Do keyword lists still matter?

They're important for web sites and blogs. Here's why.

Some people think the meta tag keyword list is not important because all search engines don't read it. Well, some do, including Yahoo. Even Google might begin using it again (the Google Search forum has been encouraging people to add their keywords and description meta tags). Second, no one disputes that title and description tags (see the FAQ page) are important. Developing a list of keywords and keyphrases is critically important because those words and phrases are precisely the ones you should put in your title and description! If you do that, your search engine rankings will increase. Conversely, your rankings will fall if you do not include relevant keywords and keyphrases in your title and description, or if you omit them, as many people do. Millions of web sites have a blank or useless (e.g., "Untitled Document") titles and no description or one without appropriate keywords and keyphrases. And then their developers moan about the search engines not giving them a fair shake!

But doesn't creating a keyword list take time?

As I proofread a page, I create my keyword list using this site, which requires very little extra time—and whatever time it does require is time well spent.

Keywords are important for blogs, too

Many blog sites and software encourage you to list keywords and keyphrases with every blog posting. A good keyword list will help increase your blog's visibility and readership.

A prediction about keyword lists

Meta tag keyword lists fell out of favor with some search engines because spammers placed popular search terms (like "sex") in their keyword lists, even if that was unrelated to their site content, hoping to trick people into visiting their sites.

I predict that there will be a resurgence in the utilization of meta tag keyword lists by search engines once they become smart enough to semantically interpret page content so they understand what a page is about. Currently, almost all search engines (even Google) are not sophisticated enough to do that, so they use various alternative methods to rank pages that often gives amazingly irrelevant search results. In the process of writing my books (see sidebar), I spent years researching thousands of topics. While doing that, I routinely uncovered rubbish that was ludicrously unrelated to my search.

The transition from not understanding page content to fully grasping it will progress gradually, not all at once. Once search engines have some comprehension of page content, I believe that this limited intelligence will permit them to judge whether a meta tag keyword list is, or is not, an accurate reflection of the page topics. Keyword lists are, and have always been, immensely useful if they were generated by ethical people who weren't attempting to trick search engines or their users. Meta tag keyword lists will become increasingly useful to search engines once they begin to comprehend page content.

The evolution from today's dumb search engines to tomorrow's semantic search engines has been predicted by many others, who say it is "the next big thing" in search engine technology. It is not a question of if it will happen, but when it will happen. Next question: When do you want to generate your meta tag keyword lists?

I think that you are better off doing it now for the following reasons:

  • If you generate your keyword lists as I described above, it will take very little time—certainly less time than it would take you to do it in the future.
  • If you create a keyword list for a single new page, you are more likely to do a good job of that than if you were to later go back and try to generate lists for all of your pages.
  • That brings me to a related point: If you don't form the list now, will you ever get around to it in the future? Realistically, people tend to focus on current projects and neglect past ones. I have hundreds of web pages, and some of those "pages" are as long as a book or two (that is one of the errors I made as a newbie). Rereading all of those pages would take several weeks. Would I ever get around to it? Probably not.
  • Generating a keyword list now will enable you to create better page titles and descriptions that are, as discussed above, unquestionably important to search engine rankings.

Are semantic search engines coming soon?

Search relevancy could improve today if search engines could recognize and analyze page content. Some of these semantic methods are complicated and will take years to perfect, but others (such as ones I've developed) are simple yet effective and could be implemented immediately. While web searching is still in its infancy, it is bound to improve in the not-too-distant future.