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More About The Meta Keywords Tag

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People spend a lot of time worrying about the meta keywords tag -- more than they should, in my opinion. The meta keywords tag is no longer supported by most of the major search engines. Even when it was, it never provided much --if any -- of a ranking boost.

If you are still one of those choosing to add the meta keywords tag to your pages, then this article provides some historic technical advice on how crawlers have interacted with the tag.

To Comma, Or Not To Comma, That Is The Question

People obsess over maximizing their meta tags. The idea has developed that as many keywords as possible should be crammed into the meta keywords tag. This isn't true, as explained below. But first, let's look at some maximizing strategies.

By leaving out commas, or leaving out spaces, people gain room for more words. For example, here's how meta tags are typically written:

That's 29 characters, including spaces, between the quotes after content=. But some people leave out the commas:

Without the commas, the content portion of the tag is only 27 characters. That's two characters saved. If you have a lot of keywords, this adds up into enough characters "saved" for additional words.

Another method is to stick with commas but to leave out the spaces:

This is still 27 characters, and the format has developed because some people wanted to save space but thought it was important to still retain the commas.

Frankly, whatever strategy is working for you is fine. The official specs say only that elements should be separated by commas. However, it's up to each search engine to implement the tags as they see fit. They say you don't need commas. So don't use them, if you want to squeeze in every last keyword that you find in your thesaurus.

I'll offer one good reason to stick with commas. Commas are often used by database programs as a means to separate distinct data. Most search engines are not operating in this manner, but things could change in the future. Or, you might implement your own Intranet search engine that would prefer commas.

I generally don't bother with commas. This is in order to increase the chance of matching a string of words or a phrase that someone may enter. This is explained in more depth, below.

The More The Merrier?

More is not necessarily better. If your web page is about growing apples, having the keyword fruit in your meta tag is not suddenly going make it come up when people search for fruit.

In contrast, adding some extra words like pie or farm, if they don't appear on the page already, may help you appear when someone searches for apple pie or apple farm. Your page is already focused on apples, so these extra keywords work in conjunction with that term, in the search examples given. Fruit would not (unless someone searched for apple fruit).

As said earlier, if what you are doing works, stick with it. But don't feel pressured to squeeze every last drop out of the meta tags. You don't need to come up with every synonym under the sun.

I don't. When I make a meta tag, I simply reflect the keywords that are on the page already, especially those that are unique. I add a few synonyms, but overall, I keep the tag tightly focused.

How Big Can They Be?

There is no common size for either the keyword or description meta tags. Commonly, search engines accept about 1,000 characters for the keywords tag, and 200 characters for the description tag.

They can be longer, and going over the limit does not mean that your tag will be thrown out. It just means that the search engines will not use the excess material beyond their own respective limits.

To be safe, I usually stick to the minimums. In fact, I usually come in way under the minimums, because I don't obsess over "maximizing" my meta tags, as described above.

The Seven Word Rule

It's common knowledge that you can't repeat a word more than seven times in a meta keyword tag, right? Wrong. Infoseek used to say that using a keyword seven times in a meta tag would disqualify the tag. This was dropped in Sept. 1996. Infoseek no longer specifies the exact amount (indeed, that search engine no longer exists!). Nor do any of the other search engines specify an amount.

When search engines warn against repetition, they generally mean blatant spamming attempts such as this:

There's no good reason for the word "apple" to appear so many times. In contrast, the tag below is not a spamming attempt:

There's a legitimate reason to repeat the word apple so many times in the tag above. It is done in order to preserve phrases. As explained below, it is best for words to appear in your tags exactly as someone might enter them into a search box.

Unfortunately, though the above tag is legitimate, the repetition may still be too much for some search engines. In particular, Infoseek has shown a tendency to downgrade a page the more often a word is repeated in a tag.

This rule isn't set in stone. None of the search engines have published, set limits. Some pages may do perfectly well with multiple repetitions of a word. Also, meta tags are only one part of the various reasons why a page may or may not be ranked well.

However, as crackdowns on spamming continue, it makes sense to repeat as little as possible. The Maximizing Your Keywords section below provides some tips on doing this.

Phrases

If someone searches for apple farming, which tag is better, or are they all the same?

content="farming, apple, applesauce, apple juice">

content="apple, farming, applesauce, apple, juice">

content="apple farming, applesauce, apple juice">

You're going to have more luck with the last one, because the words apple farming appear in the same proximity to each other as they do in the search words.

In other words, if you anticipate people searching for phrases, put phrases into your keywords tag. They will be seen as phrases by most of the search engines, not just as unrelated words.

