How Search Really Works: Meta Keywords

by Ruud Hein January 11th, 2008 

It's been a while now that I've wanted to write about search from scratch. Seeing the enthusiasm and openness with which Kimberly Bock (aka SpostareDuro) learns and writes about learning SEO basics inspires me to make that "someday" a "today".

In its simplest form a computer can be taught to search by giving it two sets of information: a series of documents to be indexed and a list of irrelevant words.

The list of irrelevant words includes common words (a, an, the, etc.) but can also include stop words; words you don't want to have in your index.

This type of search is very accurate. It will find every occurrence of the world "Google" in a set of 10 thousand documents. And it will do so faster than you or I can.

The drawback of this type of search is that unless something is expressly mentioned in a document, search can't find it. If in our example set of 10 thousand documents the word "Google" never appears, our search for "Google" will never return any results even though every single document might be about Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.


Meta Keywords

One way to deal with this obvious shortfall of simple search is to add extra words to each document. In the above example we would add the word "Google" to every document about Larry Page and Sergey Brin. And Google is about? Search. OK, add the word "search" and anything else you can think of that might be relevant as well.

This type of words, words not used to write actual content but simply to list which topics it might be relevant to, are often called keywords. They're similar to labels or tags on paper files and products: "Bank Statements", "To Do's", "Folgers Coffee".

The type of information they provide is called meta data: information about the information. In our case, information about the content, the subjects in a document.

Web pages can come with a rich set of meta data and keywords is one of them.

 meta keywords

Unfortunately people aren't always completely truthful in describing the content of their documents. Or they can't be bothered to do so. Or when they do, they use words and phrases which are anything but helpful.

Links as Meta Keywords

Google solved people's dishonesty or unhelpfulness by largely ignoring the meta keywords embedded in web pages. Instead they treated words used to link to a web page as meta keywords, in effect adding them to the list of words that web page is made of.

How does that look? In our example we would have a web page which mentions Larry Page and Sergey Brin but doesn't mention Google.

Someone writing about Google links to that page using the words "Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin." Those words are now added to the list of words found in our document.

  links as keywords

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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22 Responses to “How Search Really Works: Meta Keywords”

  1. Nick James says:

    This is great, beautifully explained information for any SEO beginner wanting an understanding of the basics of how search works. I take my hat off to you, Ruud.

  2. Mark Dykeman says:

    I like it! Even I could understand that description. Cool!

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  4. Rudd:

    This is brilliant in it's simplicity and effectiveness to communicate the facts (non SEO lingo style).

    There is no room for assumption of mis-information. Great post, you have my vote.

  5. Erica DeWolf says:

    Great post, very easy to understand.

    I especially love the drawings!

  6. Ruud Hein says:

    I'm really quite pleased that it has gone over so well and can only hope that follow-up posts in this series of posts will be at least as clear as this one.

    Thanks for the kind comments, really!

  7. […] Meta Keywords The type of information they provide is called meta data: information about the information. In our case, information about the content, the subjects in a document. (tags: Meta Keywords) […]

  8. For beginners like me, this makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the advice.

  9. Utah SEO says:

    Well put. Very unique way of describing the relevance of meta keywords to beginners. Not another "me too" article. Good job.

  10. jessus says:

    brilliant! I will link to you in germany!

  11. Peter Wood says:

    Nice article, very well explained and easy to understand. Very helpful.

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  14. JESSE says:

    That was explained so well!
    Thank you so much

  15. I do agree the post is well written. The idea of having relevant copy and keywords and the whole idea that Google is ignoring meta tags is true and great point to make.

    I do want to add a point myself, which is though meta tags are not what they used to be, they still carry importance and by adding a creative description for each page of your site and adding keywords relevant to your page of content will help in how your site is displayed in the results.


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