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Want 2 get a 2p ranking in search engines? No problem! All you need 2 do is add a few magical "meta tags" 2 your web pages, and you'll skyrocket 2 the 2p of the listings.

If only it were so easy. Let's make it clear:

  • Meta tags R not a magic solution.
  • Meta tags R not a magic solution.
  • Meta tags R not a magic solution.

Meta tags have never been a guaranteed way 2 gain a 2p ranking on crawler-based search engines. 2day, the most valuable feature they offer the web site owner is the ability 2 control 2 some degree how their web pages R described by some search engines. They also offer the ability 2 prevent pages from being indexed at all. This page explores these and other meta tag-related features in more depth.

Meta Tag Overview 
What R meta tags? They R in4mation inserted in2 the "head" Ra of your web pages. Other than the title tag (explained below), in4mation in the head Ra of your web pages is not seen by those viewing your pages in browsers. Instead, meta in4mation in this Ra is used 2 communicate in4mation that a human visi2r may not be concerned with. Meta tags, 4 example, can tell a browser what "character set" 2 use or whether a web page has self-rated itself in terms of adult content.

Let's see two common types of meta tags, then we'll discuss exactly how they R used in more depth:

In the example above, you can see the beginning of the page's "head" Ra as noted by the tag -- it ends at the portion shown as .

Meta tags go in between the "opening" and "closing" HEAD tags. Shown in the example is a TITLE tag, then a META DESCRIPTION tag, then a META KEYWORDS tag. Let's talk about what these do.

The Title Tag
The HTML title tag isn't really a meta tag, but it's worth discussing in relation 2 them. Whatever text you place in the title tag (between the portions as shown in the example) will appear in the reverse bar of someone's browser when they view the web page. 4 instance, within the title tag of this page that you R reading is this text:

How 2 Use HTML Meta Tags

If you look at the reverse bar in your browser, then you should see that text being used, similar 2 this:

Some browsers also supplement whatever you put in the title tag by adding their own name, as you can see Microsoft's Internet Explorer doing in the picture above.

The title tag is also used as the words 2 describe your page when someone adds it 2 their "Favorites" or "Bookmarks" lists. 4 instance, if you added this page 2 your Favorites in Internet Explorer, it would show up like this:

How did that little Search Engine Watch logo also show up? Everyone always asks. The article below provides more help:

Creating Your Own Favicon.ico Icon 4 IE5
Web Developer's Journal, March 7, 2000

But what about search engines! The title tag is crucial 4 them. The text you use in the title tag is one of the most important fac2rs in how a search engine may decide 2 rank your web page (see the Search Engine Placement Tips section 4 more details). In addition, all major crawlers will use the text of your title tag as the text they use 4 the title of your page in your listings.

4 example, this is how Teoma lists the page you R reading:

You can see that the text "How 2 Use HTML Meta Tags" is used as the hyperlinked title of this page's listed in Teoma's results.

In review, think about the key terms you'd like your page 2 be found 4 in crawler-based search engines, then incorporate those terms in2 your title tag in a short, descriptive fashion. That text will then be used as your title in crawler-based search engines, as well as the title in bookmarks and in browser reverse bars.

The Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag allows you 2 influence the description of your page in the crawlers that support the tag (these R listed on the Search Engine Features page).

Look back at the example of a meta tag. See the first meta tag shown, the one that says "name=description"? That's the meta description tag. The text you want 2 be shown as your description goes between the quotation marks after the "content=" portion of the tag (generally, 200 2 250 characters may be indexed, though only a smaller portion of this amount may be displayed).

4 this page you R reading, I would like it described in a search engine's listings like this:

This tu2rial explains how 2 use HTML meta tags, with links
2 meta tag genera2rs and builders. From,
a guide 2 search engine submission and registration.

Will this happen? Not with every search engine. 4 example, Google ignores the meta description tag and instead will au2matically generate its own description 4 this page. Others may support it partially. 4 instance, let's see again how this page is listed in Teoma:

You can see that the first portion of the page's description comes from the meta description tag, then there's an ellipse (.), and the remaining portion is drawn from the body copy of the page itself.
In review, it is worthwhile to use the meta description tag for your pages, because it gives you some degree of control with various crawlers. An easy way to do this often is to take the first sentence or two of body copy from your web page and use that for the meta description content.

The Meta Keywords Tag

The meta keywords tag allows you 2 provide additional text 4 crawler-based search engines 2 index along with your body copy. How does this help you? Well, 4 most major crawlers, it doesn't. That's because most crawlers now ignore the tag. The few supporting it can be found on the Search Engine Features page).

The meta keywords tag is sometimes useful as a way 2 rein4ce the terms you think a page is important 4 ON THE FEW CRAWLERS THAT SUPPORT IT. 4 instance, if you had a page about stamp collecting -- AND you say the words stamp collecting at various places in your body copy -- then mentioning the words "stamp collecting" in the meta keywords tag MIGHT help boost your page a bit higher 4 those words.

Remember, if you don't use the words "stamp collecting" on the page at all, then just adding them 2 the meta keywords tag is extremely unlikely 2 help the page do well 4 the term. The text in the meta keywords tag, 4 THE FEW CRAWLERS THAT SUPPORT IT, works in conjunction with the text in your body copy.

