Blame The Meta Keyword Tag

I blame the meta keywords tag.  That little so-and-so started all this.  Well, the “tag” and a few crafty humans, really. The idea was pretty simple. If the keyword appeared in the meta keywords tag, the page was relevant to the topic. And, on the surface, this was a solid idea. Something useful to the systems, yet invisible to the average person. Alas, with a simple right-click, the beginnings of modern day search optimization was born.

“What if I added more words? What if I repeated the word or phrase?” And so began the quest to modify pages to satisfy a search algorithm. In truth there were many more things at work than just the humble meta keyword tag, but you get the idea.

Today, it’s pretty clear the meta keyword tag is dead in terms of SEO value. Sure, it might have value for contextual ad systems or serve as a signal to ‘bots plying the web looking for topics to target, but as far as search goes, that tag flat lined years ago as a booster.

Between then and now, however, an entire $20B industry took root and bloomed. By far, most people in this space were legit, but enough weren’t that it still casts a pall over much work associated with SEO today. Inside companies, where groups fight for resources and budget, pitching SEO work is sometimes still tricky business.

We know it works when thoughtfully and accurately applied. But those who don’t speak the language are quick to point to other options: social media, paid search, paid social, email, etc. All ways to move needles faster than what SEO can promise.

And you know what? They’re right. SEO is the turtle in the race. It’s the unsexy concrete foundation under the building. (I guess where they see “unsexy”, we see ‘exciting’, ‘complex’, ‘engineered’ and ‘fundamental’ elements.) Bottom line, though, is that without a firm base of optimization applied, you’re leaving value on the table. You’re letting the competition get ahead. You’re committing corporate treason.

By covering the base work SEO focuses on, and by tackling the tricky, technical, advanced work, you set the whole business on a much more secure footing. And that’s gotta make you feel good about the work you do, right?

Well, it should, but let’s pause for a moment.

Because the reality today is that no business is successful due to a single element. Product alone rarely makes it happen. Marketing alone doesn’t work. Slick PR won’t save a sick product. Search rankings won’t solve fundamental product problems. Social media has the power to make, or break, you. Essentially, the winning program today requires dedicated investment across all areas.

And that’s the reality check for SEOs. Despite the growth of the industry, despite the number of conferences and events, and despite the more mainstream spotlight moving its way towards this work, SEO is finding its intended niche. It’s a marketing tactic and marketing plays a supporting role in a company. There’s nothing wrong with this.

Today’s SEO is a far cry from the place things started. Yet the goals remain the same: increase traffic, increase revenue. Engines are getting smarter, signals sought to determine ranking are shifting and consumer behavior is changing the landscape on both sides. So will SEO remain an important investment point for businesses?

Yes. It’s the foundation of the house, after all. But that foundation does not make a house a home. Everything else you invest in, what you build on top of the foundation and the people accomplish that. It could be said SEO started “for the people”; a webmaster wanting to gain personally. Well, today it truly needs to be “about the people”, your customers, or it’ll end up another failure point.

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager