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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

About Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher has written 384 post in this blog.


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Comments
Harvey Specter
Posted at 6:25 am January 13, 2011
Ranga
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Author

This explanations a lot about the use of meta tags. How the Search Engines are reading them. How we can use them in SEO. thanks

Harvey Specter
Posted at 2:27 pm January 26, 2011
admin
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Author

Your welcome Ranga, I am glad you found it helpful.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 7:39 pm February 14, 2011
Greg
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Author

No disrespect intended but before you state information regarding seo as a fact you should do some testing. I have taken brand new domains and test them with correct meta tags, no meta tags, and totally unrelated meta tags. The results were the meta tags have almost zero effect on rankings. Please show case studies if any with the results of your meta tag research.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 9:52 pm February 14, 2011
tygrupe
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Author

I agree with Greg’s comment in relation to the first paragraph of this post that Meta data has had no effect on my sites rankings for SEO purposes but I also agree that the description DOES have an effect on click through rate if you have a good marketing message. While the description itself does not help your site rankings, a high click through rate by grabbing attention with a call to action will. Of course none of us can prove the current algorthym factors this in but it is generally believed that a higher click through rate than the average ranking position will help to boost your position . So the meta description tag is very important but not directly.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 3:10 pm February 15, 2011
Susie
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Author

I find it interesting, because according to most SEO experts today, meta tags don’t help in ranking. Only the title tag does. According to some, the title tag is one of the most important on-page SEO factors.

So you got me a little confused.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 7:21 pm February 15, 2011
Scot
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Author

Search Engine Optimization takes on many facets in relation to your website, the search engine and the end user.

Meta Tags is a very good starting point to teach what exactly a search engine is looking for and how you have control over what users see.

Case in point why did it grab the body content for the description in my first example? Simple put the search engine created relevancy in its index.

Having full control over your website and its seo should be a top priority. Having the keyword in the title, the description, the url, and the body content all play a keyrole in that relevancy.

No one really knows the top factors of the search engine optimization. I can tell you though by creating relevancy like I have above will get you started in the right direction.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 9:31 pm February 15, 2011
Draanor
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Author

Compared to the title tag, content, and header tags, meta tags are the least effective ways to do on-page optimization. While I’m not saying “don’t use meta tags” I’m simply saying the SEO benefits of link building is 100 times more effective than meta tags which even Google says that they DO NOT use the keywords meta tag.

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html

However you can use meta tags to help sculpt the snippet shown in the search engines but again, search engines can choose not to show the snippet you use a meta tag to designate.

Meta tags have been abused by internet marketers for years and in turn, most reputable search engines have chosen to discount or ignore these tags when determining search engine rankings because they mean JACK SQUAT compared to in-content keywords and incoming links which take more work to optimize and get.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 10:21 pm February 15, 2011
Scot
Reply
Author

Yes you are correct that meta tag keyword field is no longer used because Internet Marketers abused them. You can add them in if you want to cover your bases for any future algorithm updates that might reintegrate them.

But the other meta fields, the meta description and meta title are still used as I proved.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 1:06 pm February 16, 2011
Jeffrey Taylor
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Author

Meta tags were created in the early days to help Search Engines better sort relevant websites. At the time we thought it was great, but of course the spammers destroyed it. Google threw away the use of Meta tags because of this.

However, you are correct, properly designed Meta descriptions are necessary to help Google describe your web page. In an indirect way it does help you with SEO because if done right you will receive more clicks. If you receive more clicks for specific keywords, Google likes you and gives you better rankings. If people like your web page and stay for a while, or navigate through your website Google likes you even more. Remember, Google studies user behavior!

Your keywords also show up in BOLD which can catch the viewers eye.

Meta descriptions are important and should be keyworded to match your title tag and also enticing to the reader to get them to click! A well designed meta description can help a #3 ranked page steal clicks from a top ranking web page with a poor description.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 1:59 pm February 16, 2011
Lori
Reply
Author

It’s so nice to see an article like this that explains complicated SEO terms in simple English. I only have one problem: I have a wordpress.com blog and i can’t find the meta tag section.

Harvey Specter
Posted at 8:14 pm February 16, 2011
Scot
Reply
Author

Lori I recommend installing a plugin called All In One SEO. It will give you everything you need to provide meta descriptions to each page of your website. It automatically creates meta tags for you with the option of custom crafting them yourself. They have a paid version if you want to help advance the addon development along.

Thanks Jeffrey for your input. To add more information to Jeffreys excellent explanation I would like to add…

Meta descriptions also have a character limit, anything after 155 characters gets appended with three dots. So making full complete sentences that stay under the character limit will attract the end user and make your listing look more professional.

The meta title tag limit is 69-70 characters or so..these are not exact numbers.

JavaScript kit offers a great free tool that you can install on your website to count characters. http://www.javascriptkit.com/script/script2/charcount.shtml

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