Use Meta Keywords and Keywords‑Not Tags on Pages

Keyword metatags can help with search engine optimization (SEO) of your Web pages, and eventually maybe keywords-not tags can, too. You can receive more visitors.


Ideally, the keywords should be evident from the title, headlines, body text, and other parts of your files. That’s ideally from the point of view of optimizing your position in search engine results pages (SERPs). That gets you nearer to the top in SERPs, so people will be more likely to click on links to your content to visit you.

But not all content can be handled that way. If the content was written for some other purpose and you can’t rewrite it much, like if it’s an academic paper or ancient poetry, then you may need to help the search engines in some other way.

Meta keywords and keywords-not tags are another way for search engines to properly understand your pages.

Keywords vs. the Rumor

You add the keywords metatag into the head element of a page to supply keywords that are not apparent in another way. You use the keywords metatag as a last-ditch method.

Google supposedly doesn’t use them, but I found some years ago, during the time of that rumor, that Google was using them. I made a website without them, submitted it to Google, saw the position in the SERPs, edited the website by adding a keywords metatag (I forgot if it was on one page or all of them for the test), resubmitted the site to Google, and saw a substantially improved position in the SERPs. The rise was enough to justify the work, which isn’t even very much work. And that wasn’t the only proof. One of Google’s departments was adding keywords meta elements to that department’s pages. Evidently, that department within Google thought it would help their search result positioning. The rumor, however, may be partly true. Perhaps less or no weight is put into a keywords tag if Google sees a problem with the way the tag is filled in.

Besides, while Google is popular and dominates the search space, Bing and several competing search engines have significant pieces of the pie, and they may recognize keywords metatags, too. The tags are harmless except for the work you put into them and they’ll probably help.

Keywords-Not Is a Partner

Figures of speech and metaphors can confuse a search engine. So can satire and parody. Ditto similes and tropes. (Yes, they may overlap.) When they should not be taken literally, they can confuse an automated system. To cure this problem, keywords-not tags are a new invention. They may not be recognized by any search engines yet, but the keywords-not meta element is registered as an extension of HTML (search the extensions for “keywords-not” (without quotation marks)), so it’s already available to parsing systems, like search engine bots and their indexing software. Suppose you use words in your content that you think search engines will misunderstand as being keywords when your intent is the opposite. You may not want to pay for traffic or bandwidth that’s irrelevant to your website. You can write those words into a meta element with the name “keywords-not”. That is intended to signal search engines that those words should not be used as keywords, even though they appear in your visible content. Hopefully, a search for words that are keywords-not would push your page down in search engine results and you wouldn't have to pay as much for unwanted traffic.

For example, suppose you write satire or in metaphor, and you don’t want to give that fact too much prominence. The keywords-not tag is your ticket to integrity.

Or, say you write about aspirin except you’re not talking about headaches and you say so in the introduction. You’d face the problematic effect of a Boolean NOT search for “aspirin NOT headache” or “aspirin -headache” excluding your paper in spite of having so much information on other uses of aspirin. You don’t want that effect, but you don’t want visits from people studying headaches and you do want visits from people studying other aspects of aspirin.

Here’s an example for this page:


<meta name="keywords-not" content="headache,headaches" />


Guidelines to Implementation

— Both tags can coexist in the head element.

— Write each element uniquely for each page.

— Stay relevant to the page.

— Don’t repeat the same word in a single tag. Once is enough and more will make the tag look suspicious.

— For us picky types: Where there’s more than one keyword, so that you’re separating them with a comma, don’t put a space after the comma. That’s not normal English, but this is HTML, which just looks sort of like English, and the specification leaves out the space in that particular location. But if you write a phrase as a keyword (or keyword-not), the phrase still has spaces in it. (The keywords-not spec allows a space after a comma.)

— No keyword (or keyword-not) can have a comma within it. Commas are needed to separate keywords from each other (and keywords-not from each other), so putting a comma inside a single phrase only confuses search engine parsers.

— If either tag is not needed for a certain page, omit the tag altogether. If both tags are empty, both can go.

— Having a keywords tag for a page does not require a keywords-not tag for that page, or vice versa. Judge your needs for each page.

— A trademark or service mark may need a statement protecting the owner’s legal right to it, so that you are not seen as usurping it as your own. That’s generally the law in the United States and perhaps elsewhere (I’m not a lawyer). The notice should appear in one place calculated to be found by a user. If the mark is only in a metatag, I would put that notice in a comment immediately after the tag. Here’s a hypothetical example:


<meta name="keywords-not" content="Amp Energy" /><!-- "Amp Energy" is a trademark or service mark of PepsiCo, Inc. -->


What It Amounts To

Do add the tags and don’t abuse them. That’ll help get you more visitors relevant to your interests.