jump to navigation

Oh, What’s in a Meta Name*? May 6, 2008

Posted by Sarah Bernier in Things.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

At a previous company, I was on a call with a client who claimed to be Web savvy (because, he said, his girlfriend is “an IT person”), and who was very adamant that “search engines don’t look at meta labels anymore”. Keep in mind, this guy also wanted to get into the debate of ‘there is no such thing as different datacenters on search engines’. I didn’t have the heart (or the energy or the patience :)) to ask him “what exactly IS a meta label, anyway?”

I’ve also heard clients (and others who say they ‘know SEO’) say “make sure to work on my tags, since that’s the most important thing for ranking**”.

Makes me wonder where people get ideas about what is and isn’t important in regards to search engine optimization. And, frankly, how they can assume that ranking = success. But that’s a different discussion.

Danny Sullivan gives a nice definition of Meta Tags in his article How To Use HTML Meta Tags:

Meta Tag Overview
What are meta tags? They are information inserted into the “head” area of your web pages. Other than the title tag (explained within the article as ‘isn’t really a meta tag, but it’s worth discussing in relation to them’), information in the head area of your web pages is not seen by those viewing your pages in browsers. Instead, meta information in this area is used to communicate information that a human visitor may not be concerned with. Meta tags, for example, can tell a browser what “character set” to use or whether a web page has self-rated itself in terms of adult content.

In other words, we’re not just talking about meta description & keywords tags; this is information that is, for the most part, ‘behind the scenes’ for spiders to get some info from and in some cases, a visitor could see some of it. (Case in point – the meta description tag.)

Now, that being said, there is a tag which is vastly ignored: the meta keywords tag. While some search engines evidently still utilize this (they can be found within the Search Engine Features on Search Engine Watch), the major crawlers ignore the tag, due to its overuse in attempting to spam search engines in the late nineties. So, guy-who-knows-SEO-’cause-your-girlfriend-is-in-IT, you’re partially right for one tag.

However, your description tag is an important aspect of on-page optimization, and should be descriptive of the page it’s attached to – i.e., put relevant keywords in it. It should also be some sort of call-to-action, as *hopefully* it’ll be displayed in the SERPs and will help visitors decide (along with the tag and even URL) if they want to click on that listing or not.

That’s right, search engines don’t always display your well-written meta descriptions on their snippets. Why?, you ask. Depends on their search, depends on the words you utilize, etc. If your page is relevant, but the query is different from what you have in your description, search engines will most likely grab a more relevant fragment/s from within your content and display that instead. Keep in mind, search engines want repeat “customers” so they want to return the best, most relevant results they can. If that means overriding your well-thought-out meta description tag, so be it!

And, as alluded to above, all the rest of the meta data is informational – like the character set – and doesn’t concern visitors (inasmuch as optimization is concerned, anyway).

So, I’m going to call ‘erroneous’ on the dude’s observation that “search engines don’t look at meta labels anymore”. They do; you just need to be cognizant of a) nomenclature and b) on which tags you should focus your efforts. Go ask your IT girlfriend 🙂

* Keep in mind I’ve had this post on the back burner since before that SEW article by the same / similar name.
** Future post material.