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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?

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