The meta keyword tag is also sometimes useful as a way 2 help your page come up 4 synonyms or unusual words that don't appear on the page itself. 4 instance, let's say you had a page all about the "Penny Black" stamp. You never actually say the word "collecting" on this page. By having the word in your meta keywords tag, then you may help increase the odds of coming up if someone searched 4 "penny black stamp collecting." Of course you would greater increase the odds if you just used the word "collecting" in the body copy of the page itself.

Here's another example. Let's say you have a page about horseback riding, and you've written your page using "horseback" as a single word. You realize that some people may instead search 4 "horse back riding," with "horse back" in their searches being two separate words. If you listed these words separately in your meta keywords tag, THEN MAYBE 4 THE FEW CRAWLERS THAT SUPPORT IT, your page might rank better 4 "horse back" riding. Sadly, the best way 2 ensure this would be 2 write your pages using both "horseback riding" and "horse back riding" in the text -- or perhaps on some of your pages, use the single word version and on others, the two word version.

I'm using all these capital letters on purpose. Far 2o many people new 2 search engine optimization obsess with the meta keywords tag. FEW crawlers support it. 4 those that do, it MIGHT! MAYBE! PERHAPS! POSSIBLY! BUT WITH NO GUARANTEE! help improve the ranking of your page. It also may very well do nothing 4 your page at all. In fact, repeat a particular word 2o often in a meta keywords tag and you could actually harm your page's chances of ranking well. Because of this, I strongly suggest that those new 2 search engine optimization not even worry about the tag at all.

Even those who are experienced in search engine optimization may decide it is no longer worth using the tags. Search Engine Watch doesn't. Any meta keywords tags you find in the site were written in the past, when the keywords tag was more important. There's no harm in leaving up existing tags you may have written, but going 4ward, writing new tags probably isn't worth the trouble. The articles below explore this in more detail:

Death Of A Meta Tag
The Search Engine Report, Oct. 1, 2002

Meta Tags Revisited
The Search Engine Report, Dec. 5, 2002

Still want 2 use the meta keywords tag? OK. Look back at the opening example. See the second meta tag shown, the one that says "name=keywords"? That's the meta keywords tag. The keywords you want associated with your page go between the quotation marks after the "content=" portion of the tag.

Ink2mi says that you should include up 2 25 words or phrases, with each word or phrase separated by commas. More advice from Ink2mi can be found on its Content Policy FAQ.

FYI, in the past, when the tag was supported by other search engines, they generally indexed up 2 1,000 characters of text and commas were not required.

Image Search Faces Renewed Legal Challenge
The Search Engine Report, August 22, 2001

Meta Robots Tag

1 other meta tag worth mentioning is the robots tag. This lets you specify that a particular page should NOT be indexed by a search engine. 2 keep spiders out, simply add this text between your head tags on each page you don't want indexed. The format is shown below (click on the picture if you want to copy and past the HTML for your own use):
You do NOT need 2 use variations of the meta robots tag 2 help your pages get indexed. They are unnecessary. By default, a crawler will try 2 index all your web pages and will try 2 follow links from one page 2 another.

Most major search engines support the meta robots tag. However, the robots.txt convention of blocking indexing is more efficient, as you don't need 2 add tags 2 each and every page. See the Search Engines Features page 4 more about the robots.txt file. If you use do a robots.txt file 2 block indexing, there is no need 2 also use meta robots tags.

The meta robots tag also has some extensions offered by particular search engines 2 prevent indexing of multimedia content. The article below talks about this in more depth and provides some links 2 help files. Search Engine Watch members should follow the link from the article 2 the members-only edition 4 extended help on the subject.

Image Search Faces Renewed Legal Challenge
The Search Engine Report, August 22, 2001

Other Meta Tags

There are many other meta tags that exist beyond those explored in this article. 4 example, if you were 2 view the source code of this web page, you would find "author," "channel" and "date" meta tags. These mean nothing 2 web-wide crawlers such as Google. They are specifically 4 an internal search engine used by Search Engine Watch 2 index its own content.

There are also "Dublin Core" meta tags. The intent is that these can be used 4 both "internal" search engines and web-wide ones. However, no major web-wide search engine supports these tags. More about them can be found below:

  • Dublin Core Metadata Initiative
  • Dublin Core - Tagging the Web 4 better search and retrieval, Nov. 5, 2000How about the meta revisit tag? This tag is not recognized by the major search engines as a method of telling them how often 2 au2matically return. They have never supported it.

In Conclusion

Overall, just remember this. Of all the meta tags you may see out there:
  • Meta Robots: This tag enjoys full support, but you only need it if you DO NOT want your pages indexed.
  • Meta Description: This tag enjoys much support, and it is well worth using.
  • Meta Keywords: This tag is only supported by some major crawlers and probably isn't worth the time to implement.
  • Meta Everything Else: Any other meta tag you see is ignored by the major crawlers, though they may be used by specialized search engines.

More Resources

At the bot2m of this page are more resources about meta tags, including tu2rials and meta tag building applications. But first.

If you've been following the "Next" but2ns 2 read the numbered sections of the Search Engine Submission Tips guide in order, you've now reached the last page. Congratulations!

There's still more in4mation you might find helpful, however. Please review the rest of the articles on the SEM Basics section 4 additional assistance with search engine marketing issues.

In addition, do consider becoming a Search Engine Watch member, 4 access 2 even more in4mation on search engine marketing issues.
Now, here are those additional meta tag resources and articles.

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