BACK TO BASICS: When to Use Meta Tags

by: Haylie Gibson, June 2005

There are several tags within the head section of a page that contribute
to the indexing of your page by the search engines. If they are done
correctly and without spamming, they can be very helpful to the ranking
of your pages. These tags can help contribute to the total density of
keywords used in your pages; they can contribute to what is displayed as
a description for your pages in the search engine results and
ultimately, they can aid in helping your site’s rankings. These tags
are the Title tag, the Meta Description, and the Meta Keyword tag.

Title Tag

The Title Tag is just that, the “title” of your page-it is the first
tag to appear in the heading of your page after the open html tag. This
is a very important tag to use because search engines display the title
tag in their search results. Some things to keep in mind when creating
your title tags are:

  1. Be sure every page of your site has a title tag and specifically, be
    sure to title each page with a unique name. Each page should have a
    different title to be indexed properly.
  2. Include keywords in your title tags but avoid repeating them (you
    can repeat them if your competition is successfully repeating their
    keywords in their title tags. Exercise caution though).Another caveat to
    consider with regards to keywords: be sure to place your keywords
    towards the beginning of your title tag.
  3. The title tag should be 60-70 characters in length and should be
    between 6-12 words (or again, you can change this rule based on what you
    observe your competition to be doing so long as you do not become
    spammy.)
  4. The title tag must make sense grammatically. A visitor reading it must be able to understand its meaning.
  5. Think of your title tag as a summary of what the page is about.
    You’ll want to use this tag to tell exactly what the page is about, but
    also have it grab the attention of the internet user.
  6. Be straight forward and concise. Using creative language won’t help
    you rank better for your important term, but stating exactly what the
    page is about will.

Description Tag

The Description Tag appears after the Title tag in the head section
of a web page. This tag is important because the search engines index it
and more importantly they will use this tag to display a description of
your page when the information is not available in the content of the
page. The description tag is usually a couple of short sentences which
tell the search engine and the user what the page is about. Some key
points to keep in mind when constructing your Description Tags:

  1. The Description Tag should be twice as long as the Title Tag. The
    Description Tag should contain all the keywords used in the Title Tag
    for continuity reasons and the Description Tag should be in sentence
    form, not a phrase.
  2. This tag should be between 12 and 24 words in length.
  3. This tag should be unique for every page to aid in proper indexing by the search engines.
  4. Similarly to the Title tag, place your keywords towards the
    beginning of the Description Tag and repeat your keywords a maximum of
    two times.
  5. Use the Description Tag as an opportunity to expand on the point you
    were trying to get across in your title tag. With twice the amount of
    space, you can elaborate more on the subject of the webpage.

Keywords Tag

The Keywords Tag appears third in the head section of a web page
file. The Keywords Tag is important because it helps to strengthen the
focus of the page. It is also a great place to insert in any common
misspelling of keywords. There is controversy as to whether or not this
tag is indexed by all of the search engines but Yahoo does use it, so
based on this alone, it is worth using.

  1. The Keyword Tag can be twice as long as the Description Tag or
    between 48 and 24 words. Only make it as long as it needs to be in
    order to list all your important keyword phrases for the page.
  2. The Keyword Tag should exist as a list of phrases rather than a
    sentence. Place the longest keyword phrase first in alphabetical order.
  3. You should capitalize the first letter of each keyword and separate them with commas.
  4. You can repeat keywords a maximum of four times and the words should
    be relevant to each page; each keyword tag should be unique to each
    page.
  5. The list of keyword phrases does not need to make sense as it is just a list. No need to use complete sentences.
  6. You do not need to repeat the same phrase over and over. Many
    people will put in a keyword phrase multiple times in lower case, upper
    case, initial caps etc. This is not necessary. One mention of each
    keyword phrase will do the job.

All of these tags are important to the indexing of your site. They each
provide opportunities to incorporate your keywords and to do so without
spamming. When editing these tags for your pages, take the time to
review what the page content actually says so that you can create your
tags around that content. If your content is well written, then you
should have no problem coming up with your Title, Description and
Keywords tags for your pages; they should almost write themselves. When
creating your tags, remember that your objective is to make it easier
for search engines and users to understand what your pages are about so
that you will rank higher and also get a higher click through rate on
the search engine results pages. By steering clear of spammy writing
and, instead, intelligently writing your tags, you should see that both
your rankings and click-through rate will go up.

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