Expert Search Engine Optimization - Meta Tags
Meta Tag basics
Meta Tags are invisible to normal viewers and are used to give the Search engines additional information. Netfactual.com reports that (as of Feb. 2004) only 39% of websites are using meta tags at all and of those the most popular meta tag was the refresh tag, which most Spiders ignore. The simple step of putting correctly formatted meta tags on your pages is going to put you ahead of almost half of all the websites.
Let me say right here that it is commonly considered that Google does not read the meta description and meta keywords tags at all, and while this is normally the case, in some instances when there is little other textual content Google may use the meta description tag content for ranking, and in many more cases will use it as a part of the snippet they show in search results.
Meta tags are formulated in HTML similar to:
<meta name="keywords" content="your keywords go here">
and are not normally seen by viewers of your site, only the spiders, but some search engines use them in the formulation of the SERPs in which case they are seen by viewers.
While the most important of these tags were traditionally considered to be the "Description" Tag and the "Keywords" Tag, but the keywords tag is not used by Google but is used by Yahoo and MSN. The description tag is still important to most search engines (Google excepted), but page content is now considered much more important in the overall picture.
Why is the "Description" tag still important? When many search engines display search results they will use the "title" tag as the header for the listing and the contents of the "Description" tag underneath for a more complete description. While the search engines may not give much importance to the actual content of the "Description" tag when indexing your site, your would-be customers may rely on it to decide if they want to click through to your site.
These tags still must be used to improve your rankings, and to convince surfers to click on your site, so lets see how to best use them.
Keyword and Description Meta Tags
These tags have been subject to perhaps more misuse than any other. There is a lot of discussion as to exactly how to formulate these meta tags (whether or not to use commas, placement, and spacing, etc). Lets look at some ground rules which are generally considered safe:
- Any keywords used in your page titles should also be used in your meta description tag, your meta keywords tag and liberally throughout your body content.
- Use the same general procedures for creating meta descriptions tags as we discussed under page titles, remembering that you have more space to use, generally up to 200 characters. You don't have to use it all if it doesn't make sense.
- When making up your meta keywords tag, I suggest using only keyword and keyphrases which you use in your page titles, headers, and page content. Never be one of those whose rankings are affected by using more than a hundred keywords in one tag. You don't really expect to rank for that many terms on one page do you?
- Don't spam the search engines by repeating your keywords over and over, it will not help you an may hurt you. I recommend that you use a keyword or keyphrase only twice, in any tag.
- Never use keywords not directly relevant to your page and used in your page content..
- If yours is a geographic business don't forget your location as a keyword.
- Don't forget about common misspellings of words such as "restaurant", use them if possible.
- Key phrases are becoming more and more important. Try to arrange your keywords to form relevant phrases, and add phrases as required.
On the next page we will discuss how many keywords or phrases you should use.
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