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Google Wants You To Use Keyword Metatags... No, Really

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SEOs are going to have to start including keyword meta tags in their service proposals again, at least when their clients are Google News-accredited. For the rest of you, get ready to explain why keyword meta tags still don’t matter to the vast majority.

Google just announced a brand new keyword tag on the Google News blog. The news_keywords meta tag is designed to “empower news writers to express their stories freely while helping Google News to properly understand and classify that content so that it’s discoverable by our wide audience of users,” according to Rudy Galfi, Google News Product Manager.

The idea of using keywords to help Google better sort the news isn’t entirely new; publishers have been able to use the ”keywords” tag in the News XML sitemap at each new article upload for some time. This new tag in the HTML of each article is a logical extension of that sorting feature, with the added functionality that the words aren’t required in headlines or body copy.

News keywords must be separated by commas and do not have to appear anywhere in the article title or body text. If you’re thinking this might just be open to abuse, you’re probably right. Google warns, however, that keyword tag manipulation probably won’t do you much good.

“Keep in mind that this metatag will be one signal among many that our algorithms use to determine ranking,” Galfi wrote. “The news_keywords metatag is intended as a tool -- but high-quality reporting and interesting news content remain the strongest ways to put your newsroom’s work in front of Google News users.”

Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts pointed out via Twitter that the news_keywords tag "is only for news. Web will ignore."

Google has a stringent set of guidelines governing their News accreditation and those who abuse it, will lose it. Aggregators need not apply, unless that content is separated from original work and blocked using the robots.txt file. How-to articles, advice columns, job postings, or strictly informational content such as weather forecasts and stock data are generally not considered newsworthy.

A few tips on setting up the news_keywords meta tag:

  • Commas are used to separate keywords and are the only punctuation allowed in the field.
  • Keywords can be used to disambiguate between like terms. This is perhaps the most useful feature of the new tag; publishers can tell Google when an article is not relevant to a similar topic. The example they use to explain this is the World Cup in soccer vs. rugby. Adding < meta name="news_keywords" content="World Cup, Brazil 2014, Spain vs Netherlands, soccer, football"> tells Google the article is not about rugby.
  • Each article can have up to ten news keyword phrases. 
  • All keywords have equal value; input order doesn’t matter.

Back in 2009, Google’s Matt Cutts took to YouTube to dispel the keyword tag as a ranking factor myth. He also penned a post for the Webmaster Central Blog, entitled “Google does not use the keywords meta tag in ranking.” Now, we anxiously await an updated Webmaster Help video to which we can point confused clients (who will inevitably hear the new buzz about keyword meta tags and run to oDesk or Elance despite our best efforts, to find some stooge who will add useless tags to their page, for a fee).

For more information on the news_keyword tag, see Google’s Help article on the topic.


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