Do Metas Still Matter?


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Once the darlings of the search engine spider, the influence of Meta tags vanished completely. This article discusses why and whether they may be making a very weak “comeback. "

Meta tags, specifically the “keyword" and “description" tags, are designed to provide quick, thumbnail sketches of a web page's content in order to better classify it. At one time, the meta tags were a key factor in on-page optimization for almost all search engines. That “one time" was around the late 90's. It soon became apparent that a reliance on these tags could be exploited, and exploited it was. Today, after the “fall" of the meta tag, they are making a partial comeback as very low-weight on-page optimization factor.

The influence of the meta tag, especially the keywords, faded away once most major search engines either dropped them entirely from consideration in their algorithms or greatly reduced their weight. This happened in response to the vast amount of meta-spamming that took place once their power was initially discovered. Techniques we all recognize today as blatant keyword spamming were commonplace. Webmasters added completely irrelevant, but highly searched terms (particularly “adult" terms) to a site's meta tags, usually in concert with similar hidden text blocks. These techniques were done only to drive traffic to their sites, highly untargeted and generally unrelated traffic, but traffic nonetheless.

Search engines responded to the problem once they realized their results were no longer relevant. It seems Google completely ignored the meta keywords in response to the blatant spaming. The fall of the meta tags gave rise to a still strong trend today, that of on page text analysis for keywords. Instead of blindly looking at the meta tags to classify a page, search engines turned to the actual content of the page. Text in paragraphs and titles rose to importance, as well as other indicators like text in “alt" tags from images. These factors produced better results for the people using search engines. In theory, the meta tags were a simple, easy way for people to help search engines classify and rank their pages. In practice they were highly abused, as the commodity the search engines provided became very important, especially to the budding ecommerce community.

Today meta tags may be making a quiet comeback. Years have passed since the blatant, irrelevant spamming that caused them to be so thoroughly discredited. With penalties in place, search engines have a way to punish those who would use such techniques. Wise, conservative use of your meta keywords and description tags can only be beneficial. Today the meta description tag sometimes serves as the small page sample Google uses on its result pages.

Like anything concerning search engine optimization, especially Google search engine optimization, make sure your meta tags appear to be as “natural" and “people friendly" as possible. If your description is just a word-for-word rehash of your keywords, that will not look natural, and may be a red flag to a search engine spider. Write out an actual description that a person would be able to read and understand. Use your keywords in the description, but don't repeat them. A single sentence or phrase should suffice, 2 at the most. The description is not a place to put a summary paragraph. The more words your description has the more watered down it becomes to the search engine.

Advice on the meta keyword tag varies a lot, but concentrate on your core keywords/keyphrases, placing the most important ones first and moving through to the least important. Don't use 50 keywords, even if you believe your site does, in fact, address all 50 in perfect detail. Keep the list short, and focused. Twenty is a good maximum, and only if you feel you absolutely must target all 20 keywords. Remember, its difficult to very effectively optimize a single page for more than 2 or perhaps 3 keywords. If you have a large number of them, then consider spreading your optimization efforts out across internal pages for certain topics. You can make these into “landing pages" that are specifically optimized for your secondary keywords. Note I said “landing pages" and not “doorway pages". Doorway pages imply pages targeted to a specific search engine that generally employ spamming techniques. A landing page is a natural part of your existing site, say a section title page, that you perform general on-page optimization on for a subset of your keywords.

Meta keyword and descriptions do not have the power they once did, and they never will. Giving that much weight to such an easily abused page attribute was a mistake the search engines eventually corrected. Today, your keywords and deceptions can provide you some small benefit if they are well crafted and devoid of any spaming techniques. Construct a friendly, natural description and choose your core keywords wisely and your meta tags should help you out, if only a little bit.

About the Author:

Mr. Lester has served for 4 years as the webmaster for and previously worked in the IT industry an additional 5 years, acquiring knowledge of hosting, design, and search engine optimization. Apollo Hosting provides website hosting , ecommerce hosting , vps hosting , and web design services to a wide range of customers.

Established in 1999, Apollo prides itself on the highest levels of customer support.

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