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<META> tags bring the visitors you want to your site

July 26, 2006

<META> tags: familiar to some, and a fear-inspiring label to others. Yet they can earn you top placement in search engines, and can help guide Google's AdSense - and other advertising programs - to pick the content best suited to your site, and thus increase your revenues.

META tags are part of the HTML source code underlying every web page. Web search engines (also known as spiders) crawl the web for content, and while the best of them have long learned to look for information beyond these tags alone, for many spiders, this is where they start.

Don't want to read this stuff, but do want to have the appropriate meta tags generated automatically? You'll miss the captivating, instructive tail of Fluffy Poodle Dog. Still, you may want to try the Ars Informatica Meta Tag Generator, soon to come to this site.

Note that any changes you make can take 2-4 weeks to be reflected in how search engines treat your site.


Ah, the web-savvy among you wince. The title tag is not a meta tag. I know. But it is so relevant to this tale, so absolutely important to your page's rank, to targeted advertising content, that it should be. Search engines look for the title tag, and heavily weight its content. Look at the other tags below, and tell me why it warrants exclusion. This is meta-data, raw and pure. Include it.

Title tag text (found between the <TITLE> and </TITLE> bits in your page's source code) appears as the web page title in your browser's title bar, at the very top. Hence the name. It's also the name your page is listed as when when someone adds it to their 'Favorites' or 'Bookmarks.' An example:

<TITLE>Fluffy Poodle Dog's Organic Best Canine Hair and Top Body Care
Products On-line</TITLE>
Note the uniqueness of the title, and, more, the number of words a web-searching dog lover might use to find an ideal site: best, top, on-line, dog, canine, poodle, organic, hair, body, care, products. Words that would lead straight to Fluffy Poodle Dog, and words that would generate some pretty targeted advertising content.

<META name="Description" content="Your description">

The Description tag just generally describe your web page. Search engines will often display the Description META tag data (at least the first chunk of it) with your title in their results. While spiders will often grab the entire META text, the search result typically presents only the first 20 words or so. Use these well: grab and hold your user in 20 words or less. The rest of the description tag is simply elaboration (and may help target advertising content). Limit the whole to 200-250 characters at most:
<META name="Description" content="Fluffy Poodle Dog rules with iron
paw: offers only the best in organic canine hair and body care products
on-line. Extensive product line at reasonable prices. Tested on humans;
safe for animals">
The first twenty words, together with data already from the <TITLE>, should elevate Fluffy Poodle Dog's page to a ranking with the search engines. And it's just cutesy enough to grab one's attention, when presented in the search return, without turning the reader off. Unique, a claim to expertise, and a special product. Not bad at all.

Note, however, that some site searching/indexing software, i.e. Google's, makes minimal use of the META Description tag and instead will automatically generate its own description for this page. Most crawlers use Description data to some degree; for some it remains important. I suggest you do it right; the effort is minimal, and the returns are potentially significant.

<META name="Keywords" content="first keyword, second keyword, third keyword">

Your META Keywords are specific search terms a searcher might use to locate your page. Unfortunately, many crawlers including Google and Yahoo now ignore the keywords tag - too much abuse in years past, as web coders sought to draw visitors with catchy keywords that had nothing to do with actual content. Still, some search engines still incorporate this data in deriving an overall page rank. Separate each keyword or keyword phrase with a comma, i.e.
<META name="Keywords" content="Fluffy Poodle Dog, organic, best, hair
care, top, body care, canine, on-line store">
Do not repeat any keyword or phrase more than three times. You can include up to 1,000 characters, including and commas and spaces, though do so at your peril. As the keyword increase, so the relative importance of your page decreases, as only a small percentage of someone else's search terms meet the page's keywords. The above example is fine for an introduction page. For pages on individual products, use only 5-7 keywords, or less, so your site is mostly to score top rank for exact matches, i.e. 
<META name="Keywords" content="Fluffy Poodle Dog, best, top, organic,
detangler, hair care">

Finally, the META Keywords should exactly match words in the page text itself, or these keywords are likely to be ignored.

<META name="Author" content="Author Information">

Lists contact information for your page. While many search engines do not use this tag, some do. If there's a reasonable chance someone will search for your site using your author's name, then include it. Supported data includes name, e-mail address, company name and web address. However, though commonly done, I would advise against listing your e-mail address: spambots will read your e-mail address from your site and add it to their spam distribution lists. You could certainly include the web site's contact page, instead. 
<META name="Author" content="Fluffy Poodle Dog, FPD Corporation,">

<META name="Rating" content="text">
Many parents, and some corporations, use filtering software to block access to unrated and mature/restricted sites. Don't lose visitors by not rating your site. If your site is general-purpose, specify a rating of general. Of course, if your site warrants the higher rating - please use it. Not just to protect the public; it is in your business interest. After all, a Mature rating will draw more folks looking for that kind of content. 
<META name="Rating" content="general">
The other ratings are "safe for kids", "14 years" for the 14-and-above crowd, "mature" for what the movie industry would call restricted, and "restricted" for X-rated material.
More META Tag Essentials:

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