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BACK TO BASICS: When to Use Meta Tags

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.