Basics of Meta Tags

The meta tags are the answer to everything wrong with your web site. They will get the search engines to index your site every day. People will flock to your site. Your son will never pierce his nose for a nose-ring. Your daughter won't date until she's 21, and only date nice guys making good money. Your house will appreciate $100,000 this year. They are the magic bullet of web site promotion!

Do you believe that drek? Believe it or not, that is the message that is being given out on a lot of the web sites about promotion, and in books on the shelf at the book store. Meta tags are not magic. They are, however, an essential part of a well designed web site promotion program. So, let's look at how they work and how to put them to work for your site.

To figure all of this out, let's construct an example and look at each piece of it. Lets run over to Alta Vista and look for a frog site....

OK. Here we are at Alta Vista. I've searched for 'frogs' and on page 6 of the response I found this entry:

    Pet Exotic - Frogs
    Frogs White's Tree Frog (Pelodryas caerulea) $20. 2 @ $15 each / 5+ @ $12.50 each.
    http://www.herp.com/pet/frog.html - size 628 bytes - 11 Apr 96
    Pet Exotic - Frogs
    Frogs White's Tree Frog (Pelodryas caerulea) $20. 2 @ $15 each / 5+ @ $12.50 each.
    http://www.herp.com/pet/frog.html - size 628 bytes - 11 Apr 96


Isn't that informative? After looking through 6 pages of listings for frogs, would you run over to this site? The person that spent his or her hard earned spare time to build this page should get a better reward for all of that hard work.

What went wrong here? Obviously, the search engine took the first stuff it found that looked like text instead of HTML. It did the best it could with really limited information. The author of the page just didn't construct the page to be indexed by search engines. Let's fix it a piece at a time.

The title isn't bad. It does give some information. But it could be better. Remember, most search engines give more weight to words found in the TITLE, especially if those words are also found in the body of the text. So, a better TITLE might be: "Pet Exotic Frogs For Sale: White's Tree Frog - Pelodryas caerulea" This is much more informative and likely to generate more solid keywords in the search engines. Especially if we refer to these same words in the body of the page (or in our other heading sections.) Here's what we have so far:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Pet Exotic Frogs For Sale: White's Tree Frog - Pelodryas caerulea</TITLE>

Now, let's give the search engines that don't use meta tags some copy to look at that we want used in the description. We do this by placing a short comment into the page after the TITLE tag. Now our page looks like this:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Pet Exotic Frogs For Sale: White's Tree Frog - Pelodryas caerulea</TITLE>
<!-- Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today. -->
<META Name="description" Content="Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today.">

This takes us to your first meta tag: Description. We now give the search engines that use meta tags the description of the page that we want to have displayed when our page comes up in a search. Don't make it too long, as the engines will only give a limited amount of text.

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Pet Exotic Frogs For Sale: White's Tree Frog - Pelodryas caerulea</TITLE>
<!-- Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today. -->
<META Name="description" Content="Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today.">

Now we have told the engines what to say about our site, but we still want to tell them what keywords we would like to be found under. Please DON'T put keywords in here just to get traffic. Imagine that you are running a restaurant. Your sign outside can bring in lots of look-e-loos, but if they don't buy, they just get in the way. They take up time and space that could be used to take better care of your real customers. Measure your success by sales (or whatever is relevant to your site) and not by pounds of visitors you con into coming to your site.

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Pet Exotic Frogs For Sale: White's Tree Frog - Pelodryas caerulea</TITLE>
<!-- Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today. -->
<META Name="description" Content="Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today.">
<META Name="keywords" Content="FROG, FROGS, WHITE'S TREE FROG, PET FROG, FROGS FOR SALE, ONLINE SALES, ONLINE ORDER, ON LINE ORDER, PET EXOTIC FROG, EXOTIC FROG">
</HEAD>

Now our entry in the Alta Vista results should look something like this:

Pet Exotic Frogs For Sale: White's Tree Frog - Pelodryas caerulea
Best prices on pet exotic frogs anywhere on the internet. These White's Tree Frogs can be shipped overnight to arrive healthy and happy. Order online today
http://www.herp.com/pet/frog.html
- size 1628 bytes - 11 Feb 97


We have now built a good heading for our page that will give better information to any search engine that stops in to look us over. We have given our search words, a short description, put good search words in the title. Things are looking pretty good. Now we should have a better chance of being indexed correctly, and we haven't Spammed. We haven't overloaded our page with keyword repetitions that could get us penalized. And even the engines that stop short on a page will find us.

Oh, didn't I mention that some of the robots and spiders stop when they run into certain things on a page. Some stop when they run into a JAVA applet. Building a good header like the one above means the spider will have found enough information ahead of the applet to give you a meaningful entry.

Here's a list of more Meta Tags you can use.

  • Copyright. Any copyright statement
  • Distribution. One of two words: global or local. Local indicates pages of little or no interest to users outside a Web site's own organization.
  • Expires. A date after which the page will no longer be relevant. Use this format: Tue, 02 Dec 1997 21:29:02 GMT
  • Robots. Instructions to control the actions of Web Search "robots" such as the large search engines. Compliance is voluntary; some searching robots honor these commands, and some don't. 

Values are:

  • None. Tells robots to ignore this page. This is equivalent to NoIndex, Nofollow.
  • All. Indicates that there are no restrictions on indexing this page or pages referenced in its hyperlinks. This is equivalent to Index, Follow.
  • Index. Welcomes all robots to include this page in search results.
  • Noindex. Indicates that this page might not be indexed by search engines.
  • Follow. Allows robots to follow hyperlinks from this page to other pages.
  • Nofollow. Asks robots not to follow hyperlinks from this page.

Check out http://www.searchenginewatch.com for more on getting listed in search engines.



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