How Important Are Meta Tags?
Meta tags don't matter. Meta tags aren't a magic solution. Meta tags help determine how you rank in Google. Meta tags can affect the volume of incoming traffic to your website. You need Meta tags on every page of your website. You don't Meta tags on any page of your website but the main page.
Confused yet? Depending upon what you read about search engine optimization, Meta tags are either the be-all, end-all of good practices, or an irrelevant exercise overshadowed by more important things, namely site content and link popularity. Over the years, the question of Meta tags has been discussed and debated by people in the game, and in some cases sites have been taken to task to using certain words in Meta data not appropriate for the site's material. Whatever you choose to believe about Meta and such HTML tags, let it be clear that if you are going to implement such code on your site, it is best to do so correctly and in a way that will enhance rather than harm your site.
A quick survey of Meta tags
When one thinks of Meta tags, more than likely two types come to mind. In actuality, there are a number of Meta tags that may be applied to the code of a webpage. The more popular ones include:
* KEYWORDS - A repository for placing keywords relevant to the website in one place, to allow search engines to find and therefore cache the site appropriately
* DESCRIPTION - Working on the same principal of the KEYWORD tag, the DESCRIPTION tag allows the website owner to summarize the purpose of the site
* ROBOTS - This tag gives instruction to the search engine spiders that visit the site, either allowing or forbidding them to cache the information on the page
* COPYRIGHT - Affirms the ownership of the site, handy if copyrighted material is used
* GENERATOR - Confirms the type of publishing tool used to create the page. HTML editors like Dreamweaver or FrontPage may automatically insert this tag when a new page is created
* REVISIT - Instructs search engine spiders to visit the site at specific intervals, handy if you update often, though the validity of this tag has been debated
For the website owner who wishes to keep specific information properly indexed, Meta tags can prove useful in that respect. From an standpoint, it is argued that the most important of these tags is the DESCRIPTION tag, more so than KEYWORDS and ROBOTS. Among the major search engines, often the data used in the Meta DESCRIPTION tag is used as the site's description in search results.
Therefore, it is important to make sure that the content of this tag provides enough information in so many words to entice visitors to click-through. As search engines may truncate descriptions after so many characters or words, it is important to use this tag for a descriptive site summary without being too wordy.
Authors, in particular those with multiple books, may wish to use the
DESCRIPTION tag to summarize the site in its entirety. Elements in the tag should definitely include name, the primary genre written, and what incentives the site offers - not just the books.
EXAMPLE ONE: Browse Jane Doe's site of award-winning mystery novels for sample chapters of her latest works, her personal writing diary, and a chance to win a free signed book.
EXAMPLE TWO: Mary Roe writes engaging historical romance. Read sample chapters of To Marry a Thief, her latest in the Regency London series, and sign up for Jane's free newsletter for contest and release information.
In the above samples the Meta description defines the purpose of each website. Each specifies the author and genre and offers calls to action - one to enter a free book giveaway and the other to opt-into a free newsletter with the promise of contest wins. Both emphasize the reading samples on the site, allowing visitors to try before they buy. In just two short sentences, the entire scope of each site is outlined, and this is what the search engines will pick up as they cache the site for further information.
Bottom line, be concise in your description tag and offer incentive for a user to click-through to your site.
The debate over whether or not Meta keywords are important may rage for years to come. In the early days of it was common practice to use this tag to repeat main keywords ad nauseam or "stuff" the tag with popular search phrases unrelated to the site's topic. As expected, search engines have become wise to such black hat practices and may even penalize a site for trying underhanded tricks to get top results. These days, experts may advise novice webmasters to focus more on Meta description, site content, and organic inbound linking. At best, Meta keywords may serve as a guide for search engines to the the focus of your site.
Should you choose to use this tag, choose keywords that are most relevant to your site and content. The mystery author may use his/her name as a search point and other relevant terms: mystery novels, mystery books, mystery fiction, thrillers, detective stories, virginia authors, murder mysteries, and so forth. There is no set rule for minimum and maximum word counts in this tag - some websites rank high with three words in the Meta keyword tag, while others with 100 words may not do as well, and vice versa. Quality always trumps quantity where this tag is concerned.
Bottom line: relevance is key, but don't spend too much time on this tag. Save your energy for building a concise, user-friendly website. Once you have crafted the HTML code of your site, make sure what you have to offer visitors is relevant and useful, informative enough to inspire organic linkbacks. A good balance can help bring the traffic, and sales.
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