What Are Meta Tags and Why Do I Need Them?There is no other way to put it; the World Wide Web is big business. As an example, you only have to look at the phenomenal success of the online bookstore, Amazon. In 2008, Amazon brought in over nineteen billion dollars in income, yet only required an operating budget of approximately eight hundred and fifty million dollars. It really is no surprise to anyone then that more businesses are investing in expanded web presence and capability. Yet, not every organization has the same successes. Barnes and Noble was selling books online before Amazon was even an idea, and yet it isn't Barnes and Noble that people think of when considering online bookstores, it's Amazon. The key? Amazon took greater advantage of the opportunity to effectively market their product.
Search Engines, Spiders and Websites, Oh My
The most important and often least understood tool for online marketers is the search engine. The primary type of search engine is the web crawler - these are largely automated programs that crawl through available web pages, indexing data according to a variety of parameters. In short, the crawler, or spider, examines each page of a website. Once it has examined the page, it submits it to an index. Then, when a person uses the search engine software, the index provides links to these pages, ranked according to relevance. It is worth mentioning two other points. First, not all engines index the same way. Some use keyword density; others focus on the content of the first paragraph. Second, any changes to a webpage are likely to affect search rankings, so webmasters must carefully consider each change and its possible effects.
I Never Meta Tag I Didn't Like
One important part of preparing a page for good search engine rankings is effective use of HTML meta-tags. These tags do not directly relate to the position a site will have in a search result, but they do offer webmasters some control over the way their sites are presented when they come up in a search. In brief, meta-tags are additional bits of code added to the head of your HTML document, right after "TITLE." Because of the tendency for unscrupulous coders to find and abuse loopholes in search technologies, search engines do not rely heavily on these tags for rankings. Their benefits to web users are important, however.
First, there is the Meta Description tag. This is a brief report about the content of the webpage in question. When a search engine presents users with a hyperlink, there is frequently a small description accompanying that result. In many cases, that is the Meta Description tag the Webmaster put in the HTML document so that when a spider visits the site, it indexes this information. This is not always the case, however; Google in particular will generate its own description for a site.
The Meta Description is often the first piece of information someone using a search engine will see. The URL may not mean anything to them, but this description will. If it is poorly written, the user will likely skim right past the site for one that presents itself more effectively. Thus, the key is effective, concise writing that conveys exactly what the site is about.
The second tag is the Meta Keywords tag. This tag is a list of keywords the Webmaster considers most pertinent to each page. Proper use of the keywords tag is also vital. While search engines use a variety of keyword systems, and have in recent years de-emphasized the Meta Keywords tag, it still contributes to website rankings and should not be neglected. The best method is to examine each page carefully, and pick approximately ten keywords that best represent the data therein. Too many nonspecific keywords will lead to inconsistent search results, and too few means missing an opportunity to get a message in front of users. In addition, many sites are actively on the lookout for keyword abuse. Google in particular is known to ban certain pages from its index entirely if they consider the article to be an abusive, loophole-seeking piece.
There are other, less relevant tags that can provide some benefits, though they aren't as important as the previous two. An example is the Robots tag, which is only useful in making sure certain sites do not index a particular page. This can help a Webmaster keep their content from being associated with undesirable elements, but it does not contribute directly to higher search placement.
No Meta Tag is an Island
Once again, it must be stressed that meta-tags are not a magical solution to the very complex problem of online marketing. They must be regarded as one tool in an inventory of other tools, and should be used responsibly. Properly implemented, they will help complete an effective marketing strategy.