Meta keywords: A myth that just won’t die

I hate urban myths. They have an insidious quality, like the stickiness left on your hands after you eat an apple that only gets worse after you wash your hands with plenty of soap. You can’t get rid of them, and people continue to pass them on. My hatred for them is magnified when they touch on a subject where I’m immediately able to call BS.

Our topic today is meta keywords. Some book marketing gurus have recently dredged up this old chestnut, claiming that adding keywords to a meta tag will enhance search results. To someone who’s been on the Internet for darn near 20 years and knows anything about HTML and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), this is like having an educated person suggest bleeding as a cure for your cold because they read about it in a book once. It’s that stupid.

If you don’t know anything about meta keywords, suffice it to say they’re special tags you can put in an HTML document (i.e., any Web page) that can include extra information. One such tag is the meta tag, and you can add a meta title, description, keywords, and more. Search engines ignore almost all of these, but some may use your description for something. If you look at this through the naiveté of Web pioneers, these keywords sound awesome: what a great way to tell search engines what your page is all about! Now remember that there are spammers, malware delivery sites, and porn sites, all in an arms race with the search engines so they can show up in your search results whether you want them to or not, and meta keywords are a great vehicle for supplying bogus information. Suddenly it seems like a bad idea for a search engine to pay attention to such keywords. Which is why they all did, pretty much before Google was born.

In spite of the fact that this brief flirtation with trusting Web pages to describe themselves accurately ended in disaster, self-proclaimed SEO experts keep saying all the time that meta keywords are important. Even though most of them will acknowledge they have no impact on “most” search engines, they still suggest doing it anyway. This is like saying there’s really no harm in setting up that cargo cult hoping for planes to drop supplies again, because there’s a chance that someday they will. I’ve even read articles offering some shoddy weak-sauce arguments in favor of using meta tags for such ridiculous reasons as playing mind games with your competitors! This is the very worst advice in all of SEO, even worse than reusing the same phrases repeatedly on your site (Google dings for too much repetition) or hiding keywords in hidden text (they hate that too). It survives for the same reason all stupid misinformation survives: Someone is always going to be gullible enough to buy it.

The sad part is, the gullible buyers this time are highly respected authors who have actual valuable insights into ebook marketing. The people giving this advice obviously don’t know HTML from shinola, but they’re parroting this crap anyway. In doing so, they’ve gone from a subject where they clearly know their stuff to one where they sound like complete idiots. And oh, it gets so much worse. They’re suggesting inserting meta tags into your book description on Amazon or on your author page will help. This is beyond moronic. Meta tags belong in the header of a document, not the body. Amazon has no reason not to strip those tags right out. And Amazon certainly would never, ever, parse the content of those tags and use them to enhance their own search results, which would be a lot of work just to encourage people to game their system. And the truth is Amazon takes a very dim view of that sort of thing, just as Google does, and it’s a silly risk to even try such a thing, even if search engines did pay attention to meta keywords, which they absolutely do not.

(Nitpickers may point out that Google has recently begun toying with a special meta keyword for news articles, for their news results only. It’s not the same kind of keyword. But also, to counter the fact that this is still a dumb idea, they’ve pretty much levied a warning that they’ll bring the hammer down on anyone abusing it.)

I have great respect for the book marketers’ experience. They have a lot to teach about a subject they know very well. But in repeating this malarkey, they hurt their image, send other authors down a bad path, and worst of all, keep the myth going. This misinformation has been going around for so long that kids are now going into college who were around when meta keywords died out. There is no excuse for claiming to understand SEO in any form, yet offering this advice anyway.


About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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