I believe I’ve had at least one conversation regarding the effectiveness of meta keywords in search engine rankings every week for the past 10 years. For some reason, it’s a sub-topic of SEO that inexperienced website owners hear about and suddenly latch onto as if they’ve suddenly discovered the keys to high search engine rankings.
Imagine for a second that meta keywords really were that powerful. Wouldn’t that mean that website owners who had discovered their magical power would suddenly dominate search results while the unknowing fell further behind? While that may seem plausible, imagine being in Google’s shoes. They’re trying to provide the most relevant results they can to their users, so using a hit or miss factor like this would correlate with search results quality that would be arbitrarily influenced by the use of this magical key.
While I feel that I’ve done my part helping explain the lack of value in meta keywords over the past decade, I don’t think anything comes close to the decision that came down this past week: A judge ruled that meta keywords are worthless, which means that using a competitor’s trademark in a meta keyword tag can’t be a trademark violation since it provides no benefit.
Why would a company do that? Imagine you’re a porn site that’s trying to attract visitors and you come to the realization that many people search for the term, “playboy,” online and they may be interested in checking out your offerings . . . if they only knew about them. While you could pay for advertising, instead, you decide to add the term “playboy” to your website’s meta keywords under the hope that this will improve your search engine rankings. At one time, it may have. A long long time ago. But even then, it was only one of many factors search engines used to determine whether a site was relevant for a given term and deserved to rank high. Playboy actually was involved in some lawsuits similar to the above scenario back in 1997.
David Snyder of Marketing Pilgrim succinctly explains the benefit this ruling provides professional SEOs:
So the next time you get a phone call from a shady SEO malpractitioner selling you on the idea that you are not coming up in the SERPs because of a lack of Meta Keywords, go ahead and tell them that Meta Keywords are dead, and you have the death certificate.
Problem solved. Moving on.