Do keywords matter in search?

Yes. And no.

If by “search” you really mean the, mostly no.

Want to know a secret? There’s no one single thing you can do to shoot to the top of public search results. Google’s algorithm to determine what goes into their search results where has approximately 200 factors in it. And they update that algorithm in the neighborhood of 500 times a year.

Meta Keywords & Google Search Products
In the old days of the Web (yes, I still remember those), meta keywords were the main way of controlling if and how your page was indexed by search engines. And very quickly, as people learned to abuse meta keywords, they became obsolete. Google hasn’t used them in their search algorithm for years, and the odds are slim that they will change that policy.

And this is true for the public Google search we all know and love. Google does have custom search products, and meta keywords ARE used by some of those products. We currently use a custom Google search tool for our internal search, so it is possible that meta keywords may influence our internal university website search.

Therefore, I tell people that adding meta keywords certainly can’t hurt. It might help in some ways, but it may not.

What about the Meta Description?
Well, now, the meta description is a whole separate matter. Google does sometimes use the meta description as the text describing a site in their search results list.

Use content keywords instead
Meta keywords (found on the SEO tab in our current CMS) may not be used by public Google, but that doesn’t mean search doesn’t care about keywords. It does. It cares about content keywords. These are words and phrases you use in your page content, headers, titles, and meta description. And Google and other search engines DO care about these indicators of the content topics on your page.