SEO Basics – Meta Tags – Misused and Misunderstood SEO Elements
So, you stormed down to the internet office demanding an explanation as to why your brand new, beautiful website hasnt been googled and all you got from those useless techies down there was some incomprehensible jargon that was no help at all. And forget trying to explain things to Martha. You have about as much chance of that as a snowball in hell. All you can do is shrug when she finally asks in exasperation, "Well, where do we find this meta tank with all those keywords, anyway?"
Search engines use meta tags to gather information about your website. They are contained in the HEAD section of your HTML code. Generally speaking, once you decide upon a set of keywords that are relevant to your content, the next step is to integrate them into both your meta tags and the body of your website. Relating to keywords, the meta tags have three significant components: the meta title, the meta keywords and the meta description. When matching a phrase, search engines attempt to find it first within the meta tags of the sites indexed within their databases. Simply put, think of meta tags as a way to "flag" your web pages for the search engines.
Your web page title, strictly speaking, is not a meta tag. However, the title is the most important component of all. Make sure that your best keyword phrase is placed within the title. It's like putting your best foot forward. The meta keywords and the meta description are ranked next and both carry very little weight in terms of ranking. That being said, some search engines still give some value to them and it takes very little time to add your best keyword phrases there as well.
This was not always the case and once upon a time it was possible to rank well with search engines simply by making sure that your desired keywords were repeated over and over again in the meta tags of your web page. Those days are long gone however and this kind of keyword stuffing eventually backfired. Regarded as spamming and SEO manipulation techniques, it led to the deprecation of the keywords meta tag to the point where today it is all but ignored by the major search engines.
The meta description tag, as well, has been relegated to the dustbin as far as rankings go, but don't ignore it entirely — it still has another use. When your page finally does show up in the search results, very often the meta description is used to provide part of the descriptive text below the text that forms the link to your website. By reinforcing the meta description with your best keyword phrase, it may be possible to influence the decision of a searcher to actually click through to your listing rather than others on the same page. Search engines tend to highlight in some way (usually through bolding) the keyword or combination of keywords associated with the search string. Test this for yourself by typing any keyword search phrase into Google and examine the results. Look for highlighted text.
Meta Tags and Character Length
You can make these tags as long as you want (within reason) but the search engines will only give value to the first so many characters. Google likes you to limit the title tag to approximately 60 – 65 characters, while other engines recognize between 72 and 150 characters. Meta keywords and meta descriptions should generally be limited to between 150 and 250 characters. These limitations are based on search engine guidelines that clearly indicate that you need to tell them what your site is all about right from the beginning. Once again, it requires putting your best foot forward. Your first keywords are given more value than your last keywords in both your content and in your met tags. One other suggestion to keep in mind is to avoid keyword stuffing in your meta tags - try not to repeat a keyword more than three times per tag. And one last note regarding character count - spaces count!