I witnessed an argument in a forum the other day between two SEOs. They were discussing meta tags. One of them said he had a “special trick” for ensuring that he got high ranks in the search engines and it involved the use of meta tags. The other guy argued that meta tags don’t matter. It was an interesting discussion.
First, let me say that any time someone says they have a “special trick,” I get skeptical. SEO is not about special tricks. It isn’t rocket science. Anyone can do it. The problem with most website owners is they don’t have the time to do it. But if they did, they’d have no problem doing it because it really isn’t that hard.
That’s not to say that how you do it doesn’t matter. It does. Most people don’t do it correctly because they don’t take the time to learn the principles. And you don’t need tricks.
When it comes to meta tags, there are three essential tags you need to worry about. The title tag, description, and keywords. Truth be told, you can build a web page without using any of these tags and the search engine will list you. You might even get high ranks, but I’d use them anyway. Each one does something important that you will benefit you at the search engines and if you don’t use them then you don’t get those benefits.
The title tag is the title of that page. Not the website, not your title, not your company title or name; it is the title of that specific web page. Make sure it’s unique. Don’t give every page in your website the same title. That would be pointless. Use a keyword-focused title that tells the search engine what that page is about in 5-10 words.
The benefit of your title tag is it tells the search engines in just a few words what your web page is about. Your content will do that more than anything else and if you have great content then your title tag isn’t going to provide much more benefit. That’s because your content, more than anything else, determines how the search engines rank your web page. Still, all other things being equal, a great title tag will give you a bit more edge over your competition. That’s its primary benefit and you’ll do yourself a favor by using it and doing it properly.
Your description is what the search engines display under the title link on your SERP. The first page of your SERP turns up 10 results. The top line is a link with your keyword phrase in it. That link describes the site. Under that link is a two-line description of the site. The search engines will default to the description in DMOZ unless you have a meta description that better explains what that site is about. Matt Cutts says Google will determine whether to use your DMOZ description or your meta description based on the relevance to the search. The description tag is a great place to determine what searchers see when they look for your site using the keywords you want to rank for. Otherwise, it doesn’t really help you in establishing rank, but you can see the clear benefit.
The biggest mistake people make in their keyword tags is to include too many keywords. If you list 100 keywords because that’s what you hope the search engine will rank you for then you are wasting your keyword tag. That’s not what it’s for. The search engines will just ignore any keywords that aren’t relevant to your page. In other words, if you list keywords that are not specifically on that page the search engines won’t even notice them. They’ll pretend they’re not there.
Since that is the case you should just focus your keyword tag on those keywords that are relevant to your site and that are listed on that page more than once. Let’s suppose that your site is about automotive parts and you have a web page on spark plugs. If you use the word Champion – a brand name of a spark plug – three times that will be an important keyword for you. The search engines will rank you for that keyword anyway, but the keyword tag is another place you can list that keyword and make it count. Again, all other things being equal, the keyword tag could give you an edge over your competition. You really don’t want more than 5-7 keywords in your keyword tag. After all, your web page will likely not be optimized for more keywords than that and it’s really difficult to make it so anyway.
Think of it this way. You ave five important keywords. You’ve used all five keywords at least twice on your page. Let’s say your keywords are spark plug, champion, tune up, autolite, and internal combustion engine. Your use of the keywords are 12, 9, 5, 8, and 10, respectively. Now that page might rank 23 for the term spark plug alone, but if you add any one of the other keywords in conjunction with spark plug and you rank in the top 10. The search engines rank your pages according to the number of uses of those keywords as well as relevance and several other factors such as anchor text, special effects, etc. And, yes, the keyword meta tag is one criteria (among many) that is looked at. It’s not the most important, but if you and one of your competitors are running neck and neck for the use of those specific keywords and you’ve optimized your keyword meta tag but your competitor has not, then you stand a better chance of ranking higher than your competitor.
The one thing you must remember about search engine optimization is that there is only one absolute: Content is the full course meal. Everything else is just dessert.