Up Close: Using The “News Keywords” Tag For Google News

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”>

Bad? Good?

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:

<meta name=”keywords”

Google’s new tag begins:

<meta name=”news_keywords”

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.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: News | Google: News Keywords Tag | Google: SEO | SEO: Writing & Body Copy | 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://johnvantine.com/ John Vantine

    For a large website with many articles that already utilizes the meta keywords tag, would it be acceptable to simply duplicate that tag and just change “keywords” to “news_keywords”?

  • John Ellis

    It seems so wasteful not to use the Keyword meta. Just need to make a simple plugin to change meta keywords to meta news keywords. This could also be a very quick WP upgrade. Surprised they have not done it already. Good news for those with news to blog about.

  • http://twitter.com/double_see_dee Travis

    It’s probably just an implementation issue. There’s tons of websites out there on the internet that still use meta keywords that have nothing to do with news. A new meta tag starts everything off with a clean slate and prevents Google from having to sift through tons of legacy junk (just gotta worry about the new junk).

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    There’s no reason for Google News to worry about legacy stuff. Google News is only retaining material for its main index for 30 days. Plus, most news sites that have used the tag probably were already using it exactly as the new tag is intended to be used.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yep.

  • http://twitter.com/seocognition SEO Cognition

    Google never seems to reveal enough information to be helpful.

    The question that comes to mind is: “what does it take to be considered a news source”?

  • Yousee

    It was often said that Google has stopped giving importance to META Keyword (http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.in/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html) and now the question is Will it give importance to <meta name=”news_keywords” for ranking?

  • http://twitter.com/MontseCano Montse Cano

    That´s something that I would like to know too.

  • http://www.searchresultsmedia.com/ Search Results Media

    I have read in many of the blog posts that meta keyword tag is not so important from SEO point of view. Than why this new News Tag???

  • http://www.ydeveloper.com/e-smart-ecommerce-suite.html eCommerce

    This is an interesting thing to know. Publishing news with this tag, great idea. But, I don’t see the same tag in majority of posts I search in Google.

  • http://twitter.com/DerrickHicks3 Derrick Hicks

    I said this before and I’ll say it again… “Go home Google! You are drunk!” ;)

  • http://ewebsiteservices.com/ Geoffrey Mapplebeck

    The only reason I can see why Google would want to separate the two is because of the abuse that the meta tag keywords often gave and now Google will be able to scan the page to make sure it’s actually a news type article so they make the news_keywords relevant or not.

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