Meta tags are snippets of html code that are not visible to your websites readers, but contain information about your site for search engines and web spiders to use for categorizing and documenting your site. Some experts think that meta tags are not really considered for search engine rankings anymore, and are not that important. There might be more to these meta tags than meets the eye.
Meta tags used to be weighed fairly heavily when ranking websites for keywords, but webmasters quickly figured out how to use these tags to manipulate search results. They began to stuff lots of keywords in the tags to increase rankings for a lot of different keywords. Eventually, this caused search engines to put more emphasis on actual page content than on meta content.
There are different types of meta tags, the most used being the keywords and description meta tags. The description tag can be used to enhance your search results listings, but they will not increase your search engine rankings. Depending on the keyword searched for, search engines like Google will either use your description meta tag to display a short description of your website, or it will use snippets of content from your site that have high relevance for the search query. The description is a place where you can put your “advertisement” about your site. This can be in the form of a short sales pitch or elaborating on your page title. The maximum character length for the description tag is 160 according to Google. Other search engines may display up to 200 as in the case of MSN, but it is always a safe bet to stick to the 160 rule.
The keywords tag doesn’t carry much (if any) weight in search engine rankings anymore, but most webmasters and SEOs tend to use it. The generally accepted rule is to have 250 characters or less, and to separate each word with a comma or a space, but not both. The reasoning is that with spaces separating words, you allow for multiple keyword matching instead of having “hard” keyword breaks at commas. Indeed this may be an obsolete practice, but with our successful results with highly competitive keywords using our strategies, we tend to err on the side of inclusion as log as we follow the guidelines.
There are some meta tag generation tools out there that will generate “advanced” meta tags, such as author, subject, classification, copyright, designer, geography, language, publisher, robots behavior, distribution, city, and country. Although these are less commonly used, all of these tags tell information about the site. Some webmaster downplay their importance, but typically if you use them correctly and don’t over-stuff them with keywords, including them just gives more detailed information about your site. In our experience, that is a great addition when done correctly.
So what is the correct way to use meta tags? Research your industry keywords, and build your site content around it. Once your content is centered around those keywords, generate your meta information around your site’s content. Remember to keep your relevancy ratio of meta information to page content at 95% or higher. You can use an online meta tag generator, but first draft what you want the meta content to be and make sure that the keyword and the description meta tags stay within the character limits. There aren’t very stringent guidelines for the other less commonly used tags, so if you can stay below the 160 mark, you should be fine.
As with anything else, when developing meta tags for a website, it is important to maintain your focus. Decide what keywords are important and highlight those. Don’t go for everything or you will end up with nothing. The more focused your site, the higher its relevancy will be and the higher it will rank.