Meta Tags & Meta Tag Optimization
Defining Meta Tags is much easier than explaining how they are used, and by which search engines. The reason is very few search engines clearly lay out what they do and do not look at, and how much emphasis they put on any one factor. So, we'll start with the easy part.
Meta Tags are lines of HTML code embedded into web pages that are used by search engines to store information about your web site. These "tags" contain keywords, descriptions, copyright information, web site titles and more. They are among the numerous things that the search engines look for, when trying to evaluate a web site.
Meta Tags are not "required" when you're creating web pages. Unfortunately, many of the web site operators who didn't use them are left wondering why the saying "If I build it they will come" didn't apply to their site. That's why Meta Tag Optimization is part of any web site optimization service.
There's also a few naysayers in the search engine optimization industry who claim that Meta Tags are useless. You can believe them if you like, but you would be wise not to. While not technically "required", Meta Tags are essential.
If you simply create a web site and register the URL with the search engines, the will visit your web site, and attempt to index it. Each search engine operates slightly differently, and each one weighs different elements of a web site according to their own proprietary algorithms. For example, Inktomi, which powers Overture Search, used to state on their web site that;
"Instead of trying to determine which specific keywords are relevant to a Web page, Surelist, (Inktomi's Pay for Inclusion program), indexes both the full text of the Web page you submit as well as the meta-tags within the site's HTML. (...) If the keyword is near the top of the page, in a headline or title, in the meta-tags in the site's HTML and/or appears frequently on the page, your site will appear sorted higher in the search results."
Other search engines like Exactseek are true meta tag search engines which clearly state their policy:
"Your site will not be added if it does not have Title and Meta Description tags". They also use the keywords tag.
Of course, not all search engines work this way. Some, place their emphasis on content. The search engines have over 100 individual factors they look at when reviewing a web site. Some of these factors deal with page structure. They check to see that all the 't's are crossed, and the 'i's dotted. They take note of which sites that have omitted basic steps, like missing any of the individual Meta Tags.
One reason why so many engines de-emphasized the meta keywords tag had to do with spam. There was a time when 'search engine promotion specialists' would cram keywords tags full of irrelevant information. The web site would be selling garbage cans, but the keywords tags were chock full of irrelevant terms like "mp3" or "Britney Spears" in their tags. They believed that if enough people visited their site, some would buy.
Today, some search engines don't specifically use the keywords tag as part of the scoring of a site, but they monitor them to ensure they match the content in the site. The reasoning being that if the tags are irrelevant, what is their purpose? Is it a spam site? When keywords tags are completely irrelevant to the content, some search engines which don't specifically use keywords tags will penalize the web site with the search results.
Even the search engines that have downplayed the importance of the keyword Meta Tag, there are situations where this Meta Tag gains considerable importance: in sites with rich graphics, but poor textual content. Unfortunately, a picture is worth 1000 words to you and me, but zero to a search engine. If a site has poor textual content, the engines will be more dependent than ever on the Meta Tags to properly categorize it.
Even if you ensure you have completely relevant Meta Tags, some search engines will still ignore them. But better they ignore them, than they ignore your whole site because they suspect something is less than above board. Never hope that having just having good Meta Tags will make the difference in all the search engines; nothing is a substitute for good content. But in cases where the engine depends on that content, it may be the only thing that does work for your site.
How to use a Meta Tag
Meta tags should always be placed in the <head> area of an HTML document. This starts just after the <html> tag, and ends immediately before the <body> tag. Here's how the most basic set should look;
<title>Meta Tag Optimization Service</title>
<meta name="description" content="Meta tags what they are, and which search engines use them." />
<meta name="keywords" content="meta tag usage, search optimization, seo, meta description" />
<meta name="robots" content="index,follow" />
Page Content Here
Always make sure that each tag does not include any line breaks, otherwise the search engines will ignore them - they will just see bad code and ignore it. Note that there should be no capitals used in the code, (html5 standard). Also, repetition of terms within the keywords tag should be avoided.
What Goes Into a Meta Tag?
Many search engines will display this summary along with the title of your page in their search results. Keep this reasonably short, concise and to the point, but make sure that it's an appropriate reflection of the contents.
Keywords represent the key points that someone might enter into a search engine. Choose only relevant keywords. If the terms are going to appear in your keywords tag, they must appear in the content of your site, or be a synonym to a term on your site. Most search engines compare your meta content with what is actually on your page, if it doesn't match, your web site can get penalized, and suffer in search results.
Many web pages have this tag wrong. An example of the wrong usage is content="index, follow, all" - Most engines by default assume that you want a web page to be indexed and links followed, so using the wrong syntax can actually result in the spider coming to the wrong conclusion and penalizing, or worse, ignoring the page outright. If by chance you do not want your links followed, or the page not indexed, then you would substitute "noindex" and or "nofollow" into the tag.
The Real Value of Meta Tags
With the Internet growing at a rate of over 8,000,000 new pages per day, and the search engines adding a fraction of that number, Meta Tags are a common standard which can reasonably ensure a measure of proper categorization for a web site. So, when considering how you are marketing your business with your web site, and your search engine optimization strategies, always ensure that you cover all the bases, and use completely relevant terms in properly structured Meta Tags. Using tags properly will pay dividends in the short and long term. After all, using them properly only helps the search engines, which means they will send you more qualified traffic - customers.
SEO PrimerFundamental Facts
- Click Popularity
- Deep Web
- Google Dance
- Internet Growth
- Meta Tag Optimization
- Pay-for-Inclusion versus Pay-per-Click
- Search Engine Placement
- What are Meta Tags?
- Website Optimization
- Position Monitoring
- Search Engine Positioning
- Search Engine Robots
- Search Engine Strategies
- Website Creation Strategies
- What Search Engines Look For