If you have researched methods for increasing your Web site traffic, there's no doubt you have come across a lot of information on META Tags. You probably know that they are important for search engine optimization and that they need to be included on your Web site. But what exactly do they do? What is their purpose and how exactly do the search engines interact with them? In this summary of META tags, my intention is not to make your head ache with technical details on correct format and content, but simply explain the purpose of META tags.

The three components of META tags are:

  • Title
  • Description
  • Keywords

The Title tag is very similar to the title of a book, it gives a visitor the first hint as to the theme of the Web site. The Description tag is comparable to the summary found on the back of a book, providing a brief guide to the content of your Web site. The Keywords are similar to the index of a book, allowing anyone to clearly see if the Web site contains the information they are seeking. There you go, META tags explained in just three sentences. I could stop right here and you would have a better understanding of META tags than 90 percent of Web site owners. But let's continue and see how META tags interact with your visitors and the search engines.

Title is Everything

If you only use one component of META tags, then make sure it is the Title tag. The Title tag is important in so many ways. It is the title of your Web site, displayed at the top of every browser window. It is the Title tag that is referenced when a visitor to your site decides to add your location to their favorites or bookmarks. It is also used by all crawling search engines when displaying a link to your Web site. Without the Title tag, your Web site is as likely to be viewed as a book with no cover, sitting in a bookstore with millions of other books.

Description Please

Next in importance is the Description tag. The Description tag is often used by the search engines when displaying your Web site listing. You will usually see the contents of your Description tag shown just below your Web site Title. The Description tag is a brief summary of the contents of your Web site and helps both visitors and search engines to determine the relevancy of your Web site. If your Web site does not have a Description tag or does, but it is poorly worded, you could find that potential visitors pass your company by or even worse, the search engines fail to show your Web site in their results. Consider this, would you buy a book if there were no summary on the back cover explaining what the book was about?

Don't Forget Keywords

Last, but by no means least, you should ensure that your META tags contain Keywords. While not often seen by visitors to your Web site, they are used by search engines when determining whether your business should be displayed in their results. If a search engine user searches for "widgets", your site is more likely to be displayed if you include "widgets" as one of your keywords. If you picked up a book and wanted to see if it included information on "widgets" you would turn to the index. If you couldnt find what you wanted then you would be unlikely to buy the book.

Hope It Helps

Hopefully, the above provides a simple explanation of how META tags work. By no means is it technically exact, nor is that what I intnded. In the future, I will go into more detail of how META tags should be formatted and what other factors need to be considered. For now, I felt it important to provide, in laymen's terms, a summary of how META tags interact with your visitors and the search engines.
June 21, 2002

Internet marketing consultant Andy Beal has provided online marketing advice to thousands of companies including, Motorola, NBC, Lowes and Quicken Loans and is a trusted resource for The Washington Post, LA Times, Dow Jones, NPR and CNBC. Andy provides consulting services on search engine optimization, business blogging and online reputation management. Read his blog and request a free consultation at Marketing Pilgrim.

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