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THE CURRENT VERSION IS SEY 2003


Meta Tags: 2003 Overview

NOTE: For an updated discussion on Meta Tags, please refer to the current version of the Search Engine Yearbook.

What Meta Tags Are

Meta tags were designed to provide additional info about a page. Amongst other things, they tell the search engine what your page is about, helping it to index your page more accurately. Or at least – that was the original idea…

Updated Thinking On Meta Tags

The whole thing got perverted when dishonest webmasters started using meta tags to gain an unfair advantage. Gradually search engines started assigning less importance to them. It’s now reached the point where many search engine experts are saying we should leave them out completely. All major search engines now ignore them.

Well, that’s not quite true…

At the time of writing (Dec. 2002), Inktomi still takes them into account. And if you’re promoting your site on smaller or country-specific search engines meta tags still give you a noticeable edge. Some even tell you to use meta tags right on their submission pages. Meta tags are also good for site searching.

Apart from that, I agree. They’re a waste of time.

How To Do Meta Tags Right

Meta tags go in the <HEAD> </HEAD> segment of your HTML document. Just like the title tag, scripts and other information that go in the head section, meta tags are not displayed on the page itself. The two meta tags that we're interested in are the "Description" and "Keywords" tags.

Here's the syntax:

<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Enter your site description here -
about 150 characters. Remember this has to contain keywords but also get a
human to click.">

<META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="ENTER YOUR KEYWORDS HERE">

Some search engines use the content of the description tag as the site description in their search results lists. They also look in the description for keyword matches. The keywords tag tells the search engine what keywords are important for that page. The original idea with the keywords tag was to provide a list of alternative keywords - synonyms - to the keywords used in the body of the page. So much for that.

Meta Tag Don’ts

Your page will be penalized if a search engine feels that you're using your meta tags to gain an unfair advantage.

1. Don't load your description with only keywords. A keyword-loaded description is grounds for exclusion from a search engine's database. Even if you get away with it, some engines use that description in its search results under your site's title. The true function of the description is to invite a click. It has to grab the attention of a human reader and convince her to click through to your site. Make your site description keyword-rich, but focus on the human reader.

2. Don't repeat keywords. You can safely repeat a word 3 times. Some people say it's 5 times. Maybe they're right. I'll stick to 3.

The Meta Tags Bottom Line

Meta tags matter, but not a whole lot. Use them honestly. Put a descriptive description in your description tag and relevant keywords in your keywords tag. There's just no point in making "sex" one of your keywords if you're selling software - unless you've got a strip poker game to sell. Make sure you target people who have the potential of turning into customers.

Anyone else just wastes your bandwidth.


Meta Tag Tools

Deadlock Design's Tagmaster (Recommended)
You get 10 free uses. To continue using it after that, you're required to pay 20 bucks. It's worth it, because this tool does a lot of the work for you - fast - and it does a lot more than just your keyword and description tags. It can even suggest keywords from a built-in list of 100 000 keywords!
http://deadlock.com/promote/software/tagmaster/

ABS Meta Tag Analyzer
A great meta tag tool. Here is a list of things it does:
1. General HTML Analysis
2. HTML Title Tag Analysis
3. META Tag Analysis
http://www.scrubtheweb.com/abs/meta-check.html

Promotion World's Meta Tag Generator
You still have to come up with the description & keywords, but at least this tool will make sure that you get the syntax right.
http://www.promotionworld.com/tools/meta.html

Meta Medic
Description from the site:
"How many times have you submitted a site to the search engines, only to learn, weeks later, that you messed up with a tag somewhere? Search Engine friendly web design isn't rocket science, but you do need to pay attention to detail. And now that just became easier."
http://www.northernwebs.com/set/setsimjr.html

Further reading on Meta Tags

How To Use HTML Meta Tags
By Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan provides a somewhat outdated but very detailed explanation of how they work and how to use them.
http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/meta.html

Meta tags - what, where, when, why?
Useful introduction to meta tags. It covers a couple of points not often mentioned in similar tutorials.
http://www.philb.com/metatag.htm

10 Questions About Meta Data
By Amy Cohen
A very comprehensive discussion of meta tags.
http://builder.cnet.com/webbuilding/pages/Authoring/Metadata/

A Dictionary of HTML META Tags (Recommended)
Probably the ugliest site on the Net, but the information is very valuable.
http://vancouver-webpages.com/META/

Meta Tag Lawsuits
By Danny Sullivan
Is it illegal to use trademarked terms in your meta tags? Not necessarily. Can you get sued? Yes, and people have.
http://searchenginewatch.com/resources/metasuits.html


Meta Tags: 2002 Overview

NOTE: For an updated discussion on Meta Tags, please refer to the current version of the Search Engine Yearbook.

What meta tags are

Meta tags are tags especially for the search engines. Meta tags tell the engine what your page is about, helping it to index your page more accurately - if the engine looks at your meta tags that is. Some engines ignore them completely. More about that a bit later.

Meta tags go in the <HEAD> </HEAD> segment of your HTML document. Just like the title tag, scripts and other information in the head section, they are not displayed on the site itself.

The two meta tags that we're interested in are the "Description" and "Keywords" tags.

Here's the syntax:

<META NAME="Description" CONTENT="Enter your site description here - about 150 characters max.">
<META NAME="Keywords" CONTENT="ENTER YOUR KEYWORDS HERE">

Some search engines use the content of the description meta tag as the site description in their search results lists. They also look in the description for keyword matches. The keywords tag tells the search engine what keywords are important for that page. The original idea with the keywords tag was to provide a list of alternative keywords - synonyms - to the keywords used in the body of the page. So much for that.

Do meta tags matter?

In the wild wild web days, meta tags were terribly important. They were *** the big secret ***.

Webmasters who knew about them and used them pulled substantially more traffic. Then we got clever and started using them to cheat - so the engines got smarter and gradually assigned less and less importance to them.

Today, some webmasters leave them out completely.

The way I see it is that, if meta tags don't hurt your ranking (which they don't), then there's no reason not to use them.

Nothing to loose (as long as you don't cheat).

Your page will be penalized if a search engine feels that you're using your meta tags to gain an unfair advantage.

Here are two meta tag "tricks" that don't work:

1. Don't load your description with only keywords.

A keyword-loaded description is grounds for exclusion from a search engine's database. Even if you get away with it, some engines use that description in its search results under your site's title. The true function of the description is to invite a click. It has to grab the attention of a human reader and convince her to click through to your site. Make your site description keyword-rich, but focus on the human reader.

2. Don't repeat keywords

You can safely repeat a word 3 times. Some people say it's 5 times. Maybe they're right. I stick to 3 to be safe.

Using keywords effectively

Don't use just one or two keywords and don't use a gazillion either.

We're not absolutely sure, but our own experiments suggest that some search engines penalize pages that use only one or two words in the keyword meta tag, probably in an attempt to sniff out gateway pages.

Besides, if you're only using one or two keywords, you're probably missing out on traffic by focusing too narrowly. Listing hundreds of keywords dilutes the keyword density, so you won't score well for any of them. Aim for about twenty keywords.

The bottom line

Meta tags matter, but not a whole lot. Use them honestly. Put a descriptive description in your description tag and relevant keywords in your keywords tag.

There's just no point in making "sex" one of your keywords if you're selling software - unless you've got a strip poker game to sell. Make sure you target people who have the potential of turning into customers. Anyone else just wastes your bandwidth

Search Engine Book: Search Engine Year BookThis page is based on information contained in the Search Engine Yearbook 2003. For more detailed search engine information & help, please refer to the current version of the book.

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