This article is the first of several in series of SEO Tips. My goal is to provide you with short, easy to understand, nuggets of SEO that you can implement on your own sites. Over time you should see improvement in your rankings as we cover more material.
The first three topics I’ll cover are the Title, Description and Keywords META tags.
Before I can discuss META tags though, I feel I should educate you a little about what they are and where they came from. Since the early days of the internet, people have believed META tags have mysterious super powers when it comes to being found online. While the Title does tag retain some of its super powers, the others have been severely reduced in strength. Even though weakened, the other tags should not be ignored as they are not quite dead – yet.
To help de-mystify META tags, it helps to think back to the “olden days”, before the web, when to do research you went to a large building called a “library.” It was a place where you could browse through collections of thousands upon thousands of books. To locate one of interest, you would use a “card catalog”, a large bank of small drawers filled with 5×7 index cards (things us old people used to make notes on). These cards were sorted by subject and topics. If you wanted to read a book about horses, you would go to the non-fiction area, then to animals, then to horses. These “keywords” helped us locate a broad category of books we might be interested in. Once you located a collection of books (your search results) you would flip through the cards and view brief bits of information about each book; Its title, author, publish date, a brief description and where the book was located. As you skimmed through the cards, you hoped for a title that sounded like a book you’d be interested in. If you see a title that looks good, you would then read the short description. If the description was intriguing, you might go pull the book from the shelf and give it a look. You could now either keep the book, or return to the card catalog and search some more until you found a book you liked. Sounds a bit like Google, don’t you think?
The founding fathers of internet search, mostly educators, were familiar with this system and thought it might be a useful way to catalog the few pages of text that existed online at that time. They adopted the use of META, or hidden, tags to help locate, describe and catalog the internet.
While this system worked well enough most of the time, it had a fundamental flaw – the keywords and descriptions were subjectively provided by the librarian – who may or may not have actually read the book. What if (on a bad day) the librarian looked at the cover of a book and saw a picture of a girl riding a horse on the beach. She might conclude the book is about horses, or riding them on the beach. When the book is actually about a boy’s summer vacation, during which he happened to developed a crush on a girl that liked to ride her horse at the beach. You’d be disappointed if you took that book home, wouldn’t you?
It gets worse. Imagine, if you can, that a few librarians figure out that the publishers of certain books will pay them a few cents each time they can get someone to pull one of their books from the shelf. These black-hat librarians would be putting keywords and descriptions in the card catalog that make no sense at all – just so somebody would go pull the book from the shelf.
Of course no librarian would do that, but sadly, that’s what happened to the web. Greed caused webmasters and even some SEOs to fill their pages with clues for the search engines that had nothing to do with the actual content – just to get viewers. They didn’t care if the viewers left as quickly as they came – just that they got paid for each visit.
Eventually the search engines figured this out and decreased their reliance on the META tags in favor of good page titles and great content. It’s important to note that I did not say they stopped reading them. While the importance of keywords and description tags is somewhat debated in the SEO community, many of us believe they do continue to play at least a small role in the indexing and cataloging performed by the search engines.
When creating your pages, you should always include a well-formed title, descriptive keywords and an accurate description. How do you do that? It’s easy….but it’s also a topic for next time.