META Tags: You’re Invisible Without Them
“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
This old quote is something all website owners should take to heart. I’ve seen many really beautiful websites out there that remind me of this. Let’s paraphrase:
“If I build a website and no one can see it, does it matter that it’s beautiful?”
Flash websites, sadly, are the worst at this, but it’s a problem that can hit any site. If you sink all of your time and money into making a website look and perform spectacularly but don’t bother to optimize it for search engines, then no one will be able to find your wonderful-looking site. Search engine optimization is a critical part of any website strategy, and it begins with making sure search engines can find and identify your website and its content.
Case Study: Robert Culp Online
Take an example. Robert Culp is an American film and television actor. You probably remember him starring with Bill Cosby in the 1960′s TV series “I Spy” or with William Katt in “The Greatest American Hero”. I’ve met him a few times, and was curious if he had his own website. Sometime over the summer, I looked for it by typing his name into various search engines, including Google and Yahoo. Nothing came up, but I eventually discovered it anyway.
Robert Culp’s website is a nice-looking, multimedia Flash site with images and
clips of dialogue and soundtracks. It was pretty, but invisible to search engines. The problem is a lack of META tags. META tags are little snippets of code that allow search engines to find and properly index websites. They can mean the difference between showing up first in keyword searches and not showing up at all. When I searched for it in July, Culp’s website had no META tags, and so it wasn’t being properly identified by search engines. As a result, fans (including myself) weren’t able to find it.
I sent an email to the webmaster recommending some changes to the META tags on the site. It seems some of my advice has been taken – the site is now ranked third in Google, but still barely makes the first page on Yahoo. The site was created in 2008, which means it went invisible for a year or more. This is wasted time and money.
There are three main META tags every website should use. These are “Title”, “Description” and “Keywords”. Let’s look at an example listing. In the illustration below, I’ve typed the name of one of my website clients, Bucks County Auto Care, as a keyword search in Google.
Bucks County Auto Care’s website is the first natural listing, following the paid ad. I’ve highlighted the listing in light blue. What the search engine displays here is the information provided by the META tags. The blue clickable link comes from the META Title, while the META Description code provides the text that can be seen below the title.
Adding META Tags To Your Website
META tags are easy to add to almost any site. If your website is built using traditional HTML pages, simply add the code to the “head” section of each page. If you’re using a WYSIWYG (“what-you-see-is-what-you-get”) editor like Dreamweaver, you can add META tags using the “Insert” feature in the main menu. If you’re editing code by hand, it should look something like this.
Is this necessary? This code won’t impact the way your website works. Your site will work just fine without it. And some search engines will manage to index at least some of your content just by picking up keywords in your text, provided you have some visible text for them to read (search engines cannot see text that’s embedded in images or Flash animations, making this content invisible to them). But adding these three little lines of code to each page really stacks the deck in your favor. The easier you make it for search engines to find what people are looking for on your website, the more traffic you’ll get. And traffic means money, whether you’re selling products or service or relying upon advertising revenue.
If your website is built using the WordPress CMS (content management system), there are a number of plugins available that will automatically add META tags to every page of your website. I recommend All In One SEO Pack for WordPress – it is easy to use and has all three META fields.
How Much Information Do I Include In META Tags?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends that the META title field be “ideally less than 64 characters in length”. This allows the information to display properly in any browser.
There is a little more wiggle room with META description lengths, as each search engine has its own cut-off limit. While Yahoo! will read up to 420 characters, Google cuts off at 152 characters. So, really, anything above 152 characters isn’t being read by the most popular search engine out there. Given this, keeping your META descriptions limited to 150 characters will guarantee all information is processed accurately by all search engines.
META keywords aren’t as valuable in ranking your website today as they were even a few years ago. The search engines have become more sophisticated, and can better interpret content. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to add a few keywords – just don’t go crazy. An accepted rule-of-thumb is no more than 10 keywords per web page. Any higher number of keywords than this, and you risk diluting your search engine results for your most critical keywords. So, pick wisely, and only pick a few.
META tags can be added to almost any website in a short amount of time, and will make it much easier for your content to be found by people searching for what you offer. And that can only be good for your business.
|This entry was posted by Michael Mercadante on December 17, 2009 at 6:47 PM, and is filed under Search Engine Optimization, Website Design. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|
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about 3 years ago - Comments Off
The world has changed so much over the last decade. The days of flipping through a hard copy phone book to find what you’re looking for are by and large behind us. These days, if you’re looking for something, you’ll type it into a search engine.
If your business sells a product or a service, you can’t afford to rely exclusively on traditional outbound marketing efforts. Print, radio and TV ads are costly and reach a limited audience. While they do have value, you’re paying a lot for it. A combination of search engine optimization and social media marketing efforts can yield a rich source of new customers you haven’t been able to reach yet.
Search engine optimization works by customizing your website to be as friendly as possible to the search engines so that your content will appear as close to the top of the first page of search engine results as possible.
When the average person looks at a search engine results page, they usually only look at the first few entries that come up. People rarely look at listings on even the second page, let alone the third or fourth.
If your website isn’t optimized, it’s a sure bet that your competitor’s site is, and they’ll rank higher than you in the results page. That means they’ll get more business than you.
Effective search engine optimization relies on content and programmatic revisions to your site, and requires diligent maintenance over time to achieve the best results, but those results could bring you new customers for years to come. Contact me if you’d like help with your SEO.
about 3 years ago - Comments Off
There’s a stereotype about old westerns from the 1950′s and 1960′s that all good cowboys wore white hats, and all villains wore black hats. It served as an easy way for audiences to tell good from bad.
When discussing search engine optimization, there are “white hat” techniques and “black hat” techniques – that is, techniques for optimizing your content and site traffic that are considered “good”, and those that are considered “bad”.
In this case, though, we’re not identifying good or bad in the eyes of the audience, but rather in the eyes of search engines. Certain search engine optimization techniques, while they may provide temporary gains, are considered unethical and may violate webmaster guidelines for one or more search engines. These violations can get your site penalized or banned, and end up causing more harm than good.
Some “black hat” techniques include buying/selling links and “keyword stuffing”. I only implement “white hat” SEO techniques. As a content developer, manager and promoter, I am committed to adhering to the webmaster guidelines set forth by the various search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Bing. I will not employ any “black hat” techniques as a matter of course, and so there is no risk of reprisal from the search engines. I want your website to achieve the highest ranking possible, and will work hard to make this happen in an ethical, responsible manner. Contact me so I can help you achieve your goals.
about 3 years ago - Comments Off
In the last few months, both Yahoo and Google have publicly stated that they no longer support the keyword meta tag. Bing has never used it. What impact does this have on your website and search engine rankings?
Search engines have gotten a lot smarter over the last few years, and they’re now indexing sites by keywords located within the content. While all three still use the title and description meta tags, they’re also looking through what’s actually written on your pages to help determine how your page ranks. Sites with a density of particular keywords within their written content will rank higher than ones just using those keywords in the meta tags.
While Yahoo still technically uses the meta keyword tag, it only does so as the lowest ranking measure.
For your site to perform well, your content should be written with search engine traffic in mind. Quality analytics reporting and research should help you identify which keywords will deliver customers to your site, and quality content will help ensure your pages rank high enough for those keywords to take advantage of browsing customers-to-be.
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