Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Use Meta Tags

Meta tags are pieces of text placed in the top, header part of the page to describe what the page is about. While they are not as important as they once were for search engine rankings, well written tags can still help with SEO (search engine optimization) while providing visitors with valuable information about your site. Being quick and easy to make, they are well worth adding to your site.

Title Tag

The title tag is the most important meta tag not only for search engines, but for visitors to your site. It will usually be displayed to users on the SERP (search engine result page) as the blue link. It is also displayed the top of their browser window and in the description if users favorite your site. Therefore, it should be as crisp, clear, descriptive and enticing as possible to anyone reading it.

For search engine optimization, the following rules should be followed:

  • The title should contain around 15-65 characters or 5-8 words.

  • Use the keywords and phrases selected for the demographic you are targeting. This keywords should also be on the page.

  • The title should vary with each page's theme and target keywords.

  • Try not to repeat words in the title since this wastes description space and may be considered spam by some search engines.

  • Avoid words like "A", "The", "With" and only use punctuation where absolutely necessary.

  • Capitalize the first letter of each word.

Description Tag

While not as important as the title tag, the description tag certainly has enough relevance with many search engines to warrant the time and effort to be made properly and included on every page. The description tag may appear on the SERP depending on the search engine and factors such as DMOZ registration (Google will often use the DMOZ description on the SERP) and the ability of the search engine to generate a description from the page content. Therefore, it needs to be written in fashion that is clear, descriptive and enticing to readers.

The description tag should be kept under two sentences with the first sentence containing the most important keywords. While longer descriptions of up to 250 characters are ok, most search engines will cut off descriptions of over 150 characters so it is best to keep them under that length.

Some points about the meta description page to keep in mind:

  • Putting the most important keywords at the beginning or middle of the sentence can sometimes help with your rankings.

  • Avoid repeating keywords since this may be considered spamming.

  • Vary your description for each page according to the page content.

Keywords Tag

Due to keyword spamming, most search engines now ignore this tag. However, it is the easiest tag to make and still has some value with some search engines. It is most useful in targeting obscure terms and regions. For this tag, simply insert words and phrases separated by commas. As with the title and description tags, use targeted keywords that appear on the page. Do not repeat words or use to many words to avoid spamming penalties. Note that none of the meta tags are case sensitive with search engines so capitalization is a matter of appearance and makes no difference in this tag. Also, all meta tags should appear within the head section of each page. While they have declined in importance, meta tags, especially the title tag, are still certainly important enough to warrant being taken seriously and done correctly both for enticing site visitors as well as for SEO.