Yahoo & Meta Keywords – Yes, It Still Matters

itsylouYahoo! is really on a roll with poor press strategy and media relations. Between the “It’s YLOU” campaign (really Y!OU, but kinda ambigious looking), Yahoo tanking in search engine share/usage (likely because they announced they are quitting the game and merging with Bing)…and now, this: Yahoo has to back-peddle and say they still DO use the meta keywords tag.

Back in the early years of the interwebs, SEO was a simple process of stuffing keywords into the meta keywords tag, and search engines would return your page for these associated keywords. Search engines got savvy to this practice and devalued the meta keywords tag –  fast forward to 2009 and the meta keywords tag has been reduced to pretty much worthless in the eyes of the search engines, used almost as an internal reference point. Google and Bing are pretty clear they don’t use it in their ranking algorhythm.

Yahoo, on the other hand, has never been clear on their valuation of the meta keywords tag, and to be fair, they never had to disclose their policy as the ranking algorithm is supposed to be a secret. But disclose they did, making news at SMX East in NYC last week, declaring that they “no longer use the meta keywords tag.” From what I’ve been told, this is pretty much the only thing that Yahoo panelist said during the entire “Ask the Search Engines” panel…and it was wrong.

Danny Sullivan, my favorite Search Engine journalist and founder of Search Engine Land & SMX Conferences (as well as moderator of said panel), is a clever man and decided not to just take the Yahoo PR guy’s word for it, so he ran a simple test to fact-check this announcement:

The test was simple. I placed a unique word in the meta keywords tag on the home page of Search Engine Land. This word — xcvteuflsowkldlslkslklsk — generated no results on Yahoo when I looked earlier this week. Today, when I searched, it brought back the Search Engine Land home page. Thus, Yahoo indeed indexes the content of that tag. (And to be clear, I looked before writing this article. In short order, this article itself, along with others, will appear because they’ll make use of that word).

Yahoo! was forced to back-peddle, clarifying their incorrect statement and now claims they DO use the meta keyword tag, it’s just the lowest in ranking importance in their algorithm…which is what everyone had assumed until a few weeks ago anyway. By admitting they still use it, even at a small value, is basically admitting they’re behind the game (not surprising, but nothing you want to remind people about, either). In my experience, achieving rankings in Yahoo! has always been easier than Google, as they still give value to things Google has been smart enough to de-value or ignore – and this is a case in point.

Yahoo!, I’d feel bad for y!ou about this if y!ou hadn’t announced y!our retirement from the search engine game (or worse, claim y!ou were never a search engine to begin with). I just wish y!ou’d go quickly, as opposed to a long, slow, and agonizing death where each one of y!our shortcomings are painfully exposed as your search engine stagnates in preparation of the Bing integration. Unfortunately, I still think the Bing/Yahoo merger will  take a long time before anything really happens, and until then, all we can do is slow down and stare at the carnage. Sorry Yahoo!, but it’s y!ou, not us.