Choosing Keywords and META Tags

KeywordsLast week I wrote about some key points that came out of a website review I completed recently (see it here)

One of the things I delivered as part of that review was a set of META tags for each page on the site, so I figured I’d explain how I went about that.

A heck of a lot of META tags have been defined and you certainly don’t need to use all of them. Probably the three most important ones are: Title, Description and Keywords.

There are also tags that tell the search engines whether or not to index your page, whether or not to follow links on the page, whether or not to keep a copy of your page in their archives, how soon they should re-crawl the page and a whole lot more.

You can use these tags if you specifically want the search engines to do something other than the default.

So there’s no need, for example, to specify that a page should be indexed. It will be indexed by default. Only if you do not want it to be indexed do you need to specify this.

Turning, then, to the three I referred to earlier: these are all based on the keywords your page is focused around.

So before we get into them in more detail let’s look at generating keywords.

Generating Keywords

There’s an ongoing argument about whether or not the search engines rely on keywords – meaning the META keywords – but the fact still remains you need to think in terms of them.

Or, more specifically, what someone searching for what your page is about might type into the search engines – the search term they might use.

When you type in a search term and look at the results you’ll see that whenever a word you typed in appears in the results it’s made bold.

And, since your eyes are naturally drawn to the bolded words, you’re more likely to click on those links first.

Therefore, you want to come up with a title tag that contains the words that people searching for your page have typed in.

Many people will tell you that you need to do your keyword research first (and exhaustively) and then write your article around whatever you came up with.

I have to admit that I do the exact opposite 🙂

I work out what message I want to give and then write the article to give it.

Having got the article to the point where my message is clear I then turn to keywords.

Most times the keywords just jump out at me but, where they don’t, and if I’m really stuck, I copy the article into a static web page on my admin site and open up Google Adwords.

(If you don’t have an Adwords account you can use this great tool – it’s free for 30 searches a month: Jaaxy.)

In Adwords I go to the keyword tool, type in the URL of the page I’ve just uploaded and search for keyword suggestions.

The Adwords tool analyses the page and produces a list of keywords that people searching for the kind of information on the page have typed in.

I can then pick terms from the list to use in my Title, Keywords and Description tags.

Let me pause here and clarify what these tags are:

The Title and Description tags are best illustrated in this picture:

Title and Description examples

The keywords are simply the search terms that people may type in to find what you’re writing about. You should only use a few of these and keep them focused. 8 – 10 is plenty.

Using Your Keywords

OK, so having got my keywords I then go back to the article and review what I’ve written in order to get them into the headers (H tags) and my opening paragraphs in the article itself.

Be careful here not to alter the way your article reads – make sure it still reads well to humans! Using this approach means you should only need to make minor modifications – if any.

I also come up with a META title that contains the most appropriate search term from the list.

The META title doesn’t need to be perfectly grammatical, so keep it short (less that 60 characters) and get your keywords (search term) as close to the beginning as possible.

I then write a META description that contains at least one of the keywords, but also entices people to click through to the article. Think of it as an Adwords ad.

And finally I select four or five of the keywords from the list to insert in my META keywords tag. Yes – I do use META keywords, despite all the claims that they’re a waste of space.

I then paste these three META tags (plus any others I’m using) into the source code of my web page between the HEAD and /HEAD tags.

And that’s it.

To make it even easier you can use one of the many online META tag generator services to generate the code for you. The one I use is here.

Alternatively, if you’re using WordPress you can insert them via the All-in-one-SEO pack plugin or in the custom SEO fields (if you’re using Thesis).

As I mentioned in last week’s article: getting your META tags properly set up and in sync with the content on your page is an important part of on-page SEO, but the overall coding of your site is becoming increasingly important too.

So make sure you’ve got both well set up.

Updated 24th December, 2018:

This article was originally written in 2010 – several centuries ago in Internet terms!

None-the-less, the underlying message is still correct and the emphasis on quality content is as important today as ever. In fact, the search engines are now smart enough to know how your page is laid out and whether your spelling and use of grammar is correct – so getting quality into all elements of your page should be your primary focus.

One point that is no longer relevant: the use of META keywords as a META tag. That’s no longer necessary – in fact it’s discouraged now because Google assumes it’s an attempt at spamming. It’s completely unnecessary given that the search engines are now so good at reading your content.

Finally, I referred to the Adwords Keyword Planner earlier. While it may seem logical to use Google’s keyword tool to find good keywords for your content, it does have its limitations, and for some time now I’ve used Jaaxy.

I’ve reviewed Jaaxy here – you may want to take a look if you’re struggling to get the search results placings you want.


Martin Malden

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jimmy Jun 5, 2010 @ 21:09

    There are so many ways for you to follow in order to optimized your onpage SEO like keyword density, headings ( H1 & H2 tag), bolding your keywords, internal linking and LSI keywords etc. Metatags ( title tag, description & keywords ) is also one of the way, where you need to put the keyword or keyword phrases in the metatags.

    Is metatags slowly losing it’s value when it come to onpage SEO? Pls advice.
    .-= jimmy’s last blog post: Why You Don’t Know How To Use One Way Link Building =-.

    • Martin Jun 6, 2010 @ 6:49

      Jimmy, hi,

      META tags are part of the agreed standards for building websites, so you should be using them.

      That said, there are lots of different tags and you don’t need to use all of them unless you want to specify something different from the default. For search engine purposes you definitely need to use Title, Description and Keywords.

      The search engines are getting continuously better at reading a site’s content, so rather than META tags losing effectiveness you could look at it as the search engines finding more ways of getting the information they need about a site.

      That also means, of course, that you need to be using META tags effectively: there’s no point in using tags that you think will get you lots of traffic if your site is about something different. The search engines will spot that very quickly.



  • jimmy Jun 6, 2010 @ 9:15

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for sharing this valuable tips.