If I were to suggest to you that you might want to reconsider the use of the keywords meta tag on your site, you’d probably consider me either mad or years behind in my search engine knowledge.
However, Google announced in September this year that they’ve introduced a new meta tag, the news_keywords meta tag, which they encourage news publishers to make use of. Okay, so the regular keyword meta tag is still next to useless, outside of finding the keyword word targets of competitors who make the mistake of still using it.
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It is intended to allow publishers to help “Google News” understand and classify the content of a news article, meaning that the article reaches the right audience during searches. This might free up publishers to use more eye-catching, but less descriptive, headlines for their articles.
The example given by Google in their blog post was of Variety’s headline covering the 1929 stock market crash “WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG”; this is a witty and eye-catching headline, but is not particularly descriptive of the event, and with the title being such an important factor in ranking news articles this article may not have turned up in searches for “stock market crash” if Google News was available at the time!
How The New Meta Tag Is Used
The new meta tag is an HTML tag, meaning that it can be used in conjunction with the keywords tag already in use in Google News Sitemaps. It is used in exactly the same way as the original keywords meta tag, so if I were writing one for an article about the gold medal winners for women’s hockey at the Olympics, I might put:
meta name=”news_keywords” content=”olympics, olympic hockey, women’s hockey, olympic gold medal”
You can have up to a maximum of ten keywords in your meta tag and all keywords are given equal weight, so your first keyword won’t be considered more important than your tenth. Don’t worry about being penalised if you accidently go over ten however, Google simply ignores them. The meta tag will be completely ignored for regular web searches and is only considered as a ranking factor for news searches.
Overall I don’t seem the harm in this change, especially if it allows writers and publishers to be more creative with their headlines without fear of not cramming all the juicy keywords into it. However, because the article headline is such as important ranking factor for news searches, it is probably unwise to completely ignore keyword usage within it. While this is definitely open to spam, the ten keyword limit and the sophistication of Google’s ranking algorithm is likely enough to filter out the websites trying to abuse it.