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February 19, 2008

Meta Tags go Zombie

I’ve heard time and time again that Meta Tags are Dead� While this may ring true when it comes to gaining a good rank in the SERPs there are always two sides to every story. While it is accepted that this tag certainly isn�t going to aid your rankings, it could make a massive difference when it comes to searchers clicking through to your website.

<meta name=”description” content=”your descriptive description here” />

The description meta tag is possibly the most overlooked marketing tool available to all webmasters and online marketers.  Behind the title tag, which is displayed as your listing title in the search engine results page, the description is the first real taste of your website.  Does this snippet best describe your flavour?

While many search engines can and do pull snippets from a variety of sources to describe your website/webpage they often fail to present a compelling reason to visit that page.  These snippets often come from other directories that your website may be listed on, such as the Open Directory Project (DMOZ.org) or Yahoo!

In order to get the search engines to ignore the snippets from those directories, you will need to add the following line of code to your webpage, between the <head> and </head> tags:

<meta name=”robots” content=”noodp,noydir” />

The “noodp” command will stop the engine from returning the snippet from the Open Directory Project and the “noydir” command will stop the engine from returning the Yahoo! snippet.

Now the search engines should ignore these snippets and return the title and description as described on your webpage.  Many overlook the true value of this.  As many of our websites are real estate based, I’ll show you how this tag has been used to our benefit:

Previously:
<meta name=”description” content=”Exceptional Experienced Realtors with the Best Listings in the County” />

Updated:
<meta name=”description” content=”Townhouse For Sale in Suburb, City | USD 11 000 000 | as listed by Our Realtors” />

As you can see this will make a considerable difference to someone who is searching for “townhouse for sale in suburb” or even “house for sale in city.”  This will assure the searcher that this page is indeed what they are looking for.  In this case we’ve included the price but other information can be added such as the number of rooms or bathrooms.  But I think you get the idea here.

Things to remember when writing a description:

  1. Keep the tag short, the engines will cut it off if it’s too long;
  2. Make sure the description actually matches the page content;
  3. Make sure that each page has a unique description;
  4. Try to include your keywords in the snippet. (This will increase the likeliness of Google returning your description as the snippet.)

A useful tip to remember is that the description doesn’t have to be a perfectly formatted sentence.  As you can see from the example given I included the pipe break to break the description into different segments of information.  This is where the savvy online marketers can really go to town.  Include information relating to a special deal or any other compelling call to action.  Often you can instill trust and even conclude a sale purely based on the value of that snippet.  This is especially the case when the snippet is on a product page.  By simply scanning the snippet, the visitor knows exactly what is listed, the price as well as any shipping conditions which may arise.

There are times when using a description is not advised.  Such a case would be on large blogs, or any other page that contains long lists of unrelated topics.  In this case it would be better to ignore the description tag.  The reasoning behind this is that when returning the search results, the search engine will return a snippet from somewhere on the page that best relates to the search query.  The drawback for this kind of search result however is that while the description may meet the query it may be difficult for the visitor to locate this snippet on the actual page.  This may lead the visitor to conclude that the page is not relevant to their search.

Looking back on the subject topic, you may be surprised or even confused at my statement “Meta Tags Reach Zombie Mode.”  While the description tag (or any other meta tag for that matter) might be dead when it comes to search engine rankings it can still be of great value when converting those rankings into a visit or sale.  This may very well prove to be the next stage in the life cycle of meta tags – Zombie.

Author: Robert Cerff is a search engine analyst and marketing consultant for Prop Data Internet Solutions. He has ten years experience in e-commerce, online marketing and web development. http://www.propdata.co.za

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