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Shari Thurow - search engine marketing
Shari Thurow
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Using Meta-Tags As An Online Marketing Strategy
By Shari Thurow - June 12, 2001

A meta-tag is an HTML tag that gives information about the content of a web page, such as what HTML specifications a web page follows or description of a web page's content. A meta-tag, however, does not affect how a web page is displayed on a browser. For online marketing, the most common uses for meta-tags are the keyword, description, and robots exclusion attributes.

One of the most common myths about meta-tags is that they are the "secret ingredient" to obtaining optimal search engine rankings. In fact, only some major search engines use meta-tag content for relevancy. Some search engines use meta-tag content when they display the results of a search query. And some search engines (and almost all directories) do not use meta-tag content at all.

The following are tips for writing and coding the most effective meta-tags for a website:

HTML code for meta-tag description and keywords attributes

The following shows the proper HTML coding for the meta-tag description and keyword attributes:

Meta-tags: description and keywords attribute - image

The meta-tag description attribute

When writing meta-tag content, spend more time writing a good description than writing a keyword list. In terms of online marketing, the description is more important than the keywords list.

Since some major search engines use meta-tag descriptions when displaying the results of a search query, it's important to write a meta-tag description that accomplishes two things:

  1. Helping to obtain a good search engine ranking in the search engines that use meta-tags for relevancy, and

  2. Eliciting a "call-to-action," i.e. encouraging people to click on the link to your website.

Many so-called search engine optimization specialists use the list of keywords in the meta-tag description. Not only is this search engine optimization strategy borderline "spam," it is also a poor way of encouraging visitors to click on the link to your site.

Using a company name in a meta-tag description

Unless a company has a keyword in its company name, we do not use it in a meta-tag description or we will move it to the end of the description or a keyword list. For example, "inc." really is not a keyword unless the site is Inc. magazine.

Using singular and plural words in meta-tags

We have personally found that people tend to type in the plural version of a word more than they type in the singular version of a word in search engine queries. For that reason, we tend to emphasize the plural version of a word in the meta-tags.

When you analyze your site statistics to see which variations of your keywords and keyword phrases people are using to find your website, optimize your web pages for most commonly used keywords.


The meta-tag keywords attribute

When selecting words to place in the meta-tag keywords attribute, you must select keywords that accurately reflect the content of the web page. If a word appears in your meta-tags that does not appear in your main body content, then your web page will very likely receive a spam penalty from the search engines, possibly getting your website permanently removed from the search engine databases.

When selecting keywords and keyword phrases for this meta-tag attribute, consider the following variations:

  1. Singular vs. plural

    When creating your keywords list, place the version of the keyword that your site visitors use the most at the beginning of your keyword list.

  2. Uppercase vs. lowercase

    Most search engines do not use case sensitivity as an element of their algorithms. Thus, using all versions (all uppercase, all lowercase, initial capitalization) of keywords and keyword phrases is probably a waste of time and can result in a spam penalty for keyword stacking.

    Consider this as well: when people type in words and phrases in a search engine query, they tend to type words very quickly. The quickest way to type in words is not to use any capitalization.

  3. Commas vs. no commas

    It makes no difference to the search engines that use the meta-tag keywords attribute whether or not you use commas or spaces to separate your keywords and keyword phrases. If it is easier for you to view your keyword phrases with commas, then use them. Using commas will not affect your web page's relevancy.

  4. Misspelled keywords

    Since some keywords are commonly misspelled (such as the word "millennium"), you might want to put a misspelled keyword in your meta-tags. However, if that misspelled word does not appear in your main body text, this strategy is a waste of time. Search engines use both keyword frequency and keyword placement in their algorithms. If you are putting a misspelled keyword in only one place (i.e., your meta-tag keywords attribute), it's not helping your web page's relevancy because the keyword concentration for that one word is practically non-existent.


HTML code for the meta-tag robots attribute

If you do not wish a search engine spider to index the content of a specific web page, then you can use the meta-tag robots exclusion attribute to accomplish this. The following shows the proper HTML coding for this meta-tag:

 Meta-tags: robots exclusion attribute - image

Not all search engines will honor this type of meta-tag. They have indicated that you should use the robot.txt file.

The meta-tag revisit attribute

Many people mistakenly believe that they can instruct the search engine spiders to revisit their sites within a specified amount of time. In fact, we often recommend quizzing potential search engine optimization companies on the use of this meta-tag attribute. If they say that this tag works, don't hire them.

The meta-tag refresh attribute

Many website designers use the meta-tag refresh attribute as a means of animation. Other sites that have content that needs to be updated in real time, such as a site that displays sports scores or stock prices, might use this attribute.

Unfortunately, most people who use the meta-tag refresh attribute are spammers who want search engines to index one web page (for relevancy) and to display another web page. Because of these spammers, the majority of the search engines consider the use of this attribute spam.

So if you want to use animation on your site, it would be best to create an animated gif instead of using this tag. As for the sites that must use this tag for real-time display, it is best to contact the search engine companies directly so that your URL does not receive a spam penalty.


Using meta-tags is not the "secret ingredient" to obtaining optimal search engine rankings. It is one way to help your site be more findable in the search engines.

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Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director and Webmaster for Grantastic Designs, Inc. Shari has been designing and promoting web sites since 1995, and she is outsourced to many firms throughout the U.S. She has a 100% success rate for getting client sites ranked at the top of search engine and directory queries.

© 2002 Grantastic Designs, Inc.