- “Description” helps with click through rates to your site: Writing a good description not only helps keep Google from rewriting it, but also helps you get good more people clicking through to your site. A well-written description not only tells users what is on your page, but also entices them to visit your site. A description is what shows up here in the search engine results. It is like good window dressing. Sites with poor descriptions will get less click throughs and the search engines will demote your site in favor of other sites.
- “Description” helps with site rankings: The common belief (based on what Google said in 2009) is that nothing in the description will help you get rankings. However, I have seen evidence to the contrary. Is it heavily weighted? No, but if you want some value on a secondary keyword (say an –ing –ed or –s), use it here.
Two other quick notes on meta description tags:
- Empty Descriptions: Can a description be empty? Yes. When it is empty Google and Bing will fill it in for you. In fact, sometimes (e.g., for blogs) you may prefer Google’s or Bing’s version. (Personally though, I always fill it in whenever possible, preferring my version to theirs, but if you have a small staff, this isn’t always practical.)
- Quotes: Don’t use full quotation marks (“”) in your description. It will likely cut off your description. Use single quotes to avoid this issue.
The Keywords Meta Tag
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the “keywords” meta tag was a critical element for early search engines. Much like the dinosaurs, this tag is a fossil from ancient search engine times.
The only search engine that looks at the keywords anymore is Microsoft’s Bing – and they use it to help detect spam. To avoid hurting your site, your best option is to never add this tag.
Or, if that’s too radical for you to stomach, at least make sure you haven’t stuffed 300 keywords in the hopes of higher search rankings. It won’t work. Sorry.
If you already have keyword meta tags on your website, but they aren’t spammy, there’s no reason to spend the next week hurriedly taking them out. It’s OK to leave them for now – just take them out as you’re able, to reduce page weight and load times.
Other Meta Tags
There are many other meta tags, but none are really considered useful nowadays. Many of the tags that we used did things like:
- Told the spider when to come back
<meta name="revisit-after" content="30 days">
- Told the browser the distribution
< meta name="distribution" content="web">
- Told the page to refresh
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="30">
- Told the page to redirect/refresh
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="x_seconds; url=http://www.yourhost.com/pagetosendto.html">
We don’t use these anymore, either because there are better ways (such as schema tagging or server side methods) or because the engines they used to work on are no longer in existence or Google has explicitly told us they are not great ideas (such as redirects at the page level).
NOTE: Schema tagging and rich data snippets are single-handedly the most important (and somewhat quietly announced) change to how your site interacts with the search engines and the search spiders. Learn it. Know it. Implement it.
Robots Meta Tag
The robots tag is still one of the most important tags. Not so much for the proper implementation, but the improper.
The robots meta tag lets you specify that a particular page should not be indexed by a search engine or if you do or do not want links on the page followed.
Believe it or not, it is still common for a site to be deindexed because someone accidentally added a noindex tag to the entire site. Understanding this tag is vitally important.
Here are the four implementations of the Robots Meta Tag and what they mean.
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">
This means: “Do not Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page.” Your page will drop OUT of the search index AND your links to other pages will not be followed. This will break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
This tag is most often used when a site is in development. A developer will noindex/nofollow the pages of the site to keep them from being picked up by the search engines, then forget to remove the tag. When launching your new website, do not trust it has been removed. DOUBLE CHECK!
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="INDEX, NOFOLLOW">
This means: “Do Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page.” Your page WILL be in the index AND your links to other pages will not be followed. This will break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX, FOLLOW">
This means: “Do not Index this page. Do follow the links on the page.” Your page will drop OUT of the index BUT your links to other pages will be followed. This will NOT break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="INDEX, FOLLOW">
This means: “Do Index this page. Do follow the links on the page.” This means your page WILL be in the index AND your links to other pages will be followed. This will NOT break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
NOTE: The robots tag may be ignored by less scrupulous spiders.
The Charset Tag
Finally, all sites must validate charset. In the U.S., that is the UTF-8 tag. Just make sure this is on your page if you’re delivering HTML using English characters.
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
While meta tags aren’t the magical solution that you may have heard, they still play an important role in helping your site get found in search engines. Enjoy your metas!
Below are some additional resources to help you on your path to search engine optimization.