It’s been about two months since Google launched a “news keywords” meta tag for news publishers. How’s it going? Why didn’t Google the standard meta keywords tag? The company’s not saying, but it did shed a little more light on how to use the tag.
Google launched the news keywords tag in September, designed as a way for news publishers to work around the fact that often the key terms they want their stories to be found for don’t make it into the story headlines.
The primary reason for this are two-fold. First, it can sometimes be awkward or make a headline lengthy to ensure the most relevant terms someone might search for appear within a headline.
Second, there are plenty of journalists who simply can’t get idea that they are writing for digital, where descriptive headlines are crucial, and instead want to stick with headlines that make more sense when seen in the overall context of a printed page.
Headlines For Print May Not Work For Search
Don’t get me wrong. I love a witty headline. But take this from the New York Post:
“Escrowyou too, judge,” the headline says. If you’re on the site, you can see from the sub-headline that this has something to do with Argentina, and if you read into the lead paragraph, you get that the country is refusing to pay funds into an escrow account over a legal dispute involving bonds.
If you’re finding this story through Google, you do get some of this context, though it’s still harder (in my opinion) to figure out what the story is about:
Getting Ranked In Google & Google News
The bigger issue is whether anyone will find the story at all. Having the key terms that someone is searching for in your HTML title tag — which is often the text used for a story’s visual headline — is one of the most important reasons why a page may rank well in Google (see our Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors for an overview of the many factors involved).
That’s probably why when searching on Google for a phrase relevant to this story, “argentina bonds,” the New York Post story doesn’t appear while plenty of others do. Those others use those words in their headlines, increasing the odds they’ll rank well:
Just to complicate things, Google Web Search and Google News have different ranking systems that are used.
With Google News, publishing date can be an important factor, as can be the reputation and authority of a publisher in a particular area. Our story from last month, The Publisher’s Guide To Enterprise News SEO, covers some of the specifics involved with Google News ranking.
The News Keywords Tag
This leads to the aforementioned “news_keywords” tag. It’s designed so that publishers supposedly can have their clever “Escrowyou” headlines like shown above yet still get found for key terms. In an example from the help page at Google about the tag, it looks like this:
<meta name=”news_keywords” content=”World Cup, Brazil 2014, Spain vs Netherlands, soccer, football”>
So for the Argentina bond story above, the tag might use words like “argentina” and “bonds” and “escrow” like this:
<meta name=”news_keywords” content=”argentina, bonds, escrow”>
Don’t Worry About Too Much Repetition
That leads to one of the age-old questions I hated dealing with for a different meta tag, the meta keywords tag, that had a purpose similar to this new one. How much repetition is allowed? Should you repeat at all? If you want to be found for “argentina,” “bonds” and “argentina bonds,” do you have to use all those variations like this?
<meta name=”news_keywords” content=”argentina, bonds, argentina bonds”>
I asked this of Google:
What if someone wanted to make sure they were found for both “world cup” and “Brazil 2014 world cup” and did this:
<meta name=”news_keywords” content=”World Cup, Brazil 2014, Brazil 2014 World Cup, Spain vs Netherlands, soccer, football”>
I was told:
We can’t disclose too much about how we match the keywords. In general, it’s good to imagine the keywords/key-phrases as user queries. If a user would use either “world cup” or “brazil 2014 world cup” as queries, it’s a good idea to include both.
So, apparently, repeat as you think makes sense.
Don’t Worry If You Go Over 10 Terms
The tag allows for up to 10 terms, with a “term” being any number or words separated by the other terms by a comma. What if you go over the 10 maximum? Google told me:
The additional terms would be ignored.
Phew. No need to panic if you set your dial accidentally to 11.
Commas Required; Space Optional
Another popular question I hated from the old meta keywords tag days was whether the you needed to have spaces after each comma. Yes, these are the issues that once plagued the minds of SEOs and have returned! Google told me:
The delimiter for keywords is comma. So, spaces don’t matter.
Personally, I’d still put spaces after commas, myself.
Usage? No Comment
I also asked Google what type of usage or take-up they’ve seen of the tag by news publishers, but it didn’t disclose any figures.
Google Fail: Not Using Existing Meta Keywords Standard
Finally, I tried to get an answer about why Google didn’t use the long-standing meta keywords tag. Google has never supported that tag in the past, but conceptually, the new news keyword tag does the same thing. The only difference between the two is the name. The meta keywords tag begins:
Google’s new tag begins:
Everything else is the same with the two. If Google had used the meta keywords tag, then many WordPress plug-ins and other CMS systems out there could have tapped into that tag. Instead, everyone has to come up with a unique solution because of Google’s non-standard approach.
Google told me this about the move:
As far as the raison d’etre, this is really something tailored for news publishers.
Yes, the news keywords tag only works for publishers who are accepted into Google News and only within Google News. But there’s no reason why Google News couldn’t have made use of the existing meta keywords tag, since it could have only recognized it as valid from publishers in Google News.
- Back To The Future: Google Announces A Meta Keywords Tag Just For News Articles
- Meta Keywords Tag 101: How To “Legally” Hide Words On Your Pages For Search Engines
- The Meta Keywords Tag Lives At Bing & Why Only Spammers Should Use It
- Under The Hood: Google News & Ranking Stories
- Top 10 Negative Google News Ranking Factors
- The Publisher’s Guide To Enterprise News SEO