD> section that contains *only* the meta keywords tag with one keyword that has no competition; preferably, something random like "viauwnvraiwunv." Don't use the keyword as anchor text and don't include it *anywhere else* (in the URL structure, on your Web site, et al). Create some links to the page via Facebook, Twitter, a link from your home page pointing to that page, etc. Use only the full URL for anchor text wherever you place the link (i.e. http://www.heresthesitemystuffison.net/index.html). That should kick you off to a good start to seeing if a page will rank for a keyword strictly based on its existence within the meta keywords tag (though you may need to add a paragraph or two to the page making sure to not use the keyword anywhere within it -- just to give the spiders something more. But at that point, we're trespassing upon the grounds of a page not ranking if all it contains is meta keywords, so... take that for what it's worth).
Meta Keywords Tag: Intranet
Ah, yes. Now we're at the part that I intentionally didn't say word-one about in my original post: using the meta keywords tag for an Intranet site (that is, an internal network of pages not intended to reside on the Internet -- ergo, not indexed/ranked in Internet search engines). The fundamental difference between Intranet and Internet where the meta keywords tag is concerned is the methodology of establishing relevance for your content. On the Internet, search engines must establish relevance based on what a page is *actually* about; not just how it's defined solely within the meta keywords tag. Additionally, once an Internet search engine establishes relevance, it must then compare it to other pages and rank accordingly. On the Internet, a search engine has everyone's best interests at heart; not just yours and yours alone.
On an Intranet, however, *you* are the one who establishes relevance for your content and the search engine platform your Intranet utilizes (whether it's a full-on platform like Google Search Appliance or the built-in search functionality of something like SharePoint) filters content based on how *you* specify in all the places you can specify it (here again, platforms differ, but they all give *you* the keys with which to drive). In other words, if you take a site that's set up exactly the same way and you stick one version of it on an Intranet and the other on the Internet, the way it will perform will be drastically different. After all, if there's a page on the Internet that's more informative than yours and more popular, why should you outrank them? But we're talking about Intranets here where your only competition is your own pages (hence, it's still important to correctly qualify your content page-by-page).
So, is it useful to populate your meta keywords tag for your Intranet site? Well, that depends on the platform you're utilizing. Some look directly at your meta keywords tag and others expect you to define your keywords in a location they specify within their documentation. With that in mind, you may well find it's equally as useless to populate the meta keywords tag on your Intranet pages as it would be if they were Internet pages! Or, you may find that it is *exactly* where you need to place your keywords so that people can internally search and find their way to your content. Either way, just make sure you read the manual and I promise you will be all set up. :)
To close, I'd like to touch on something I said in response to one of the individuals I gave a shout-out to earlier: I don't know everything there is to know about what works with SEO. Far from it, really. Having said that, I do know plenty of things that don't work... or, at the very least, provide such an infinitesimal amount of value that their implementation is questionable at best. As an SEO, there are actions/methods you may choose to forgo in the interest of productivity and personal preference. For me, populating the meta keywords tag is one such method. Thanks for reading and I hope you had a wonderful holiday!
Any questions or comments? Please feel free to reach out via the comments section below!