How to Use Meta Tags In Search Engine Promotion

Improve your search engine listing and placement with META tags


How to Use Meta Tags In Search Engine Promotion

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com

If you view the HTML sources for the web pages on the thesitewizard.com, you would have noticed that they all contain META tags. META tags influence the way some search engines list and index web pages.

There are at least three META tags that you will want to use to make sure your page is search engine ready.

What are Meta tags good for?

For search engines that support them, META tags are used in at least three ways:

  1. They are used to describe your site in the search results. For example, if you do not have a META Description tag for your page, some search engines will simply grab the first few lines of your page to serve as the description of your site. This description is more important than you may think. If you were searching for "nosuchwordasthis", which of the following two items listed would you be more likely to click?

    • Nosuchwordasthis.com: Ridiculous and Impossible Words
      Home About Example.com Contact Us Links Download FAQ

    • Nosuchwordasthis.com: Ridiculous and Impossible Words
      Some of the incredible words that netizens have come up with this year, along with their supposed meanings.

    The first item above had a snippet from what appears to be its top menu in the lines below the website title. The second item has a description which tells the person searching exactly what the site is all about.

    If you do not put a description tag, what appears in the listing would be likely to be whatever first appears on your page, usually the alt text of some graphic or banner or perhaps your top menu.

  2. There are search engines which also look for a META Robots tag to determine how they index your site. For example, if Google does not encounter such a tag, it will assume that it can index and follow the links on the page. If you don't want this behaviour ("behavior" in US English) from Google, you can use a META tag to specify it.

  3. In the old days, they were used to determine which keywords your page will be listed under. So if you want your page to be listed in a search engine when the user searches for the term "nosuchwordasthis", the latter should be present in your META Keywords tag as well as in your document. However, the keyword tag is now obsolete.

There are other META tags, which search engines and web browsers recognize. However, the tags listed here are the main tags relevant to most search engines.

How to Use the META Description Tag

A META Description tag, for those of you who write your web pages using raw HTML code, looks like the following:

<meta name="description" content="put your page description here">

Give a brief description of your page in this tag. Bear in mind that this description (or part of it) will be displayed in the search engine results so try to make sure you phrase it in such a way that the person searching can tell at a glance that he's found the correct page for his search. Minimize irrelevancies and put the essentials near the beginning of the description so that if the search engine only accepts the initial (say) 150 characters, the essential parts of your description will still be displayed.

Not all search engines use this tag. For example, Google normally only displays the text surrounding the matching keyword that the searcher used.

How to Use the META Robots Tag

This tag is useful if you want to prevent search engines from indexing certain pages on your website or from crawling the links on those pages or from keeping those pages in their cache. Technically, you can also use it to specify that your page can be indexed, but since that is what the search engines do by default anyway, it is less useful for that purpose.

In general, you will add the following line to your web page if you want the search engine to index your page and follow the links on it.

<meta name="robots" content="index,follow">

In cases where you do not want it to index your page simply use "noindex" instead of "index". Likewise if you don't want the engine to crawl through the links on your page, use "nofollow" instead of "follow". For example, the following line in one of your pages will forbid search engines from indexing the page or crawling the links found there.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow">

Most, if not all, search engines today recognize this tag.

If you do not want the search engine to keep a cache of your page on their servers, you can affix a "noarchive" value to the "content" attribute, such as in the example below:

<meta name="robots" content="index,follow,noarchive">

Google, for example, will see the "noarchive" value and not keep a copy of your page in its cache.

Incidentally, if you are planning to prevent the search engines from indexing certain pages on your site, you should also use a robots.txt file. Please read How to Set Up a robots.txt to Control Search Engine Spiders for more information.

How to Use the META Keywords Tag

The Meta Keywords tag used to be an important way to get your page listed under specific keywords under the search engines. Nowadays, however, major search engines don't really bother with this tag. In fact, at one time, one search engine even used it as a way to detect search engine spammers. As discussed in greater detail in my article on why I don't use the keywords tag any more, the most popular search engine today, Google, ignores the tag completely. Modern search engines simply use the words occurring in your content as the keywords for the page. (Makes sense, right? Otherwise, you'll have to put your entire page in the keywords tag.)

If you still insist on using the keywords tag, just place it <head> portion of your web page along with your other meta tags. The tag looks something like this:

<meta name="keywords" content="put your keywords here" />

In place of the phrase "put your keywords here", you should of course give a list of your keywords. The keywords should be comma-delimited. That is, if you want to your page to be listed when the user searches for "medical help" and "free diagnosis", you should use the following tag:

<meta name="keywords" content="medical help, free diagnosis" />

In my opinion, it's a waste of time to insert it. If you are really concerned about improving your website's performance in the search engine results, there are many better things you should be doing that will actually be useful, instead of adding obsolete tags. See my articles on Google Search Engine Positioning and More Tips on Google Search Engine Results Placement for information.

Practical Guide to Inserting Meta Tags

For those using a visual web editor to manage your site, you may want to check out the following tutorials on how you can actually insert the Meta tags using the editor:

So how important is the Meta tag?

Although the benefits conferred by using the various meta tags on your page are not substantial, they are nonetheless useful in controlling how the search engines index and list your page. Since tags like the description and robots tag require very little effort to add to your page, it is probably a good idea to add at least these tags to your pages.

Copyright 2000-2008 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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