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July 16, 2010

The Low Down On Meta Tags

Anyone who’s learnt the basics of SEO has come across the two little words – meta tags. Some argue that meta tags are important, whilst other dismiss their use altogether. Here’s what you need to know about meta tags, their importance and their use.

Back in the early days of search engine optimization (SEO), any given website’s ranking in the search engines relied heavily on on‐site optimization factors. These factors included, first and foremost, meta tags, as well as header tags, keyword density, and so forth.

As search engines have evolved, they have moved weighting away from on‐site factors and towards off‐site factors (as well as a host of other tiny factors). For this reason, meta tags no longer carry the weight that they used to, but certainly do still serve a very important function.

Meta tags are broken into three tag types – “title”, “keywords” and “description”. We’ll look at all three separately.

The title tag is what is displayed in the actual header of the internet browser (be it Internet Explorer, Firefox or Safari). This tag is considered the most important of the three and is best utilized to reflect the keywords that the page is attempting to rank for. This tag is also the tag that shows up as the heading in a search result, so make sure that it includes your keywords, and an attractive copy t o catch the searcher’s attention! Keep in mind that the search engines will only display a certain title length, so try keep your titles to seven words or less.

The keywords tag is pretty self‐explanatory. This is used to reflect the keywords that best describe the page itself. Its best practice to insert your keywords in this tag, in the order of highest importance to lowest importance ‐ separated by commas. There’s ongoing debate as to how many keywords you should or shouldn’t use in this tag, but the best bet is keep it less than six separate keywords or phrases. More importantly, make sure that the content of each page is reflective of the chosen keywords (i.e., try use the keywords in the page content as well).

The last of the meta tags is the description tag. This tag is what is reflected under your heading tag in the search engine results (although some search engines mix and match this with other information). You need to see this tag as your opportunity to lure visitors through to your website, so try to make it as compelling as possible, and sprinkle your keywords throughout the copy if at all possible. The ideal length for this tag is 15 – 25 words.

And that sums up the long and short of meta tags. As mentioned, although they don’t carry the weight that they used to, they’re still an essential tool in the webmaster’s tool kit. Make sure that you create customized meta tags for each page on your website, and don’t be afraid to get creative about how you write your copy for the description tag!

By Derek Jansen, author of The SEO Basics Course. – Sign up for your free seo course and learn the SEO basics today!