Who Should We Believe? Jill, or Google?

Posted on 22 January 2011 by John Britsios

Shoot in the footA recent thread on Jill Whalen’s forum sparked some controversial comments when she posted an anecdote regarding Google’s indexing of site search pages on her site. There’s nothing earth-shaking there, of course.

What’s interesting came from the comments and her responses to them. The first that caught my attention was:

There’s actually no use for the keyword tag for words that are already appearing on the page. The idea is to use it for keywords that don’t already appear on the page, but which might be relevant anyway. After all, if they’re already on the page, what good is it to use them again? (bolding mine)

That was my first WTF moment. I responded with:

Jill, as we both know, the purpose of the keywords meta tag implementation is to specify keywords that a search engine may use to improve the quality of search results. It provides a list of words or phrases about the contents of the Web page and provides some additional text for crawler-based search engines.

That said, the keywords placed there must be found within the content of the document. If you want to target semantically relevant keywords not found in the content of the page, the appropriate solution would be the implementation of “Common Tags

She responded with:

Disagree. The meta keywords tag was originally created to provide a place for words that were not contained on the page. After all, if they’re already on the page, the search engine already know it’s relevant for those words.

So I asked her:

So if I got you right, do the keywords meta tag serve the same, or partially the same purpose the “Common Tags” do?

She responded with:

Since common tags are just something someone made up and not a real tag, I don’t really know.

At that point, I felt a headache coming on, and responded with this:

Well here is some info about CTags by Vanessa Fox.

You said above that using relevant keywords but not found in the content of the page is legitimate. So I felt like I had to be more explicit.

The purpose of implementing keywords in a keyword meta tag is for preliminary indexing and specifically conceived for exhaustively and completely catalogue HTML documents, and not for determining semantic related words or attempts to boost the overall semantical relevancy of a document.

Her response:

Since Yahoo isn’t doing search anymore, that tag probably has died it as well.

I answered with:

I am afraid that I will have to disagree.

Then, in response to another poster’s comment, she added this:

Anyone who was paying attention has known that Google has never used the Meta keyword tag to know what a page is all about in terms of where it might show up in the search results.

As far as I know, they’ve never used it so it’s not something they declared that they’re suddenly not using.

That poster responded with:

So you’re saying that Google never read the meta keywords tag for its purposes? I know Google declared they suddenly stopped using it.

To which, she answered:

I think you’d be hard pressed to find this declaration from them anywhere.

He then offered this link:

Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking.

The pertinent excerpt from that link (Google Webmaster Central Blog) is this:

“Because the keywords meta tag was so often abused, many years ago Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag.” (bolding mine)

So Google clearly DID at one time use the keywords meta tag. And Jill Whalen says she’s been in SEO since before Google was born. Hmmmmm…

That brought on another one of those WTF moments, and her earlier comment, claiming that Common Tags aren’t “real” tags was adequately responded to by another poster, with:

…as W3C also has maintained that Common Tags continue to play a part in tagging and folksonomies for Resource Description Framework. SPARQL and its derivatives, for instance, still recognize C-Tags, and there haven’t been any discussions of discontinuing the practice.

About that point, having been called out on a handful of inaccuracies, Jill closed the thread to further comments. However, there was still some discussion in the comments of Ben Pfeiffer’s article on SEO Round Table.

And many of the comments there show that some people are still confused about the true past and present nature of the keyword meta tag. Is it any wonder, when such misinformation is published?

So the question that arises is, if an SEO of her experience and supposed knowledge can state as fact, opinions that are in such opposition to what Google and W3C state… who do we believe?

  • Did Google NEVER use the meta keyword tag?
  • Are Common Tags not “real” tags?
  • Were meta keywords intended to be only words that DON’T appear on the page?

I know who I don’t believe. Do you?

