Meta Tags

Making sure people find your website in Google, Yahoo and MSN-search

Katinka Hesselink 2006

The above title is slightly overdone. Metatags will not garantee that your site is found in any search engine. MSN does value them highly though and even Yahoo and Google pay some attention. So here are the three meta-tags you need to pay careful attention to:

Title tag

Every page on a website should have a title tag. The title tag should be descriptive of the content of the page and contain a few of the relevant key-words you want users to find the page for. Like all the other two tags the content of this tag should reflect the individual content of that particular page. There are very few exceptions to this. Don't give every page on your site the title ' company name '. Instead make it ' specific product company name '. Your HTML editor should make it very easy to add a title to your pages, but if it doesn't here is the code. It should go in the header of your page.

<title> title of your page </title>

Don't make the title too long. It should usually have the format of a short sentence. The title tag, like the description tag, is read by people when they search through a search engine ( any search engine ). This means they should see it and think: hey, that's what I'm looking for! So keep it brief, but descriptive. 

Description Tag

The description tag, will be used by search engines when they feel the following conditions have been met:

Search engines will usually get the description to your page from various sources. When your site is listed in the ODP (Dmoz), they will often use that text. Or they may pick a fragment of text from the page itself, especially if that snippet contains relevant keywords: the ones the user typed. They may also use the content of your description tag. Since this is the only text you directly controll, you want to write it well. Make it clear why users should look at your page and what type of information they should expect to find. Elaborate on the title-tag, but use slightly different words. Don't make it longer than one elaborate sentence or two short sentences. Again: this is text searchers will read, so make sure it speaks to people, not machines.

<meta name="description" content="description of your article, product or page">

Keywords Tag

The keywords tag has a checkered past. People found out that they could tell search engines a page was about s*x (even if it wasn't) and search engines would turn up that page when people searched for s*x. This lead to all kinds of abuse and most search-engines are a bit more careful these days. They try to check whether the content of the key-word tag is spam or not. Does it actually fit the content of the page it describes? In order to avoid your key-word-tag to look like spam, take the following into consideration:

<meta name="keywords" content="keywords, SEO, MSN-search, Live-search, ... etc.">

Since keywords are NOT read by people, they are also the place to put alternative spellings of key terms and stuff like that. 

It is said that MSN-search still pays a lot of attention to key-words, but google and yahoo mostly ignore them. 

Meta tags

So the main conclusion is: use a title tag, use a description tag and if you are going to use the keyword tag, make sure you don't overdo it. Also, in all three cases, take the time to personalize the content of these tags to the specific page they are meant for. In the case of a title-tag though: even having merely the company name in a title-tag is better then no title-tag at all. All your pages need a title, it's that simple.