Edinburgh Web Development

The biggest search engine myth

by Iain Wilson

16 April 2010

In our business you get to hear a lot of things about improving search engine rankings. Most people never hear of a lot of them, but there is one that seems to have gone mainstream into the general public - and it is completely wrong!

For reasons we will look at a little later, your average man in the street is convinced that all you have to do to be right up there on Google et al is to get lots of meta keywords on your webpages. The more the better. It's simple, just think up every single keyword phrase you can think of relating to your business and whack them into the keywords tag on every single page. Within days, you'll be reaping the rewards of this simple secret (that everyone knows about).

Sadly, life on the internet is not like that. In fact, it's not even close to that. In actual fact, it's almost the opposite of that. It's the biggest myth of search engine marketing. Yet we still come across it on a daily basis. So let's see if we can simply state the realities of meta keywords and also outline where the keyword concept is important.

  • First off and most importantly, Google doesn't even use at the keywords tag. Let me repeat this, Google doesn't even use the keywords. I'm not kidding and it's not 'just my opinion'. Follow this link to get the official line from Google on meta keywords and even watch a video on the subject by Google engineering guru Matt Cutts. Does Google use the keywords tag in its ranking? In a word, NO.
  • The other search engines do look at the keywords, but they are way less important than the textual content and the other meta tags

So why does everyone think the keywords are a silver bullet to ranking nirvana? Well, somewhere around the mid-nineties some bright sparks discovered that if they filled the keywords tag with heaps of keywords, their website ranking DID go through the roof. So guess what they did? They filled the keywords tag with loads of keywords, and sometimes filled parts of the page with the same keywords.

In time, the search engines got wise to this 'keyword stuffing' as it came to be known, and stopped giving so much weight to keywords. Eventually they started dropping or marking down sites who got caught keyword stuffing, so never listen to anyone who suggests it might be a good idea. Now this doesn't mean that you shouldn't use meta keywords. You should. It is worth putting in relevant keywords, because even although the search engines may not mark them heavily, 'every little helps'.

  • What are relevant keywords? Well they should be relevant to the page they are being put on - i.e. you will have different keywords for different pages.
  • They should also be used in the textual content of the page, including the other meta data tags, so you should never have the same keywords for every page on your site, just in the same way you shouldn't have the same title on every page (believe me, people do).
  • Keep the keyword phrases in the meta tag to a small number, maybe 4-5.

Kinda boring isn't it? Everyone wants there to be a secret sauce that doesn't require any real effort, but sorry, keywords ain't it. Right now there are people telling you that all you need for a high ranking is a Google Local Business entry or a YouTube video. These might help but they ain't it either. And neither is next month's thing, whatever it turns out to be.

The secret isn't a secret. To get good rankings takes time, work and money.

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