Maximizing Your Keywords

How can you maintain phrases yet avoid repeating too often? You need to be smart in how you list your words. For example, consider this tag:

Ideally, we want to preserve as many of the important phrases listed as possible, while also reducing repetition. For instance, these two phrases:

selling fish
fish food

can be placed near each other so that the word "fish" is used twice even though it appears only once, as so:

selling fish food

Now we can do a similar thing to incorporate some of the other phrases:

In all, the use of "fish" has dropped from six to three, and we still maintain all these highlighted terms:

selling fish food raising fish farmers feeding fish tanks
selling fish food raising fish farmers feeding fish tanks
selling fish food raising fish farmers feeding fish tanks
selling fish food raising fish farmers feeding fish tanks
selling fish food raising fish farmers feeding fish tanks
selling fish food raising fish farmers feeding fish tanks

Don't forget that each page within your web site should have tags that match its content. Only a page that deals with fish farming should include that phrase in its tag. The term wouldn't appear on a page that deals with feeding fish. By staying focused, you don't "overload" your tags and avoid unnecessary repetition.

Is Order Important?

Some people are convinced that meta tags must appear in a particular order and that the title tag must come before everything in the head area. This rumor even developed enough weight that Microsoft issued an erroneous product support article relating to meta tag positioning and FrontPage. Specifically, it states:

Symptom: Some search engines rank your content lower in the search results than you expect.

Cause: This behavior occurs because some of the FrontPage templates place the tag below the <meta> tag. Some search engines expect to find the <title> tag before the <meta> tag. Therefore, some search engines rank your content lower if the <title> tag is found after the <meta> tag.</font></p> <p>This is absolutely incorrect. Microsoft is not saying this because the search engines have told them it is true. Instead, Microsoft is merely parroting back what average users believe to be the case. Those users are wrong -- the major search engines are not expecting the title tag to come first, nor for the meta tags to appear in any particular position. I've surveyed them all on this issue. In addition, I personally have not seen it make a difference in pages I've worked on. I have even used FrontPage without correcting the title tag "problem" and have achieved plenty of Top 10 rankings.</p> <p>As always, stick with what works -- if you find listing the title tag first, then listing the meta tags in a particular order is effective -- stick with it. It certainly isn't bad habit to put your title tag first. But don't feel you must reorder your tags in order to improve your ranking. There are many reasons why a page may not rank well, and changing the order of your meta and title tags alone is unlikely to make any significant improvement.</p> <p><b>Some FrontPage Content Scores Low w/ Some Search Engines<br /> </b><a href="http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q182/6/15.asp">http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q182/6/15.asp</a></p> <p>For the curious, here's that incorrect product support article.</p> <p><b>Registering Your FrontPage-Based Web Site with Search Engines<br /> </b><a href="http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/2000/articles/FPregste.htm">http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/2000/articles/FPregste.htm</a></p> <p>Some helpful and accurate tips from Microsoft on adding meta tags using FrontPage.</p> <p><b>Meta Tag Maker 98</b><br /> <a href="http://www.websunlimited.com/meta_tag_maker.htm">http://www.websunlimited.com/meta_tag_maker.htm</a></p> <p>This inexpensive program provides a faster way of adding meta tags to FrontPage documents plus will correct the ordering "problem" for those who are convinced it really is a problem.</p> <hr style="size:1px;color:#ddd" /> <p style="color:#767676"><em><strong><a target="_blank" href="http://sesconference.com/denver/?utm_source=sew&utm_medium=article-promo&utm_content=original-search-marketing-event&utm_campaign=sesden" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article Promo', 'clicks', 'CZLDEN: Original Search Marketing Event']);">The Original Search Marketing Event is Back!</a></strong><br> <a href="http://sesconference.com/denver/?utm_source=sew&utm_medium=article-promo&utm_content=logo&utm_campaign=sesden" target="_blank" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article Promo', 'clicks', 'CZLDEN logo']);"><img width="80" src="http://sesconference.com/denver/img/ses-denver-80x82.png" style="float:right;margin:0 0 0 14px" title="SES Denver" alt="SES Denver"></a><strong>SES Denver</strong> (Oct 16) offers an intense day of learning all the critical aspects of search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search advertising (PPC). 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'clicks', 'Related Topics']);" href="/topic/meta_tags" title="Explore: Meta Tags" rel="tag">Meta Tags</a><span class="ukn-meta-sep"> • </span><a onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article', 'clicks', 'Related Topics']);" href="/topic/keywords" title="Explore: Keywords" rel="tag">Keywords</a><span class="ukn-meta-sep"> • </span><a onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article', 'clicks', 'Related Topics']);" href="/topic/infoseek" title="Explore: Infoseek" rel="tag">Infoseek</a><span class="ukn-meta-sep"> • </span><a onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article', 'clicks', 'Related Topics']);" href="/topic/search_engines" title="Explore: Search engines" rel="tag">Search engines</a><span class="ukn-meta-sep"> • </span><a onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article', 'clicks', 'Related Topics']);" href="/topic/apple_juice" title="Explore: apple juice" rel="tag">apple juice</a><span class="ukn-meta-sep"> • </span><a onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Article', 'clicks', 'Related Topics']);" 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