The Meta Keywords Tag Lives At Bing & Why Only Spammers Should Use It

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?

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Microsoft: Bing SEO | SEO: Spamming | SEO: Tagging | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.search-usability.com/ Shari Thurow

    Hi Danny-

    Unlike you, I don’t think the meta-keyword tag should “die.” I’ve used it for site search engines, and it has been quite helpful (particularly with misspellings).

    I also use it to “force” people to really define what each page is about, its uniqueness. In other words, I use the tag’s content for its true intended purpose.

    It’s a shame that the tag has been abused so much when it can be helpful. Since I work on large sites with site search engines, I do find that it is necessary for site SEO. Maybe not Web SEO….

    My 2 cents.

  • http://www.g5searchmarketing.com/ Tony Griego

    I enjoyed the post. It’s one we’ve been kind of ping-ponging back and forth. Thanks for sparking a great discussion topic!

  • Lee Reynolds

    I know it is helpful in some PPC campaigns… But the main reason I use it is that if there is an issue with rankings, there is so much misinformation out there, I invariably get emails like “I notice that we are not ranking for [term]. And I notice that [term] is not in in the keywords tag when I view source…” blah, blah – putting a few basic words in is benign and prevents hour-long conversations from ever happening. The key for me is to make sure sure that the terms are very generic, and the same from page to page. That way it doesn’t look like spamming, it just looks old-school and it sure does prevent time-wasting conversations.

  • Pamala

    We also utilize it for site search – the Google Search appliance utilizes the meta keywords tag even if Google itself does not. That is enough for me to just keep it as part of my process, though I don’t spend much time on it.

  • http://craigbailey.net Craig Bailey

    And don’t forget that the adCenter Landing Page Quality Guidelines actually recommend you should put your keywords in the META tag as well:
    http://advertising.microsoft.com/small-business/product-help/adcenter/topic?query=moonshot_conc_aboutlandingpagerelevance.htm

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    I try to caution people to think about whether they are using site search tools that may require or benefit from the “Keywords” meta tag before abandoning it altogether. I’m glad Bing (Duane) helped to clarify the situation.

  • http://www.everfluxx.com/ E.F.

    @Danny, I queried Bing for the two strings that appear in the meta keywords tag on the Search Engine Land home page, and –interestingly enough– the site doesn’t even show up in the search results; pages from other websites, where the same strings appear in the document body, are returned instead. Same with the keywords in my blog home page meta tag, and same with Yahoo!.

    @Shari: I have been using the meta keywords tag for site search for years, too; however, if site search applications were better designed, they wouldn’t rely on using that tag to have additional keywords, such as misspellings, indexed, would they?

  • http://translatetraducciones.com/ T.T.

    Seems like sometimes we rashly react to every statement by going to the extremes. Many of the other search engines still use keywords META tags.

    If you still use 1 to 9 well chosen keywords or key phrases you do nothing but help your site, although they have very little impact helping your ranking. But there is no reason to ignore them. Of course, if you over-staff your META tags with keywords relating to anything and everything under the sun, it serves you well if you are tagged as a spammer

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