Author: John Britsios

Founder and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of SEO Workers and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Webnauts Net, a qualified Forensic SEO & Social Semantic Web Consultant, specializing in Semantic, Forensic & Technical Predictive Search Engine Optimization, Content Marketing, Web Content Accessibility, Usability Testing, Social Semantic Web based Responsive Web Design & Ecommerce Development, Conversion Rate Optimization.

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    • http://www.morestar.ca/ Dave Lauretti

      Hey John. I’m really not too sure about trusting Jill at this moment – I have read quite a bit of what she’s said about SEO and she does seem a little like she guesses a lot.

      With that said and regarding CTags, I can only admit that since my application of them on one of my major websites there was only an increase and traffic – on Yahoo/BING and of course with Google – not only that but an increase in rankings.

      I could be wrong but these were my observations.

      With respect to the thread that was started by Jill, I have to say I was totally shocked that she closed the thread after my last question. I’m still wondering why she did that as the discussion and study thereof was still deserving input and analysis.

    • http://www.jmarkafghans.com/pages/blog.html Jules

      I’m not exactly an SEO expert; barely a novice, truth be told. But the excerpts from that thread do leave, even me, shaking my head.

      No wonder I wander – clueless – through the do’s and don’t’s of site optimization.

    • Pingback: Who Should We Believe? Jill, or Google? – Search Editors « Skindemo.free.fr()

    • http://seorock.com Khurram Ali

      Keywords tag is not that important anymore agreed. But you still have to use it for the other niche and verticle search engines so they can better index your site.

    • http://www.searchcommander.com Scott Hendison

      One thing I’ve learned in my nearly 12 years working in the search industry, (first 5 for me, past 7 for others too) is that NOBODY has all the answers, and I NEVER stop learning. Once you assume you know everything, you’ll get proven wrong pretty quickly… – Closing comments on a thread is apparently a lot easier than admitting you might have been wrong.

    • http://www.seoworkers.com Webnauts

      Yeah Scott! That was the main reason I continued the discussion here.

    • http://www.webseoanalytics.com Vasilis Vryniotis

      Meta-Keywords were developed way back when the first meta-search engines did not have the computing capacity to index, analyze and evaluate all the content & keywords of the page. Additionally it has been used extensively by Directories. Meta Keywords are supposed to describe the main keywords of the text and thus those terms are expected to exist in the document.

      I am sure that Google used to use this tag and they stopped using it because people were misusing it. There also a video from Matt Cutts that confirms that.

    • http://www.shoppingbasketsplus.com Randy Pickard

      Back in 2003, a semi-spammer related to me that it appeared that a number of his sites had been hit with ranking penalties by Google. He tried all sorts of tactics to return them to their prior positions. He had been stuffing the keyword meta tag description with marginally relevant terms that did not appear on the page. He finally tried deleting the keyword stuffed meta descriptions from his site. About a week later, his positions bounced back. Impossible to know if there was causation, and if this anecdote from 2003 is still relevant today. However, ever since then I have recommended either ignoring the keyword meta tag or only inputting terms that appear on the page, as it is my suspicion that Google may read this tag as a spam detection tool. And just because I don’t have proof to support my recommendation, in a world where theories about page rank sculpting, Google Instant, and vaccinatations have been widely broadcast, who needs proof to spout a theory.

    • http://www.purefx.co.uk/category/market_commentary/ Peter

      I pretty much disagree with everything Jill’s suggesting. For instance, the meta-tag field could not only be abused but let competitors figure out what keywords you’re targeting.

      That said her confusion is understandable. There’s so much conflicting information about SEO available. These days I tend to write blog posts with total disregard for SEO, and simply let visitors congregate through the language I use naturally. It saves me the headache.

    • http://www.adelaideinternetmarketing.com.au/ adelaide online marketing

      Most of the webmaster suggested that meta data is out of trend now a days which means that google is not giving any importance to the meta data. But I think the meta data is have equivalent importance because it is directly related with the think like technically sound a site is. most of the site getting good keywords ranking because of those keywords in meta data. so these idea are really contradict about the jill. May be he is some where right.

