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META Keywords in Web Pages

In our search engine history page we describe how the whole search engine business started off. The web page designer was supposed to do all the hard work and produce a set of META keywords that describe the content of the web page. They then put this in the HEAD section of the page and all the search engine needs to do is read the text and put it in its database. Here is an example of what a web page might put in its page header.

<meta name="keywords" content="search engine history,META keywords,search engine keywords">

That was how it worked five years ago, but no longer. Some web authors, like many people are lazy, inaccurate or downright dishonest and those keywords just can't be 100% trusted.

After the first stage of just literally trusting the keyword list, the search engines became a little bit more discriminating. They'd look for repeated words and phrases in the keyword list to add weight to the site's positioning. This soon led to web pages with keyword lists that were very long and very misleading.

To overcome the misuse of the META keywords search engines, and Google was a pioneer in this, the META keyword was abandoned in favour of looking at the other page elements that make up the web page. You'll still come across lots and lots of web pages and tips stressing the importance of the META keywords but if you look carefully you'll see that's because they refer to the Golden pre-Google days when the keywords were of paramount importance.

So should you bother with putting keywords in web pages ? Opinions are divided. Some search engines will take some note of them. You might even find some search engines that only use META keywords. Chances are no-one goes near them, but it won't stop some disreputable Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firms from claiming 'success' if they manage to get you on the top of an engine that no-one uses. So the advice must be to use them as they were originally intended : add extra descriptive information about a web page. One day it might add to the ranking of the page, and its unlikely to harm it. The golden rule is to keep the content of everything in the page as accurate and consistent as possible.

There are other META settings that can and should be added to the head of a web page in addition to KEYWORDS. The META tag was introduced to let the HTML specification be flexible, so you can even invent your own. It is just an association of a NAME with some text content. Here are some widely used META tags :

Description META tag

This is the other important META tag to worry about. Even though it is not directly displayed by browsers, it may be used in the search engine result list (although Google does not do this). It is quite important to place some of your page's key words within the Description tag. All pages should have one, it's a way of giving a page a secondary title. Example :

<meta name="description" content="Describes how to use the META keywords used in web page design"/>

Author META tag

Intended to give information about the author, typically just a person's name. Useful in a web design firm to track who did what.
Example :

<meta name="author" content="Ann Taylor"/>

Copyright META tag

Gives copyright information for the page. Not all that valuable as the user does not see it. If someone copies the content of a web page they aren't likely to notice the copyright notice or just avoid copying it.
Example :

<meta name="copyright" content="Mega Dodo Publications 1989-2004"/>

Date META tag

Sometimes used to record the revision date for the page. But it is rarely kept up-to-date unless you use a web authoring tool that automatically sets it.
Example :

<meta name="date" content="2006-02-14 09:46:23 UCT"/>

Robots META tag

Normally used to stop a search engine from scanning or indexing a web page. By default a robot (typically a search engine) will scan a page and follow all links from a page adding it to its index.
Example :

<meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow"/>

There are a wide range of free META tag generators around including : META Generator

See also : Death of Meta Keywords
Formal specification of META tags
An example of out-dated advice of how it used to be : Essential Meta Keywords

Site Vigil has a built-in analysis that will show the keywords and descriptions used in any search engine result page.