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Mention the phrase “meta keywords” and any search marketing specialist will invariably shudder with horror thinking about the incredible amount of spam that was a result of the search engines previously relying in part on user-generated tagging of keywords in metadata. This meta tag has since been completely nullified in all the major search engines.

But they are still useful in SEO, incredibly. Read on to find out why….

Meta keywords: The history

Back when meta keywords did actually work, it was simply a matter of putting in as many keywords as you wanted to rank for into the meta keywords tag, like these enterprising individuals have done:

Although not a decisive ranking factor on its own, this would often help rankings for the keywords that the domains were specifically trying to rank for. This is true of any industry, and as we’ll see below, it’s surprising how many websites today are still using the now-deprecated meta tag – including, most probably, a number of competitors in your vertical. As a result, we can study these to uncover keywords to target for our organic and PPC campaigns.

Advantages of using meta keywords for keyword research

Today we’re going to be analysing the meta keywords of several theoretical competitors to see if we can uncover any promising keyword opportunities.

There are a few reasons why this strategy is still worth pursuing, alongside more traditional keyword and competitor analysis methods such as SEMrush:

· Direct targeting – even if website owners are misinformed in assuming that the tag will help their organic rankings, it sends a very clear signal that their domain is targeting certain search terms. This is especially helpful in the E-commerce sphere, which can be very competitive.

· It can be hard to find competitor keywords sometimes if the Google Keyword Planner doesn’t give us appropriate suggestions, or if the domain (s) is not ranking organically and has no PPC traffic for us to analyse.

· The keywords being targeted are likely to have been identified (through whatever methodology) as being profitable ones, and although we do need to be careful in our interpretation of this we can reasonably assume that there is some commercial viability to these terms if taken from a commercial site.

· It’s an easy strategy to implement that can also be done without expensive software.

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How to do it:

Although we could go to the source code of individual domains to do this, if we happen to have a large list of competitors to go through, this may end up taking a lot of time. To remedy this problem, we’ll be revisiting an old favourite of this blog, Screaming Frog.

First, we need to get a list of competitor websites together. Although there are a lot of ways to do this, searching for various medium-tail keywords in our industry should suffice. I’ve got a list here which have been sourced using this method, which I’m uploading into Screaming Frog via the list mode. We’re assuming the role of an equine medication shop this time.

Once it’s finished, all we need to do is go to the meta keywords tab and export it:

Once we’re in Excel, we just need to do text to columns on the commas:

And then use the ‘transpose’ copy-paste option to arrange them into neat columns:

Nice and easy! We can see that there are a number of potentially viable keywords to target even in this small sample. If you prefer all of the keywords in one column to put into the keyword planner, Extendoffice offers a helpful tutorial (essentially, define the separate columns as a named ranged and then use a formula to get all the data into another column)

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Jo Coates

Jo is the Client Services Director at Agency51 focusing on client delivery and strategy. With over 13 years' experience, Jo has worked across multiple global campaigns in a wide range of industries and has seen impressive results using a variety of marketing techniques.

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