In September this year, Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land wrote a long post on the use of the keywords meta tag on web pages. It’s the only article you ever need to read on keywords meta tags. I’m just going to mention three specific things that I found helpful in the article, namely:
- Which search engines support them (and which ones don’t)
- Whether to use commas or spaces
- Are they really necessary?
Is The Keywords Meta Tag Necessary?
I’ll deal with this question first. The bottom line on the keywords meta tag is no, it’s not necessary. Yes, it is helpful sometimes. Do it right and it’ll give you a slight edge. Do it wrong and it’ll be a big, ugly, painful thorn in your side. Quite frankly, the risk of of using the keywords meta tag is bigger than the risk of not using it. Danny said it more eloquently, I think:
Overall, here’s the best advice I can offer anyone dealing with this tag. If you begin to feel confused, concern, tired or uncertain when pondering it, SKIP THE TAG ENTIRELY. It’s not going to hurt you to not have it, and it’s not worth the time fretting about it.
So Which Search Engines Support The Keywords Meta Tag?
That’s a good question. Danny tells a story of an experiment he conducted using fake keywords to see which search engines would retrieve his pages for those keywords in their results pages. His findings match my own experience in this area and this is essentially what he found:
- Google doesn’t support the keywords meta tag
- MSN doesn’t support it
- Yahoo does support it
- Ask supports it
Google, as we all know, get the lion’s share of search traffic online – around 60%. Yahoo! picks up around 15%-25% of the search traffic online, depending on whose figures you believe. MSN grabs a cool 7%-15% and Ask hovers around 4%-7%. (I’m giving windows of latitude here because everyone has their own figures depending on how they weigh search traffic. It doesn’t really matter for this discussion how accurate the numbers are. What matters is that Google is overwhelmingly the largest tool for search and Yahoo! is next. After that, MSNs and Ask’s search traffic percentages are too insignificant to worry about whether you should incorporate the meta tag into your web pages. Google’s and Yahoo!s, however, are. So in the context of this discussion, your keywords meta tag is important at 50% of the search engines.)
If the target market you are trying to reach is more likely to make searches at Yahoo! than Google then you probably want to put more weight on the keyword meta tag. If Google, then I’d say put less importance on the keyword meta tag, if at all. If your target market is more likely to use MSN then don’t worry about it. If your target market is likely to use either Yahoo! or MSN, or Yahoo! or Google, then use it if you think it will help. You can always fall back on Danny Sullivan’s helpful advice to ignore it altogether if you’re confused.
Should the Keyword Meta Tag Include Commas Or Spaces?
Danny goes through great detail to explain this. I’d recommend you read his article. I’m just going to say go with commas because it seems to make the most sense. Yahoo! quality guidelines say to use commas to make a distinction between specific search phrases. I’d have to say I wholly agree with this statement.
Then there are the people who say put a space after the comma and those who argue don’t put a space after the comma (yes, people really argue about that). I can’t see that there’s any difference. It looks better with the spaces, but what matters is the results you’ll get. I don’t think you’ll get any different results either way. Danny doesn’t seem to think so either.
When it comes to your keywords meta tag, it will hurt you more to do it wrong than it will ever help you to do it right. Therefore, if you aren’t sure that you’re doing it right then don’t include keywords< in that meta tag at all.