I was happy. I was joyful. I thought the meta keywords tag had finally died last year. But Bing recently said that it does use it. After some back-and-forth, I can confirm further that it does, but as a signal for finding spammers, not for improving rank.
Meta Keywords Tag 101
If you want the history of the meta keywords tag, how it emerged, how it declined, how to use it if you stupidly decide you still want to, see my detailed post from the past, Meta Keywords Tag 101: How To “Legally” Hide Words On Your Pages For Search Engines.
Surprise! Bing Says Meta Keywords Is A Signal
But really, don’t use it. You don’t need it. Google doesn’t support it. As for Bing, let me clear up the confusion here. In July, out on WebmasterWorld, Duane Forrester, senior product manager for Bing webmaster outreach, provided this advice about the tag:
I’ll make this statement: meta keywords is a signal. One of roughly a thousand we analyze.
Getting it right is a nice perk for us, but won’t rock your world. Abusing meta keywords can hurt you.
That was a big change, big news, since until that point, Microsoft hadn’t said that its search engine made any use of the meta keywords tag since the days of having run its own crawler. We’re talking back even before Bing, when the search engine was known as Microsoft Live Search.
I didn’t hear about this, and I gather it got by others, as well. A month later, WebmasterWorld featured it, which got Search Engine Roundtable to notice. I think I was on vacation that week, so I’m not feeling so bad! But Search Engine Roundtable featured it again this week, in a poll where nearly 50% said they now will use the tag.
All Those Damn Questions!
That I noticed. Painfully so. Because if Bing is using the meta keywords tag, that brings back all those questions I hate, like:
- What’s the right format?
- Do you need to have commas?
- Do you need to have a space after the comma?
- Is too much repetition going to help or hurt you?
- What is the maximum length?
- What if you go too long, will that hurt you?
- What if you think it was done wrong and you want to report that it’s all fixed?
A Spam Signal
I contacted Forrester to ask if it was true, and to see what further answers he could provide. After some back and forth, it seemed clear to me that Bing is looking at the tag as a spam signal, not a ranking signal. As I summarized to him in my email:
It sounds like you’re saying that you see a high correlation between crummy pages and people who use the meta keywords tag with garbage – that it’s a spam signal, not a ranking signal.
If that’s the case, then I’d still advise people that you don’t use it for ranking purposes (which solves all those really annoying questions above) but you might use it as a spam signal and that people simply shouldn’t use it.
And his response was:
Yeah, you’re pretty much bang on Danny. In fact, it’s not like we’re actively trying to encourage folks to start using the tag. And you’re right – the scenario I describe is more of a spam signal, which ultimately leads to rankings (or not, as the case may be).
So use the tag? Sure, if you want to take a chance that by overstuffing it, you’ll cause Bing to think you’re spamming. Be safe, be smart, save your time. Don’t use it.
What if you already have it on your page? Many pages do. And I wouldn’t panic, if you do. I suspect it’s seen as a spam signal more heavily if there are other spam signals present.
Postscript: After this posted, Forrester sent me this further comment about if you already use the tag:
The main thing people need to keep in mind if they decide to use the tag is to follow the known best practices. Ultimately, it’s the overt keyword stuffing that gets noticed and makes us want to look a little closer. If you’re willing to stuff pointless keywords into the meta keywords tag, what else might you be inclined to do?