    • http://twitter.com/aaranged Aaron Bradley

      Good heavens, could people mix, match and generally abuse terminology any more than in this thread and the comments attached to it?

      First of all, calling something a “tag” and then assigning some relevance to one “tag” or another “tag”is meaningless. One needs to look different implementation of “tags” functionally, not on the basis of whether they’re called a “tag” or not.

      Meta keyword “tags” – or, more properly speaking, the keywords value of the meta alt attribute are, as the name suggests, a piece of meta data associated with an HTML document. Like much meta data this is only a machine-readable element in an HTML document: these keywords do not appear in the rendered version of documents presented to humans.

      The specific usage of meta keywords was never formally laid out. All the W3 RFC says on the subject is that a “common use for META is to specify keywords that a search engine may use to improve the quality of search results.” Jill’s assertion that they were used to augment rather than summarize the keyword environment of on-page usage cannot be disproved, but it is wholly speculative, and certainly contrary to the use of other types of keyword meta data one typically encountered. In my own experience this data, was, in years past, used guardedly and obliquely by Google: what I observed is that Google accorded them some value when they seemed to honestly reflect the on-page keyword content of a page (in other words, precisely the opposite of what Jill asserted). However, since I cannot supply you with hard data to back that at, by all means take my claim with an anecdotal dose of salt.

      Briefly to address meta keywords as “tags,” a “tag” is slang for an HTML element. TITLE is a tag. STRONG is a tag. Thus perhaps some of the confusion comparing meta keywords to things like Common Tag – though its still pretty appalling.

      And Common Tag is a much better example of a “tag” – a (more or less) structured piece of data with the intention of binding together like documents.

      The impact of this sort of “tag” in impacting rankings is much easier to ascertain. Basically, is an indexed page created out of it? That is typically the case with tags used by blogs, newspapers, and other content systems. Then a tag – especially if it is used as a controlled vocabulary (where related concepts are grouped under a single tag, rather than having a separate tag created for each – as in the concepts “national hockey league,” “nhl hockey” and the like being aggregated under the canonical tag “nhl”). While tag pages are generally weak from a search perspective (they rarely contain unique content, they are rarely link targets, etc.) they at least categorize internal links in a meaningful fashion.

      Other examples of “tags” in this context include categories that may not be called “tags.” These include WordPress categories and categories you’ll find on an ecommerce shopping site, such as “shoes” or “staplers.”

      All of this to say that such “tags” have no inherent value SEO-wise whatsoever. It all depends what you do with them. Indeed, functionally the most important use of “tags” is when they’re tied into CMS platforms for content organization, or used in semantic text processing to disambiguate terms (this is one of the uses Zemanta or Freebase makes of Common Tag).

      So really the whole issue here becomes a lot clearer if you don’t use the word “tag” at all, but a synonym that is appropriate to the situation one is trying to describe.

      Finally, I can’t help but comment on AOM’s comment:
      “Most of the webmaster suggested that meta data is out of trend now a days which means that google is not giving any importance to the meta data.”
      What does that even mean? Well, in any case, I don’t see the title tag (ha) being “out of trend.” And you may have noticed that Google (at the time I’m writing this) just coming out with refinement options for recipes based on hRecipe. That’s a type of structured meta data. But aside from hRecipe, hReview, hProduct, GoodRelations, RDFa, Google product markup format, RSS fields, sitemaps, Google News-specific meta data and a few dozen other things, yeah, Google doesn’t much care about meta data.

      End of rant. Thanks.

    • http://www.seoworkers.com Webnauts


      Looks like the thread is open again if you want to add your comments. But be aware that after all, Jill said that it was an issue with her CMS and not with Google: http://www.highrankings.com/forum/index.php?s=&showtopic=45300&view=findpost&p=316707

    • http://twitter.com/nelsonscoville Nelson

      Please always put all your desired keywords in the Meta-Keywords field so I know what your competing for and how I can rank over you.