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Keyword confusion

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Scott blogged about an IM conversation he had where someone asked him if he worked for me. Apparently they had been reading my Build Your Brand entry and noticed the fact that Scott’s name appears in the keyword meta tag for the page.

Let me explain why it’s there. I use Movable Type’s keywords field for two main purposes. One is to help generate my Related Entries lists. The other is for my site search engine, which is currently powered by Atomz. Atomz allows me to assign a higher weighting to certain tags, the meta keyword tag being one of them. If an entry has “Scott Johnson” in the meta keywords, it should rank well in a site search for Scott. (It should, but Atomz isn’t indexing all my pages right now. I’ll explain that in another blog entry).

I’m not sure why the fact that having Scott’s name in my meta tags would lead someone to believe that he works for me. It was in there because the entry had a passage about Scott (with his permission, I might add). It seems to me that keyword metadata is there to provide context to the text for machines. People can understand the context on their own, but machines need someone to tell them the context.

I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart doesn’t work for AOL Time Warner or have any connection to their Business 2.0 publication. But the Web page for an article about her has her name in the keywords meta tag, along with that of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Apple, the FDA, and many others…

<meta name="Description" content="Martha&#8217;s stock-trading scandal shows what can go wrong when a company&#8217;s intellectual assets get too concentrated."><br /> <meta name="keywords" content ="Martha Stewart, investing, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, ImClone, Erbitux, Sam Waksal, Arthur Andersen, Wedding List, Xerox, Enron, Tyco, Food and Drug Administration, intellectual assets, risk management, Johnson &amp; Johnson, Tylenol, human capital, structural capital, patents, documents, methodologies, databases, knowledge artifacts, customer capital, shareholders, Steve Jobs, Apple, Bill Gates, Microsoft, Stewart, Thomas A. , MSO, IMCL">

Other bloggers do this too. Brad Choate lists the subjects of his entries in his keywords metadata. An entry about CSS books lists Eric Meyer in the keywords.

So my question to you. Is this wrong? Should I not put people’s names into my keywords? Since there are no major search engines that index the keywords meta, I’m not concerned with this being viewed as an attempt a keyword stuffing, but I want to avoid misleading people. Scott says he has a funny feeling about the practice because it confused someone. He understands why his name is in the keywords, but is concerned that people may be getting the wrong impression.

Perhaps we can come up with a generally accepted practice for metadata in the blogging community. I’ve removed the keywords meta tag for the time being while we consider this issue.

Anders Jacobsen
June 18, 2003 4:42 PM

I think that's only "fair use".. I use the "description" but not keywords myself. I find it odd that people would start confusing meta keywords with employment affiliations... I suppose there's always someone out "trolling" for something new to kick up a fuss about... If they start reading Meta tags looking for hidden messages, I'd say they have 1) too much time on their hands 2) not good enough understanding of the web to be doing that sort of activity (I.e. if they take the time to read other people's HTML but NOT getting that meta keywords is a search engine "helper") Just my 2 cents as usual ;-)

Trackback from Anders Jacobsen's sideblog
June 18, 2003 4:47 PM

Excerpt: Keyword confusion...

June 18, 2003 7:15 PM

I'm curious as to how someone would make the link from keywords to employment affiliation, particularly when Scott is specifically mentioned in the entry. It seems like a giant (and almost ludicrous) leap of logic. Using that logic, Newly Digital's original list of contributors could have been assumed to be your employees (as well as each following contributor, had you been inclined to add each name into the keywords.) (If that's the case, my employment paperwork is on the way!) If you had used Scott's name in an untoward manner -- specifically to get hits to the post, for example, without there being any reference to him in the entry -- I could understand why this practice might be considered wrong or possibly unethical. But that's not the case. It was a misunderstanding, and easily cleared up.

Adam Kalsey
June 19, 2003 11:02 AM

What about the general practice of including subjects of the text in your keywords field. Who else is doing this? Is there an accepted standard of some sort?

