Squidoo tags are funny beasts. They work in two entirely different ways: on Squidoo, as a way to cross-link lenses together, and in search engines, they help target search traffic. Just to be more complicated, we’ve got some conflicting info on how, exactly, search engines handle meta keywords, which for our purposes are Squidoo tags.
It’s time to sort out Squidoo tags and how to use ‘em.
On the one hand, Squidoo tags have a powerful internal function within Squidoo: they cause lenses with the same tags to be featured in the Discovery Tool, and Squidoo’s search box uses Squidoo tags to help decide which Squidoo pages to list first. See Fluffanutta’s recent posts on How to Pick Primary Tags and Improved Tag Pages for some not-to-be-missed info.
Due to how Squidoo uses its tags to cross-link similar lenses, it’s best not to get too specific. There simply aren’t going to be many lenses tagged with long tailed tree wees (unless we get invaded by a horde of aging Elfquest fans writing trivia contests —did I just date myself?) No, my pointy-eared friends, you’ll be wanting to tag lenses with Elfquest and comics.
I view Squidoo tags as similar to the labels above grocery store aisles: they group together a whole collection of things you might also be interested in or be looking for.
On the other hand, Squidoo tags get fed into the meta keyword tag of a lens, and here’s where things get interesting. We’ve been told the meta keyword tag is dead…but is it?
Let’s back up. What the heck is a meta keyword tag?
The meta keyword tag, along with the meta title and meta description tag, is an invisible bit of code embedded at the beginning a webpage (you can see it by choosing “View Source” from your view menu). The meta keyword tag says, “Here’s some words and phrases that are related to my webpage. If anyone searches for those words and phrases, send ‘em here!”
About five seconds after people started using meta keyword tags, they realized they could steer gullible search engines into sending them more traffic. Sneaky people repeated keywords and used popular keywords, even if they had nothing to do with a page. Search engines had to find other indicators, such as number of links to a page and on-page headers, to get a better handle on what each page was really about.
Nowadays, search engines still use the meta title tag (which on Squidoo is the title of your lens) and the meta description tag (which on Squidoo is the introduction module) to help identify page content. So it behooves you to lavish extra SEO attention on those areas. But what about the meta keywords tag, which Squidoo fills with your Squidoo tags?
Google doesn’t use the meta keyword tag at all. In the past, Yahoo, MSN and some other search engines have continued to let the keyword tag be one of the factors influencing how they rank webpages. One by one, search engines abandoned the meta keyword tag, until the last major holdout was Yahoo.
In October, a Yahoo rep announced that Yahoo no longer indexes the Meta Keywords tag. SEO bloggers celebrated keywords’ demise for the umpteenth time since they were first declared dead back in 2000 or so. A few SEO wonks did some tests once the champagne dried. To their horror, they discovered the meta keyword tag was still lurching around like a zombie. For example, if you search for “dsrurejjnr”, Yahoo’s first result is a test page with that gibberish embedded in its keywords tag and ONLY there, whereas other search engines turn up articles discussing the test.
Yahoo claims that it’s not being fooled: a representative insists that Yahoo weights title, description, and on-body text ahead of keywords, and only pays attention to keywords when no other “ranking signal” is present. Wrong. I just checked, and a webpage with “dsrurejjnr” in the title tag and URL ranks first on Google, but lower on Yahoo.
So what? Well, one, it reminds us of the backdoor approach to keywords: every search engine determines webpage rankings differently, so if you can’t get on page one of Google, you might on Yahoo.
Two, it suggests that we still have to juggle two conflicting uses for Squidoo tags: the “grocery store aisle label” approach I espoused above, and the “long tail” approach that is so effective for SEO. Lots of people use Yahoo search, yet we tend to use Google-specific tools to research keywords.
My advice? Use your traffic stats tab on your dashboard to see what the top 1-3 long tail searches are that generate traffic on your lens over a period of time: 1-3 months. Add those. But reserve most of your Squidoo tags for Squidoo-optimizing (as opposed to major search engine optimizing) purposes. If you want to get really diligent about this, register at SEObook or one of the other websites that actually gives you Yahoo-specific data about keyword searches.
One thing, though, we gotta remember. Squidoo puts its tags on a lens not just in the meta keywords field, but as a list of links in the sidebar. Google and other search engines use “link text” to help determine search relevance. So keywords aren’t as dead on Squidoo lenses as the rest of the web! They can still help.