There are a lot of myths about what optimizations will help your page rank well in search. One of the more widespread ones is that your page should be chocked full of a specific keyword. If you are selling “golf bags,” then “golf bags” should be included ad nauseum in your page content, your URL, the anchor text of your inbound links, and the meta tags of your page.
There’s something to be said for most of this, except for that last one – meta tags.
Including keywords in the meta tags of your page does not work. This was called “keyword stuffing” back in the day. This was when you overloaded your meta tags or your page content with the same keyword in order to prove to a search spider you were really all about that phrase.
It is also the reason Google came along and said the quality of the inbound links would determine placement, not keywords on the page. The reason is easy to see: Changing the number of occurrences of a keyword in a page is easy. Anyone can do it. Therefore, it can’t be that valuable a measure of a page’s worth. If I only need to repeat “golf bags” over and over in the meta data to get top placement in Google, why wouldn’t I?
Having your keyword in your meta title isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t going to turn the tide for you. Granted, many sites with top rankings for keywords do have that keyword in their title. Try a search for golf bags, for instance, and you’ll find most of the pages have that in their title. However, these businesses also have golf bags in the name of their company, or their URL itself. As such, most of the links they have coming to them use the phrase golf bags. If a number of golf sites link to “Todd’s Emporium of Golf Bags,” which has the URL http://www.toddsgolfbags.com, everything about that link says that site is all about golf bags. The anchor text likely has the business name in it. Also, if the keyword is in the URL, it shows that business doesn’t dabble in golf bags – it is ALL ABOUT golf bags.
Strangely, the number one result for golf bags as I run that search is for ogio.com – a site built in Flash, which is usually search engine poison. If you look at the number of inbound links they receive, however, you’ll see why they’re #1. While they do include meta keywords, I’m willing to bet the +27000 inbound links the site receives are what does the heavy lifting.
Meta descriptions are another matter. They do not help your rankings any more than the meta titles, but they are often used by Google to describe the page in their listings. As such, you can rewrite these periodically to promote an upcoming sale, event, or simply new content. The fact that you are updating them will even help for search, as it shows the content is not stagnant.
Finally, meta keywords, which I mentioned earlier, are a complete waste of time. Seriously. You should not waste time finding the right six or seven keywords to include in pages, especially if that keyword doesn’t show up anywhere on your page.
Go back to golf bags. If you stuff, “golf bags,” “golf gear,” “golf clubs,” and “golf apparel” onto your page, and only “golf bags shows up anywhere in the content of the page, you could have your rankings suffer for the other three phrases. The meta descriptions are there to help search spiders understand what your page is about going in – if you have included phrases that aren’t in the content, they know you are actively trying to mislead them. Conversely, if you only include phrases that are in your content, you won’t rank better. Only the content itself and, of course, the links you get from other sources, will help you there.
So why do sites still include this information if it’s of no value? It’s hard to say. Some might not know that the gig is up for this tactic. Others may need to justify the amount of time it takes them to do their SEO work. After all, the O does stand for “optimization.” If they can’t point to some real optimizations for a web page, they must not be doing their jobs.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to rank for “golf bags,” that phrase should turn up on the page itself – the thing is, it will. “Golf bags” is going to be in the content of a page about golf bags. If it turns up in the page’s URL, even better. (“www.golfsmith.com/ps/browse/golfbags-travel” is the third ranking phrase on Google for the phrase.) Juggling minutiae about meta keyword placement or the number of times the page should turn up in every 100 words of copy just isn’t worth the effort that goes into it.
When you optimize your site, or hire someone else to do it for you, be sure that the majority of your time is not spent on updating these elements that have little value to search engines. Instead try to spend more time on building relationships with other sites so they link back to you, or optimizing press releases, or in generating content that will catch the eye of interested readers, who will build their own links to your site.
Then you will get your rankings, your traffic, and your money.