Possibly one of the most basic yet misunderstood aspects of search engine optimisation is that of a web page’s meta information, those ‘hidden words’ that so many assume to be the key to great search engine rankings. While there are many variants of meta tags, the ones we tend to think about for SEO purposes are the title, keywords and description meta tags.
Meta Title – The meta title is arguably the most important on-page factor you can manipulate for SEO purposes. Note, by meta title we mean the title the page presents to search engines. It is not visible on the web page itself but rather in the top border of your browser (where the minimise, maximise and close buttons are), right next to the little IE or Firefox icon.
Those meta titles should contain your target keywords for that page and therefore should be different from the other pages on your site. They should of course represent the content of that page so that search engines get to see your page title is say “Blue Designer Spanners” and that your web page is all about those great blue designer spanners you sell. Keep your meta titles to no more than 60 characters including spaces or you might find them truncated in search engine results pages.
Meta Keywords – If you hear your ‘friend in IT who knows a bit about websites’ telling you to put your website’s important keywords in here a few times over, please ask him politely to stop talking. Meta keywords helped the original search engines to categorise web content but as the spammers started stuffing keywords into the meta tags, the search engines soon realised the folly of this strategy. Google have clearly stated they do not use meta keywords for ranking and as Bing takes over the Yahoo search listings there is little point in using these for SEO purposes any more (not that Yahoo makes any significant use of them either).
They can however sometimes assist webmasters with their own work flow and organisation, so by all means if it helps you keep your website organised then feel free to use your keywords in that manner.
Meta Description – Your web page’s meta description will not help its search engine rankings but it is your chance to describe what your page is about and to entice search engine users to click your listing. Search engines will often use these as the snippet of text that appears in search engine results pages, so try to include a call to action to attract the visitor. Getting search engines to use those snippets occurs mostly if your meta description contains the keywords from the meta title and otherwise reflects the content of that particular page.
Our meta description for our page about blue designer spanners might look something like “Blue Designer Spanners from JoesTools.com.au. Check out our huge range of coloured designer spanners. Best prices in Australia Guaranteed”. Keep those meta descriptions to no more than 160 characters to avoid truncation in the search results.
Remember meta tags are just tools to assist with your on-site optimisation efforts, they are not a secret sauce. Search engines value good unique content above everything else so without that your meta information is not going to help at all!