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The Mystery of the META Tag
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

META tags are present (or should be) in most web pages and help search engines identify and index web sites. This article explores the world of the META tag and explains their purpose.

Defining the META tag
HyperText Markup Language (HTML), is the common language of documents on the web. HTML pages (a web page like the one you're reading now) use
META tags to assist the index of pages by many of the major spider based search engines.

META tags consist of simple lines of code (text) that go into the header of the HTML source document. Spider-based search engines index web sites based upon what they find in the HTML code of the site. META tags are designed to help ensure the spider (sometimes referred to as a 'crawler') find information that will create a profile of the page which can then be used to help index the page.

Two critical META tags
Two META tags that are particularly important are the 'description' tag and the 'keywords' tag.

The description tag provides the search engine the description of a web page. Without this tag, search engines will usually take the first text it finds from a page and make that the description. This is one of the main reasons why all web pages should have clear titles (the text that appears in the browser title bar), not only to assist the user in navigating a web site, but to provide a quick reference point for any given web page.

The keywords tag tells the search engine exactly which keywords the site developer wants the page to be searchable under. Without this tag, a search engine will choose words for a web site to be searchable from the title and text of a site.

Some mistakenly believe the right META tags will move a site to the top of a search engine listing. META tags help get web sites indexed correctly and they increase the relevancy for the keywords.

The length of META tags
META tag descriptions should be limited to 25 words or about 200 characters of text. Anything longer will be cut off in the middle of the sentence of a search engine listing and will look less professional. The description tag should be used to provide a short clear synopsis of a web page. META tags should only use keywords that are appreciate. Trying to cheat by loading 101 words that have little relation to the page content will severely disadvantage you in the eyes of the web crawler.

Unlock the best keywords
Choosing keywords for a web site is not as simple as it sounds. If you choose the most generic of keywords (let's say music), the chances of a web page being listed in the top 50 search results for music will be infinitesamable as so many web sites provide music related links. Keywords should:

be appropriate to the page content

not run to more than 100

reflect the likely search terms and phrases for the web page

be word and phrase specific rather than generic

be page specific (define META tags for each page)

provide case sensitive variations of words and terms

avoid repetition of the same keyword

The best kept secret
Meta tags are used by web developers and Internet marketing specialists as a tool to promote web sites. The best kept secret of all however is the simple truth that content is king. If a web site has relevant, meaningful content presented in an attractive manner, the site will be indexed by search engines as more and more people recommend and link to it.


Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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