It’s official. Google does not use keywords for search, although she reserves her right to change her mind. Writing on the Google Webmaster Central Blog Matt Cutts writes:
At least for Google’s web search results currently (September 2009), the answer is no. Google doesn’t use the “keywords” meta tag in our web search ranking.
So that settles that. Not that we needed any convincing. The key to Google’s success is that it doesn’t get fooled by the sorts of tricks that webdesigners like to put into their sites. One of those tricks is to load the meta tags up with keywords that you want to be found by, irrespective of how well your site really covers those issues.
Google beat this ploy by basing its search rankings on two things – text density and Paige rank.
Text density refers to the number of times text appears on a site. In this respect it follows the “Goldilocks principle”. It wants a sufficient number of appearances of the key words – not too many and not too few, just right.
Paige rank is named after Larry Paige one of the founders of Google and is a measure of the status of your site based on who you link to, and more importantly, who links to you.
The combination of these two measures means that if your site is well-designed and honest it will be found on the keywords it deserves to be found on, not the ones you try to tweak. Which is why a lot of money spent with search engine optimisation companies is wasted.
So should you ignore metadata all together? Not at all. It can perform a useful function in other search engines. Google also uses some of your metadata to construct the abstract that accompanies a search result.
To see what I mean go to this On Line Opinion article, right click on it and select “View Source”. Near the top you will see code that reads <meta name=”description” content=”Libraries are no longer libraries: they are resource centres, community centres, information hubs, client-centred study spaces …” />. That is meta data – which is text that your browser can see, but doesn’t display. This piece of meta data is called “description” and is our “slug” of what the article is about.
Now do this Google search and look at what Google displays. You should recognise the abstract it has of the article because it is exactly the same text as appears as content in the meta data.
So, if you want to influence whether your article appears in Google, worry about text density, and good links. If you want to influence how your article appears in Google, pay attention at least to the meta tag field called “description”.