The diminishing role of keywords in SEO

By Tim Priebe on October 11, 2017

By Tim Priebe on October 11, 2017

In the olden days of search engine optimization (or SEO), it was all about keyword meta tags and description meta tags. (And yes, I’ve been around long enough to remember the olden days of SEO.) Meta tags played a huge role in your website’s SEO rankings, but their role has diminished so much that they no longer really impact your ranking at all.

You may be asking yourself, “Self, what are meta tags?” They’re essentially pieces of text that go in the code of your website to describe the page’s content. For the purposes of our discussion, they include a meta description tag and meta keywords tag. And while it’s not a meta tag, the title tag also fulfills a similar purpose. Specifically, the title tag shows at the top of your browser when you land on the page, as well as in online search results. The description tag is sometimes displayed in search results as well.

Given that both the title and description tags may display in search results on sites like Google and Bing, you definitely still want to include both of those in every page on your site. Keep in mind that most search engines will truncate the title to the first 50-60 characters, and the description to the first 160 characters, both including spaces. So make sure to keep it under that length whenever possible.

While the description doesn’t impact search rankings as far as we can tell, it can impact whether or not someone clicks through to your site, so make sure it’s a coherent sentence written for a human being to read.

The keywords meta tag used to be the golden opportunity for SEO, because companies could stuff a long list of keywords into that section and increase their chances of being found in search results. But then search engines caught on to the fact that people were stuffing keywords, so they changed the rules.

Keyword meta tags for SEO are essentially useless now, at least in terms of how meta tag keywords impact rankings. Many major search engines reuse or syndicate Google’s search results, and we know for sure that Google doesn’t factor in the keyword meta tags.

But, that doesn’t mean keywords in general should be overlooked entirely. Keyword research is still a valuable step in determining your content strategy, especially when using Google AdWords.

When blogging for your business, keyword research can help ensure you’re using the words and phrases that your audience is looking for when they search. However, even keywords in content aren’t as useful as they once were, because Google is now intent-based. Google is constantly refining its algorithm to find out what your page is about and match it to what people are looking for. Using some exact words and phrases can help, but ultimately Google is calling the shots.

If you want to see intent-based search results in action, try misspelling a word in your search. Google will show you results for the correctly spelled word. I just searched for “online merketing,” and Google showed me the results for “online marketing” instead.

So what can you do? Make sure you have a clear title tag and short description tag for each page on your site. Do your keyword research for blogging and any paid ads, but make sure your website content as a whole clearly represents who you are and what you do.

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