The Secrets about Meta Tags

picture of 3d man dropping puzzle piece

I’m really excited to be revealing to you the secrets about Meta tags–you know why? These little snippets are the most important part when it comes to optimizing your website for SEO purposes.

Don’t take my word for it–just ask any webmaster with an ounce of credibility and they will tell you the same thing.  Why are Meta tags so important, you might be asking— and for that matter, what are Meta tags?

Meta tags are found within the header of each page on your website or at least they should be.

Quick Tip: Content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal make it a cinch to craft search engine optimized Meta tags.

Before we delve deep into this subject, let me show you where these snippets are found on a website.

If you are using Firefox Browser, I want you to right click on any webpage and select the ‘view page info’ link. A screen just like the image below will show you the Meta tag information.

picture of meta tag screen by right clicking
right click your mouse and the select page info

Now let us look at the snippet coded–you can see the source of any webpage by right clicking and selecting ‘view page source’ in the Firefox browser. In IE (Internet Explorer), you right click and select ‘View Source’.

picture of meta tag source code
right click your mouse and select view source

It took me a while to find a website that had the Meta information properly filled out in the source code. I went to one of the new websites I’m building and from the screen capture above, you can see the Meta tag in the header field (<head>) is filled incorrectly.

Now that we identified exactly where these tags are found –what is their use? When a robot crawls your webpage, it looks for identifying information to list your pages in their search engine. Once it finds this information, either in the Meta tag region or in the body of the article, it uses it for a title and description when it indexes your page.

picture of serp in google
meta tags used in google

This is very interesting—and I’m glad there is a discrepancy, because it will teach you how intuitively search engines work. Here is what I mean…

Now pay special attention—I put a red arrow next to each description—by all rights these descriptions should be the same. Notice how the Meta information in ‘page info’ screen capture is slightly different from what is being displayed in Google. Why is that? It is because Google is saying “look here, your page title is ‘this’ and your description is ‘this and this’, we think your description should be ‘this’ and we grab it from you body of your page, as it better reflects what users are looking for”.

Below you can see exactly where Google grabbed the information from the body content of my page. I made a mistake because the title tag, the Meta description and the URL should be the same.

picture of webpage code highlighted
google grabbed this text for a description

Not a problem; I will simply craft a unique description that is relevant to the rest of my Meta tag information, like Google has it displayed.

The new description will update within the index in a few days. I will post another screen capture to show you proof on how Google “thinks”.

By crafting relevant Meta tag information, you are able to have full control over what the user will see in Google. If you do not supply Meta tags, who knows what the robot will grab in order to maintain relevancy when they index your webpage.

Did you find this Meta tag lesson helpful? I hope you have–I really enjoy helping others learn. Let me know if you want me to cover anything in specific by leaving a comment below.

Update:  Monday February 07, 2011

I told you I would update this article when Google changed the custom crafted description that I added. This is to show you how a search engine works and “thinks”. It took a few weeks to actually be updated in the index because the page I referred to is a squeeze page that only gets updated monthly.

Your custom crafted descriptions would be updated in the search engine more quickly if the page was a webpage that changed often, hence the Google bot visits on a more regular basis compared to a squeeze page that is updated rarely.

It is actually simple to wrap your head around, a page that gets updated by you daily or weekly is checked more by a search engine bot compared to a website that is only updated on a monthly basis.  The more active you are in adding and updating webpages, the more the bot will come back and check for changes, and the quicker your listing reflects those changes made.

The change I made was in crafting a customized description for my listing. Instead of the search engine picking out what to add as my description I took control of the description field. See the results for yourself.

Before I made changes my description was…

picture of serp in google
meta tags used in google

After I custom crafted my description the index now shows…

meta description
custom crafted meta description

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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