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Kiss Your Keyword Meta-Tag Goodbye

Aug 17, 2007
Hailing from parts unknown and circumstances that could be best described as humble, for quite some time now, the Keyword Meta-Tag with its better known younger sibling, referred to in the business as The Keyword (a la rapper style)or simply "The Word" by close associates and friends, have dominated the SEO stage with energy, style, wit and unmistakable charisma. But while The Keyword's star continues to soar high as ever, that of its lesser sibling, Keyword Meta-Tag, is sadly on the decline. Here then is the fascinating tale of these former SEO superstar brothers and one-time search engine darlings.

Some years ago, back when search engine algorithms were as functional and complicated as the androids depicted in B-movies from the late seventies, The Keyword and Keyword Meta-Tag began to take the SEO world by storm. Webmasters realized that they could manipulate their websites' rankings by tweaking the Keyword Meta-Tag. How? By inserting as many targeted keywords in the Keyword Meta-tag, they figured that they could influence the rankings of said websites by confusing the rather simple search engine algorithms of the time into incorrectly identifying their websites as qualified for those keywords; even though such keywords never appeared anywhere in the main body of text.

Not to be outdone by its less showy sibling, The Keyword really grew into its own and took center stage with a vengeance soon after. In a somewhat Paris Hiltonesque approach (no publicity is bad publicity) wily webmasters figured that more keywords translated into better rankings so why not stuff the main body of text with hundreds (if not thousands) of such keywords; never mind the trifling inconvenience that the text might read a tad awkward.

Thus was born the well established and proven technique (well at least for a while) known as keyword stuffing. In fact edgier webmasters ventured beyond the point of simple everyday keyword stuffing and started to incorporate invisible keyword text into their pages. This they achieved by inserting targeted keywords onto their web pages disguised in the same color as the background of that particular web page. The end result was that a keyword could be replicated thousands of times over on the same web page without interrupting the natural flow of the text (i.e., not read unnaturally to visitors to the site) because for all intents and purposes such text was invisible to the human eye. (This is an example of blackhat techniques.)

But the search engines quickly caught on and stiff penalties were meted out to offending websites. Truth be told, the search engine that really addressed this issue with swift, aggressive vigilante justice, was none other than The Big Dawg--Google. MSN appeared to be little concerned with the whole affair; it would seem that Microsoft was more concerned with listening to the sweet sound of ka-ching reverberating from the profits of its Windows Operating System. And also perhaps they were a little tied up with all those pesky law suits that seemed to never end. But I digress. The point here is that one could still get away with keyword stuffing on the lesser giants of search (i.e., MSN) but the party was most definitely over as far as Google was concerned. A new algorithm tweak was incorporated which led to the hotly debated keyword/number-of-words-on-a-page ratio or percentage.

It is still possible though to find a number of websites ranking high on Google with obvious elements of keyword stuffing. One can only assume that such websites got away with it because Google was more concerned with arresting the disturbing trend of keyword stuffing than punishing past offenders. But the same could not be said for the living-dangerously invisible-text webmasters. Google came down hard, smackdown style, and such websites fell off the chartered territories of known search. Interestingly enough, as Microsoft came to the better-late-than-never realization that there is mucho dinero to be made from search, and perhaps galvanized by waning fortunes in the OS industry, they too adopted Google-like web page filters which really kicked in early-to-mid 2006 (Yahoo generally seems to embrace Google tweaks before MSN so you can bet they are already onboard). Bottom line it's no longer as easy to skedaddle your way up the MSN SERPs (search engine rank pages) as it used to be.

In an ever increasing bid to return the most accurate results for a search query, it would appear that these days Google seems to ignore the Keyword Meta-Tag altogether and rather analyzes the words and identifies keywords from the main body of text on a webpage as its governing basis for ranking that page. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that Yahoo and MSN will soon implement the same modifications if they haven't already; where The Big Dawg paws the lesser mutts will surely follow.

So does this mean that you shouldn't bother optimizing for the Keyword Meta-Tag anymore? Not at all. There're plenty of lesser search engines out there that still identify the Keyword Meta-Tag as being important, so if you don't wish to lose potential traffic from such search engines, it's better to continue optimizing for the Keyword Meta-Tag.

As to what really dimmed the star of the once-upon-a-time SEO stage darling, the Keyword Meta-Tag, perhaps it was merely a matter of public fickleness or over-exposure. But if such was truly the case some argue, how come the Keyword Meta-Tag's sibling, The Keyword, continues to perform from strength to strength? To that we can only speculate, but maybe it's simply that the powers-that-be recognize the fact that to keep the show rolling you need at least one superstar!
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