Writing Effective Meta Tags for Search Engine Optimization
by Donald Nelson-2003

As with many other things which are unseen, there is a lot of
unnecessary mystery surrounding the use of meta-tags on web 
pages. The meta tags are information slots in the "head" portion 
of a web page. 

Though there are several possible meta tags that may be 
included in the head of a web page, the ones which are most 
important for search engine optimization are the Title Tag, 
the Description tag and the Keywords tag.


The title tag is really one of the most important single things
you can work on for improving your website’s search engine 
results. Go to Google and make a search for any particular 
keyword. If you look at the top ten entries in that search you 
will see that all of them have this key word in the title, 
sometimes more than once. So when writing your title tag, it is 
helpful to have your keywords included in the title tag, and not 
only in the tag, near the beginning of the title.

Suppose that your company is the Acme Manufacturing Company 
and you are selling electric widgets and you are located in 
California. What should your title tag be? Most people would 
opt for the name of their company as the first word of the 
title. It makes sense, in that it looks good in the blue 
strip at the top of the browser, but it doesn’t necessarily 
help you to get a good ranking in search results for your 
keywords "electric widgets, California". 

The first few words of your title tag are very important. 
People may not be searching for Acme Manufacturing, unless 
it is a very important brand, but they are searching for 
electric widgets, and they may not want to purchase it from 
someone in New York, especially if it is not a mail-order 
type item. 

In addition, if there are tons of widget companies, it will 
be difficult to get to the top of the heap in a search simply
for the term  "widgets". But if it is "widgets, California", 
then you will have a good chance of getting a high ranking if 
you put the keyword California prominently in the title. So, 
if you are in a very competitive category and your customers 
don’t already know about you, then you might consider a title 
tag like this "Electric widgets from Acme Manufacturing of 
California" or even better "Electric Widgets in California 
produced by Acme Manufacturing."

Some guidelines for the title tag suggest that this tag be 
limited to 70-80 characters including spaces. (I confess to 
have used more on several occasions.)


The next tag that has to be done is the Description tag. 
Many search engines use the description tag as a way to tell 
the searchers what the page is about. On MSN, for example, 
the description of the site shown underneath the title is the 
description that has been placed in the description tag. 

The description tag is thus important in two respects: the 
search engine robot searches it for keywords to "get an idea" 
of what the page is about, and this tag  will be seen by the 
surfers as they scroll down through the search results. If it 
is an interesting and well-written description then they may 
click through to visit the site. So this tag should be well 
written but also contain the important keywords that you wish 
to highlight.

Going back to our example of Acme Manufacturing. We could 
make a description tag that reads as follows: "Acme 
Manufacturing is the largest producer of electric widgets in 
California, providing round the clock service and warranties 
on all products." This description contains the keywords 
again and also says something about the company.

Some guidelines for description length recommend a maximum 
length of 250 characters. Once again there is no precision 
about this, but it is good to be cautious until you are 
already entered into a search engine’s index.


The last of the important meta tags relevant to search engine 
optimization is the keywords tag. In this tag you have a chance 
to list your important keywords, but this time they do not have 
to be in a coherent phrase as in the Title and Description. Put 
your important keywords near the beginning. Make sure that all 
the keywords used in the title and the description tags are again 
listed. On top of that, add prominent keywords, especially those 
that appear in the actual text of the page you are optimizing. 
For the Acme Manufacturing company we could have these keywords: 
"widgets, widget, electric widgets, California, widgets in 
California, Acme Manufacturing, service, warrantee, warranties"

Many pundits advise against excessive repetition of any single 
keyword even if they appear in different phrases separated by 
commas. Once again the guidelines vary and are not precise but 
it would be better to be conservative at first. How big should 
the keywords section be? 800-1000 characters is the estimate 
provided by some search engines and commentators alike.

The thing to remember about meta tags is that they are just one 
part of search engine optimization. If your text is keyword rich 
and your page structure allows the search engines to get to this 
text easily and if, on top of this, you have crafted your meta 
tags well, then you have an excellent chance of getting the 
search engine positioning results that you are aiming for.

Donald Nelson is a web developer, editor and social worker. He
has been working on the Internet since 1995 and is currently the 
director of A1-Optimization (www.a1-optimization.com), a company 
providing low-cost search engine optimization. He can be reached 
at admin@a1-optimization.com