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Meta Tags Article by DonEc

Web masters and Search Engine Optimization SEO authorities are always discussing meta tags and whether they should be used or not. With this article I want my readers to gain a better understanding of what meta tags are where they come from and whether to use them or not. I consider them an important tool in having a successful presence on the web. Creating meta tags can also help you build your webpage content and make it interesting while helping your webpage be found and placed high in the search engine ranking.

What are meta tags?

They are parts of HTML code called Tags that is placed in the Head section of a webpage to describe specific information about the information the webpage contains. The tags are read by browsers for page display and by the search engine spiders, crawlers and bots for submission to the search engines to allow the search engines to categorize the pages it found and make the information available to searchers.

How can I see what meta tags a webpage is using?

To view the meta tags that are being used on a webpage requires viewing the HTML source code of the page. This can be done by clicking on View in the menu at the top of your browser while your browser is focused on the page you wish to examine and selecting Source, View Source or Page Source. This will open a window, tab or a sidebar depending on how you have setup your browser that contains the HTML code used to display the webpage. At the top of the code is where the Header section is located that contains the meta tags. Example of a meta tag is

<meta http-equiv="content-language" content="en" />

this happens to be a Language meta tag telling the browser that English is the language used for this page.

Are meta tags used?

Yes, most certainly they are being used. At the time of this writing, which of the meta tags to use, is in contention due to changes in search engines and improper use of meta tags especially the Keyword meta tag. However, there is no doubt that some of the meta tags are still being used and can effect your placement in the search engine ranking. The more important and useful question is which meta tags should be used? At this time there are (in my opinion) only a few meta tags left that I recommend using.

If so which meta tags are used?

Title tag: I consider the Title tag a meta tag even though it does not have the name meta given to it. I also consider it to be the most important meta tag. According to Scrub The Web's META Tag Analyzer, which I have found to be quite accurate, it should contain no more than 60 characters including spaces. It should contain information that tells something about the subject of the page while including the most important keyword or phrase. Formed in such a way as to read like a headline in the news. You can see the title every time you visit a webpage it is the text that is displayed in the top left corner of your browser next to the name of your browser.

Description meta tag
: Should be used and contain no more than 150 characters including spaces. The information it contains should be short and concise but describe what the webpage is about. Like a summery containing some of the important keywords, but not as a list of words. Because it may still be used by some search engines as the page description.

Keyword Meta tag
: Is the main meta tag which is currently in contention as to whether to use it or not. I believe even Google uses it but not for the purpose it is intended. I believe that Google uses it to help determine if a site is spamming or word stuffing. However if you do use it be sure you don't keyword spam or keyword stuff. The Keyword tag should contain no more than 874 characters including spaces. The first words or phrases listed should be the most important. Phrases can have spaces but should be separated with commas, while all single words should be separated with commas. I recommend that you do create a keyword list even if you don't use keyword meta tag of your pages header section.

Language meta tag
: Is not used by the search engines but is used by browsers and should be used to inform the browser which language the page is in.

Type meta tag
: Is the character set tag that tells the browser which type of characters to use when displaying the page such as either Unicode (UTF-8) or Western (ISO-8857-1). Again this tag is not used by the search engines but is used by browsers.

Why use meta tags?

Meta tags give search engines and browsers information that they need to do their job. But the most important reason is to use meta tags is to help yourself organize your webpage into something people will want to read. By using a keywords list (which you have organized according to their importance in creating your meta tags) you know which words to use for creating headers and bullets to grab and keep your visitors attention. By using proper titles, descriptions and your keyword list you provide yourself with a clear picture of what the page is about and what others will get from the page. This allows you to evaluate your page and see if you need to make any alterations in order to get across to your visitors the ideas you want them to get and to see if the page has the attention grabbing effect you want. Another reason to have some control over how the search engines report your page.

What are some of the problems with meta tags?

There are many people out there that always want to get around the system and they tend to use meta tags as a means to do this, most commonly by spamming or word stuffing. For instance they fill the title tag and with words that don't reflect the content of the page but are commonly used by people doing searches. Of course sooner or later the search engines catch them and penalize the page or site. They do this by giving the webpage less value in searches or a search engine may remove the webpage from being displayed at all in searches for a period of time. Meta tags are limited to just words and phrases. There are also some sites that are not well represented by just words and phrases so using meta tags is of no use to them. Some search engine spiders, crawlers and bots don't use meta tags any more but instead the read the entire page. Of course some of the search engines only use the first part of the sites text like maybe the first 250 words.

The future of meta tags is still far from clear and the current situation could easily change. I for one hope it doesn't change too much, because if we do away with meta tags, without providing something else, then we would loose a valuable tool for building good attention grabbing webpages. Also there will be little we can do to control how our websites are handled by search engines.

About the author:

DonEc is the webmaster and owner of Best Web Stop a site dedicated to helping others obtain a presence online at no cost. He has been working with computers since 1974 and been creating websites with WYSIWYG non-HTML web programs since 1992. He is retired and provides No Cost WebSite instruction via Best Web Stop as a service to people that want to have a totally free, no cost presence on the web or just want to avoid learning HTML. His hobbies include computers, woodworking, silver smithing, lapidary, and digital art.

Copy and/or reproduction of this article is allowed as long as it is not altered in any way and the section "About the Author" is kept with the article including these instructions. Article Copyright © 2005 by DonEc
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