Meta Tags Optimization
January 22, 2005
You still hear about meta tags, although their importance has decreased in recent years. What are they, should you bother with them, and if so, how do you create them?
Metatag Author Tutorial
Metatags are special tags added to the top of a web page (in the “head” section) in order to describe overall information about the page. There are many of them, with many different purposes — some describe how the page should be cached, when it expires, what language the page is in, who the author is, etc.
When discussing search engine optimization, the two meta tags that are usually spoken of are the “keywords” metatag, and the “description” metatag.
These tags were once important, as they were used by formerly popular search engines to determine the proper keywords for the page, and the description to display.
Today, they don’t matter much — search engines are more sophisticated, determining keywords from the page itself — on good days, with well written and structured pages. Descriptions are formed on the fly by taking the words around the keyword match, or other words that look relevant to the search engine.
In fact, some suggest that the thing most leading search engines are likely to do with the keywords metatag is to determine what keywords the author may have over-optimized the page for, in order to “penalize” the page in the results.
So should you bother messing with them?
Search engines change their ways all the time. Popular search engines can be replaced by newer and better ones. Since the keyword and description metatags have historically been part of the page, and people still use them, we might see them again become a factor (probably a small factor) in search results.
Additionally, some of the older, smaller engines still send the occasional dribble of traffic — if one of them is willing to use your description, then so much the better.
It only takes a minute of your time to add them, so why not?
Meta tags optimization
My process for authoring content pages goes something like this:
- Decide on my topic.
- Pick the keywords that I want to target relative to my topic.
- Write my content, bearing those keywords in mind.
- Use the keywords in structural elements of the page.
- Use the keywords in the body of the content.
- Write a description for the page and put it in the description metatag.
- Add my keywords to the keywords metatag.
- Double check that the keywords you are entering are actually in the body of the content, to avoid possible penalties.
- Never use a word more than three times.
Just how you do those last two steps will depend on how you’re authoring your content.
If you are using a weblog or other content management system (CMS), there is probably a place for you to enter your meta tag information when writing your page (this may be built-in, or a “plug-in” that handles this).
If you are using a web authoring program that has a “wysiwyg” view, there is probably a page property dialog that will allow you to enter the information.
If you’re writing HTML, then you write them like this:
<meta name=“keywords” content=“My brief description of my page. ” />
<meta name=“description” content=“keyword one, keyword two, keyword three” />
Note that the keywords are separated by a comma and a space, and both tags go between the <head> and </head> tags.
Site Wide Meta Tags
Some software allows you to enter tags to be used across the entire site. If your CMS or weblog software includes this feature, should you use it?
Remember that search engines don’t find web sites — they find web pages.
Focus your optimization efforts on specific pages of your site, and you will be better rewarded down the road.