The Google News news_keywords meta tag is now available to all publishers that are approved for inclusion.
It is nice that Google News is trying to accommodate publishers and allow for more witty, print-style headlines. But in the bigger picture encouraging the use of this tag has as many potential cons as pros, so publishers should be careful about how they promote it internally.
It’s actually kind of funny to see a form of meta keywords tag making a comeback. You’d think that Google News would be sophisticated enough to determine relevancy based on the article content even when a non-literal headline is used. And that it would prefer to do so for both accuracy and reliability.
But it is fair to say that Google News has always been a strange beast.
It will be interesting to see how much weight the news_keyword tag is given and how Google News accounts for inadvertent misuse as well as abuse of the tag.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually discontinued although I do expect it will get greater adoption than some of the other Google News tags that never gained traction, since the perceived direct benefit is greater.
Regardless it is worth experimenting with and I encourage publishers to do so.
Just keep a few things in mind:
- Anyone involved in publisher SEO has spent a lot of time and effort encouraging editorial teams to find a balance between creativity and editorial voice and the use of clear, literal language. Don’t let the existence of this tag create misperceptions that such a balance is no longer needed.
- It is important to emphasize that the news_keyword meta tag is only for Google News. Articles still need descriptive, well-balanced headlines for regular Web search as well as social media (and really still for news search too).
- In addition the tag is not applicable to content like slideshows and packages that is not eligible for Google News indexation. So make sure that the editorial staff isn’t spending time adding keywords to content that won’t benefit from it.
- Remember that effective optimization is not just about relevancy and ranking, it is also about increasing clickthroughs. Be it in news search, Web search or social, you want headlines that grab attention but they still need to give users a rough idea of what the content is about or you will lose clicks.
- Encourage editorial teams to use the tag reasonably. A maximum of 10 phrases per article is allowed but stick to a limited number phrases that accurately convey the main subject(s) of the article. Judicious use of the tag (by all publishers) may ultimately make it more effective.
- Many editorial teams already have a misperception that adding tag links to a page (most commonly on blog posts) helps their content to rank better for those terms. Don’t let the news_keywords tag add fuel to that fire. On-page content tagging should still be done conservatively with efforts made to avoid overlapping and seldom-used terms. See Blog Tag Optimization Tips for News Sites and The Huffington Post’s Kim Kardashian Tag-o-Rama for more on this.
The bottom line: treat the news_keywords meta tag as a supplement to your Google News optimization efforts not as a replacement for sound, fundamental editorial SEO.
For details on how to use the tag check out the keywords and search queries help page for publishers.