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Meta Tag Optimisation

11:37 on Fri, 16 Oct 2009 | SEO | 0 Comments

This month we will be looking at those funny tags with “meta” in them that you see so often at the top of most website code. You may hear conflicting information regarding these meta tags so I’m going to clear that up.

Meta tags are basically (X)HTML elements which describe what a certain webpage is about. There are several different meta tags, and each serves a different purpose.

Keyword Tag

The first we’re going to look at is the “keywords” meta tag. You will see most webpages using this, and it’s presented in this format:

<meta name="keywords" content="felt tip pens " />

In the above keywords meta tag, the term “felt tip pens” is targeted, meaning the website author is telling search engines that that’s what the particular page is about.

Keyword meta tags were used widely back in the 90s to help search engines ascertain what a page was about. Back then, the boffins working for the search engines wrongly assumed that internet users were honest and wouldn’t try to cheat the system for their own profit.

Unfortunately, people started realising that you didn’t need to be honest about reporting what your website was about. In fact, by stuffing the keyword meta tag full of unrelated keywords you could quickly rank for all sorts of search terms. It started to become a problem when people were typing in “holidays in Istanbul” and were being presented with a gambling site.

Gambling sites: making you a compulsive hair puller

An example of the keyword meta tag being in use is the Amazon.co.uk homepage.

<meta name="keywords" content="digital camera, LCD TV, books, DVD, low prices, video games, pc games, software, electronics, home, garden, video, amazon" />

In the above example, amazon.co.uk is targeting among other terms, “digital camera” and “amazon”.

Nowadays, support for the keyword meta tag is very minimal.  The major search engine Google has explicitly said that ignores the keyword meta tag when ranking sites in the SERPs.  While there have been conflicting reports about whether Yahoo still uses the keyword meta tag, recent tests and a statement from Yahoo have suggested that the search engine still takes the meta tag into account, although it receives the lowest ranking strength out of all the other factors (title, H1 tags etc).

Generally, it is still useful not to ignore the keyword meta tag so you can get that extra ranking factor for Yahoo.

Description Tag

Another well-used tag is the description tag. Search engines will use this tag to provide a small description of what a particular webpage is about in the SERPs. If you enter “amazon” into the search bar, you’ll be presented with the homepage of amazon.co.uk in 1st place.

amazon serps


The sub-text that follows after the website title is specified in the description meta tag for the amazon.co.uk homepage:

<meta name="description" content="Low prices on digital cameras, MP3, LCD TVs, books, music, DVDs, video games, software, home &amp; garden and much, much more. Free UK delivery on Amazon orders." />

While the description tag is not used by the major search engines as a ranking factor, it is still useful for getting your website noticed in the SERPs since the keyword being searched for becomes bolded in the description. Google will also bold other keyterms it thinks you may also be searching for.  

CDS serps


In this example, a search for the term “CDS” also yields “credit default swap”.

This is likely to catch the attention of the searcher and will get your website noticed easier. Another good way to get more clickthroughs to your site is to write a compelling description in your description tag.

Description meta tags are also useful for distinguishing between two very similar pages.  

twin girls
Duplicate description tags meant that hair dye was the only option

If you don’t include a description meta tag then Google will simply use a small snippet of text on the page related to the search result.

Other Meta Tags

These are the two most useful meta tags you will come across. Other meta tags which may be useful to you are:

Language – Although Google is generally quite good at identifying what language your website is using, it’s sometimes good to give it a helping hand.

Robots – This tag functions as an alternative to robots.txt, which tells search engine spiders how to treat webpages on your site. Using “noindex” will tell Google not to index the page while “nofollow” will add the “nofollow” attribute to all the links on the page. You’re better off using robots.txt first though and only use this if for some reason you can’t access the robots.txt on your server.  

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