Back in the early days of website design, ranking on various directories and search engines was as simple as putting some info on a page and then crafting your meta tags. Search engines relied on what it said almost disproportionately to what was actually going on with the page itself. Its influence was so weighted that it quickly became misused and frustrating for developers who were playing by the rules as they got outranked by people gaming the system by keyword stuffing.
As it became glaringly obvious that the “honor system” wasn’t going to prevail, search engines quickly began to disregard it and it became the bastard child of meta tags. There were some meta tags that were still useful such as the title and description which gave developers an opportunity to convey what the site was about and there was no threat of misuse as search engines simply wouldn’t rank the site if the content didn’t match.
Other meta tags like content type, robots tags, content language, etc. were also no threat of being misused because if they weren’t correct, a wide host of problems could occur including your website not being displayed correctly. Those tags gave the search engines some of the meat and potatoes of how your site was structured.
But the red-headed step child of meta tags was still supposedly disregarded. Dating back to as early as 2009, Google Guru Matt Cutts indicated that Google does not utilize meta tag keywords. But then this year, it was revealed by ex-Google employee Andre Weyher that they do indeed look at the meta tag keywords to help contribute to understanding what the site was about.
It’s insinuated across the board that the meta tags will have no impact on your rankings, but that it does still provide an indicator to the search engines (Google, at least) that it is being used to add to their understanding of what’s on the page.
Additionally, you should make different meta tags for each page you have indexed. Duplicating your meta tags keywords on every page wouldn’t hurt your rankings, but you’d only be doing a disservice to yourself by not taking advantage of an opportunity to give a clearer picture to Google about your site regardless of how insignificant it may or may not be.
Most importantly, Google can smell keyword stuffing a mile away. There will be many who will continue to misuse the keyword meta tag and they’re only shooting themselves in the foot. Andre Weyher stated, “You shouldn’t overdo it. I see a lot of sites with a huge amount of them in the META data. Webmasters need to remember that the more of them you have, the less each one of them is worth!”
To stuff your meta tag keyword area or fill it with useless words like various city names (Atlanta car dealer, Lawrenceville car dealer, Marietta car dealer, etc.), colors (blue car, red car, green car) is a crying shame to waste your efforts on that ignorant decision. Let’s not forget that somewhere in that algorithm lies the schematic of what was once Google’s Wonder Wheel. That essentially means that littering your code with a dozen unnecessary variations is worthless since Google is well aware of the keyword hierarchy. Variances are fine, but within reason.
All of that being said, it’s time to start using those tag areas again, but to keep it in check. Keep your keywords to a minimum and a good rule of thumb may be no more than 6. Think of the top 5 keywords a customer or potential client would use in the search engines to find that particular page and use them. If the variations are too close, replace them with other possibilities. It’s not rocket science. Don’t overdo it and know that you will never be able to game the system for any length of time. We still can’t believe it’s back again.
by Chris Horton
Every now and then we get exciting news from behind the Google curtain and whenever we can get a clearer picture as to what Google’s expectations are, the better it makes our lives. Ex-Google web spam team member Andre Weyher provided some of the secret sauce with James Norquay and here are some pretty major takeaways.
Don’t keyword stuff or use “commercial keyword” hyperlinks freely.
It’s pretty common to litter your verbiage with hyperlinks using competitive keywords and keyword phrases like ‘car insurance’ or ‘wood furniture’ which he refers to as commercial keywords. Andre says to not do that and keep it to a minimum. “If 90% of the anchor texts on your backlinks are commercial keywords, it’s a dead giveaway of a spammy profile, especially if the links run in to the tens of thousands. This would never occur naturally. So ensure you have non-commercial keywords anchor texts in there too – like the url of the website and long tail keywords.”
Should you waste your time getting listed in these directories like DMOZ?
The short is answer is yes and no, but he does insinuate that it would be in your best interest to get involved with directories that cater to your niche. So if you’re a car dealership, get listed in a directory that is specific to dealerships or the brand of car you sell. As for general purpose directories, he does give some love to the directory list at SEOMoz as “good and up to date.” We agree.
The return of meta tag keywords?!
Of the most surprising revelations he shared was that Google does indeed read meta tag keywords. While it will not help you in regards to ranking, he says that it does help Google get a clearer picture of what your site is about. But he also cautions to the overuse of it saying that less is way more.
“You shouldn’t overdo it. I see a lot of sites with a huge amount of them in the META data. Webmasters need to remember that the more of them you have, the less each one of them is worth! The less of them you put in your META data, the more powerful each one of them becomes. They might not make a difference in the battle for the #1 position for the keyword “cola” between Pepsi and Coke, but they might give a head start to the bakery around the corner, competing for the keyword ‘bakery in Brooklyn’.“
What things would get your site labeled as spam by Google?
Keyword stuffing (using the same keywords way too many times and unnaturally) such as “We are an Atlanta furniture store selling furniture in Atlanta. Come find furnishings for your Atlanta home. Visit our furniture store today right here in Atlanta.” Other indicators would be the above mentioned over-usage of commercial keywords which he says come across as unnatural. And as for linking, he says, “How many links are there in total? A very important one; what is the quality of the pages they come in from? Do the pages look ‘real’ or are they just there to host the links? What anchors are used? The commercial vs. non commercial ratio of the anchors.”
The number he threw out in the interview was 90%. If 90% of the hyperlinks present on your site are commercial keywords, it may be a good idea to pull back. You know which ones you set up for specific SEO reasons. Fix it.
What are the three most important on-page SEO elements?
The domain name. Usage of the proper tags (titles, descriptions, headers), and lastly create content as if SEO was your least concern. Google is looking for passionate content that contains good information. All of which we addressed in our first online video for our 3 part basic SEO series
What are the three most important off-page tactics?
Don’t ignore directories (see above bullet). Realize that 3 links from sites relevant to yours are worth more than 1000 from spammy blogs and sites that have nothing to do with your industry. Google judges your link profile based on who is linking to you, so be careful.
There were tons more to read, but we’ll let you pick out the remaining gems yourself and give Norquay some love. Start with part one of his interview here at JamesNorquay.com and also Part 2 here. Additionally, you can follow Andre’s adventures on his new blog at http://www.netcomber.com/blog and also utilize his awesome toolset that lets you uncover hidden relationships of site owners at the root netcomber.com.