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Revisiting Meta Tags

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In October, I wrote an obituary for the meta keywords tag. Given that Inktomi was the last major crawler to still support the meta keywords tag, I didn't think it was worth the time or bother for many webmasters to use. It's now time for a follow-up on that article, because there was plenty of reaction and feedback to it.

First and foremost, a few people came away with the mistaken impression that I was saying that all meta tags were dead. Not so. I always specifically referred to the meta keywords tag, in that article. In contrast, there are many other types of meta tags that exist and continue to be used by web-wide search engines, browsers and for other purposes.

In particular, when it comes to crawler-based, web-wide search engines, the meta description tag continues to be very useful. In fact, the Search Engine Watch "members" version of my article about the decline of the meta keywords tag included a long look at how the meta description tag continues to be supported by crawlers (What's a Search Engine Watch member? See the membership page!).

How do you deploy the meta description tag? Take a look at the How HTML Meta Tags Work page in Search Engine Watch. It covers that tag, the meta keywords tag, offers tips about the importance of title tags and provides reference material about other meta tags.

I also had a couple of people note to me that various meta tags are often used for intranet or enterprise search engines, and they've got no disagreement on this from me. In fact, I said this in the supporting material listed at the end of my original article. However, it bears repeating. Other meta tags, such as Dublin Core meta tags, exist for specialized search engines. If you know your content is being indexed by such search engines that support these type of tags, by all means, consider using them. It's just the web-wide search engines that don't support them.

My favorite reaction was from a few people who noted that I still had meta keyword tags on the SearchEngineWatch.com site. "So, Danny, if the meta keywords tag is of so little use, then why do YOU still use them," came the queries.

I confess. It was indeed a conspiracy. I figured if I could get everyone else to stop using meta keywords tags, it would allow my own pages to...(please picture me here with my little finger in my mouth and laughing like Dr. Evil from Austin Powers)...DOMINATE THE WEB!!!

The reality is far more boring. The tags you see were written by me back when the meta keywords tag enjoyed more support. I'm no longer writing new ones, since I don't think they are worth the time. Similarly, it's not worth the time to remove the existing ones. It doesn't hurt to leave them, so why bother removing them?

Indeed, this is the key point I was making in my original article. Over the years, I've seen people fret and worry far too much about the meta keywords tag. I've always said that if you are short on time, to skip the meta keywords tag. Now that support is so low, I'm saying it even more strongly. Feel like you've got better things to do? Then pass on using the tag. However, as always with anything search engine related, if you personally feel the meta keywords tag is helping you for whatever reason, by all means keep using it!

Finally, while my original article said only Inktomi supported the meta keywords tag, Jill Whalen of the excellent High Rankings Advisor newsletter and a few other readers said they noticed that Teoma was picking up some of their pages for words that only appeared in their meta keywords tag. (Jill, by the way, generally agrees in her recent No Meta Keywords Tag article that the meta keywords tag probably isn't worth the bother, unless you have some "funky-techie" synonyms not in your regular body copy).

After more investigating, I found this to be true. Teoma does indeed appear to be indexing text in the meta keywords tag. Teoma had always said in the past that it did not support the tag. When queried about the latest finding, Teoma said it couldn't say yes or no about support. Things are currently changing so much with Teoma that the search engine suggests that if it is currently supporting the tag, that may not be the case in the future.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member


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