Adam Kalsey
June 19, 2003 11:06 AM

I also should mention that I wouldn't be half as bothered by the negative reaction if it hadn't come from Scott. I consider Scott a friend and I want to avoid causing harm to friends.

Michael Bernstein
June 19, 2003 2:26 PM

I'm going to punt on whether you should or not, I can't make up my mind. You should however consider that using the cite tag in the body of the page might prove more useful in the long term. Example:

Adam Kalsey
June 19, 2003 3:27 PM

In the article in question, I didn't actually cite any references, so the cite tag doesn't seem to me to be the best way of doing things.

Jon Gales
June 19, 2003 8:36 PM

If you're savvy enough to be reading the meta data, you are probably savvy enough to figure out the connections of the meta data. My first thought would be, "does this page have anything to do with Scott Johnson?", not IM Scott and ask.

Phillip Harrington
June 19, 2003 8:54 PM

I'm with Mr. Gales, and I commented similarly on Scott's blog as well: Did they read the page at all? Or just the META tags? Why do they need to run to Scott in this kind of tattle tale mode of "You're in Adam's META tags!" Why do they care where Scott works. I've commented about him twice in the past 10 minutes (there and here) and I'm still not interested where he works (although now that I think about it, I'm assuming it's something web-nerdy like Adam... and like me too so don't take offense at "web nerdy"... 'Spose I could look for an "about" page on Scott's site that might just flat out tell me where he works, which is what this IMer should have looked for! Wow long parenth! Sorry :-D).

Adam Kalsey
June 19, 2003 8:59 PM

I can tell you why Scott is concerned if people think he works for me. Scott is an independent consultant. He works for himself, developing Web sites and running the excellent Feedster and developing Inbox Buddy. So you can see why Scott might be worried if people are confused about his employment. It could have an impact on his income.

June 19, 2003 10:06 PM

adam, i see absolutely no problem in using the subject of your post's proper name in the keyword tag, especially if you do it consistently... that's what the keyword tags are for, in my opinion, to help a machine pull together meta data about the page that it might need help pulling together on its own... I actually applaud the idea of using real keywords on each individual post based on a human touch versus letting a machine decide which keywords to put into the meta tags, and also applaud you using different keywords on each post (that takes guts to commit to doing for every post). I know that I've worked for three publishing companies, and it's something we've always wanted to do (add meta data to articles or published web pages that'll help our machines (bustome search engines) find articles for readers better) but we've never actually done it for fear that the multiple humans entering articles and stories into the CMS won't follow the same guidelines for creating meta-data (keywords) on every story the same way each time (humans are fallible remember?). But, if I thought like a news organization, I'd say that you'd definitely include the subject of your article's name in the keywords tags... especially if your search engine used the keywords tag to rank articles... For example: If I worked for a newspaper, and entered a story about, oh I dunno, an island like Puerto Rico, then, I can guarantee you'd see "Puerto Rico" in the keywords tags. If I wrote a story about Dan Akroyd, you'd see "Dan Akroyd" in the tags, and more importantly, you'd probably see variations on his name (if his real name is something else like Daniel Akroyd, or if I knew his middle name you'd see that). You'd see those terms because hopefully, that'll help my search engine index that article higher than an article that quotes Dan Akroyd twice talking about SNL (when the subject of second article is SNL)... hopefully... just my thoughts. bottom line: yes, I think its perfectly acceptable to use Scott Johnson's name (or anyone else's for that matter) in your meta keywords tags, as long as 1) you're own internal search engine uses those tags to index articles for relevancy, and 2) the article is about Scott, or Scott's quote plays a vital role in the article, and thus that article should show up higher in a search for "Scott Johnson" in your search results. As you publish more and more stuff, these tags may in fact become ever so more important to your users that are searching for something they remember reading, or for something new to read on a certain subject.

June 19, 2003 10:07 PM

damn... that could have been an entire weblog entry on my own site couldn't it have been? heh... next time it'll be much shorter.

This discussion has been closed.

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