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Make intelligent use of META tags - Part 1

 10:39 pm on May 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

This is a subject I feel often is forgotten. There are tons of META tags available, but so many developers simply ignore them, or just don't know how to use them.

Here's a list of useful META tags you can use.

name="keywords" content="keywords go here"
This tag is a must. It lets you specify keywords people might use when looking for your site. Enter as many as you can think of, but don't repeat each word more than once.

name="description" content="description goes here"
Here you can enter a short description for your site. Avoid using phrases like "the best" .. Keep the description short, but to the point. Usually, this is what a person will see as the title when using a search engine.

http-equiv="expires" content="expiration date (Example: Mon, 24 Dec 2001 23:00:00 MST)"
If you want to make sure that the visitor gets the latest version of your page, enter an expiration date in the past. Or, simply enter the date when the page will become outdated.

http-equiv="pragma" content="no-cache"
This tag tells IE not to cache the page.

name="robots" content="instructions go here"
This tag tells a SE spider whether to index a page or not (index/noindex), and whether to follow links on the page or not (follow/nofollow). You can use these in any combination you want.

  • index, follow - Default value. Page will be indexed, and links on the page will be followed.
  • index, nofollow - Page will be indexed, but any links on the page will not be followed.
  • noindex, follow - Page will not be indexed, but links on the page will be followed.
  • noindex, nofollow - Page will not be indexed, and links on the page will not be followed.

name="author" content="author's or company's name"
Pretty self explanatory. Information about who is the author goes here. This information will for example be showed in the page info for Mozilla users.

name="copyright" content="copyright information"
Pretty self explanatory as well. The proper copyright information starts with the word 'Copyright' followed by the copyright symbol, the year(s) you claim copyright, and your name (or company). Example:
Copyright 1998-2002, DrDoc Systems

http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html;charset=ISO-8859-1"
Is your site using a certain character set? Well, here you can specify which character map to use. As long as you are using only basic latin characters (a-z, no funky symbols that can't be typed on a standard keyboard), this tag can be omitted. But if you are using certain character entities (like ) you should use this tag to ensure that they will be displayed properly.



 4:18 pm on May 29, 2002 (gmt 0)

well, I've been playing this game for 5 or 6 years now... not as long as some, but probably longer than most... and I've seen tags come and go, get overused, underused, and totally abused.... but in my opinion, they are like the sprinkles on the icing of the cake... they make your final pages pretty and a little enticing... do you need them in this environment? absolutely not. I have ranked sites in every single major engine without them...recently. that's right... a title tag at the top and a body tag below. What effect does that have? it makes engines make up their own mind without you shoving keywords down their throat.... these days any engine big enough that I want in, is smart enough to figure out what my site is about without metas.

What are they good for then? presenting nice, clickable descriptions.... which is an important part of the other half of the equation.... turning your rank into cash. The other thing they are good for is making SEOs feel better about themselves that they have done everything possible for a client's site.... they put the sprinkles on the cake...in other words, the chances that they may move you up or down a spot or two are possible, but the chances of your site getting catapulted to the top, based on metas alone, are about zero.

So should you use them? Sure. Why not? but keep them in perspective...they are neutral most of the time, and they can help you on occasion.... my feeling is the less competitive the terms, the more they will help...

....but just so you know, if you come across any of my sites, and all you have in your pocket are some metas, I'll eat your lunch:)


 4:39 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Wellhow long can a thread get? :) No thats not the question...

...something I didnt see people putting forward is the fact the meta tags should more likely match the body text of external pages that link to your site.

After all I think I'm pretty handsome with 'check me out' written on my tee-shirt, but it the bodies of the googley-eyed chicks that surround me that provide the proof.

I'm lying of course, being a sad lonely progger...but on MY pages I can 'suggest' what I like :)

Does that make any sense at all? Go on ...Say Im wrong...


 7:04 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

I've studied this subject for a long time now, and all the mayor papers and se comments i've read;
- advise the use of meta's.
- surely more than 90%, say there's no use of the revisit tag
- put your main keywords in a phrased title, and description, never use the same more than 3 times
- start the keyword tag with the main keywords and work your way down
- try making search phrases yourself
- extract the keywords from the content of your page(s)
- use the robots index,follow meta
- make good usage of any H1,H2 and H3 html code, again try using your main keywords
- use a robots.txt

my personal hint! is add: and, or, not, + and - to your keywords

i guess this way you have most engines covered, you could always submit "index-x" pages to local search engines in another language to avoid lorry and truck problems

Best Wishes



 7:06 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

<meta name="document-classification" content="general">
<meta name="document-rights" content="Copywritten Work">
<meta name="document-type" content="Public">
<meta name="document-rating" content="Safe for Kids">

I don't know any engine or software that uses those. Where the heck did you find those?


 7:17 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hello there mbauser2. Those are all listed at the W3C. You can find a fairly detailed explanation of all META tags here...

A Dictionary of HTML META Tags [vancouver-webpages.com]


 7:19 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

> my personal hint! is add: and, or, not, + and - to your keywords.

Hello HoMeR! Actually, those are stop words and are ignored by indexing spiders. My suggestion would be not to use them as they occupy valuable space. Unless someone can refute that and tell me that it is a viable strategy.


 7:31 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Although it's not commonly done, I've been using some stop words lately. Spiders still collect the data, but how that data is then used in the ranking algo is more the question.

Using stop words can be a viable strategy if you are looking for traffic on exact technical phrases that use stop words (e.g "Chip On Board"). This may be especially true when the target market for your pages is technical and may use a lot of quoted "exact phrase" searches to zero in.


 7:40 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hmmm, that is an interesting strategy tedster. Never really gave stop words much thought in the six years that I've been doing this.

Now, it would sure be nice to know how the spiders use the data!

Lets hope we don't see a bunch of titles and descriptions popping up in the SERP's that read like this...

Blue Widgets or Red Widgets and California and Los Angeles or Century City.


 7:47 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Well first off, if you are worrying about running out of space for your keywords then you probably have WAY too many keywords in your metas.

Secondly, if you optimize for exact phrase matching, words like "and" and "a" become very important in titles and anchors.

A search on Google for "pass football" sans quotes returns different results than "pass a football" sans quotes even though Google reminds you that "a" is a very common word and wasn't included in the search.

So... for exact phrases I typically add those "filter" words to create a natural phrase in the meta. Doesn't seem to matter much to Google but removing those "filter" words from metas seems counter productive to exact phrase matching.

Personally, I think if you have good titles, anchors, headers and body content you can dispense with the metas completely.



 7:50 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

I recently took on a technical client (could you guess?) and noticed stop words in the search phrases when I did their first log analysis. A little thinking and I decided to try this out with their new site - especially because some of the phrases really are important keywords to them.

If something blows up, I'll be sure to let you know.


 7:53 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

tedster, I'd definitely be interested in your findings. I have a few technical clients and maybe I can make some slight modifications and shift some positions here and there!

brotherhood of LAN

 7:57 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

tedster, pageone, digitalghost,

it almost sounds like you are leading the rest of us up the garden path :) Would love to hear what happens too


 8:06 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Not me! I'm following tedster and digitalghost. I've never given much thought to using stop words in METAs. I've always tried to keep them as trim as possible.

I will use them in titles and descriptions of course as they are naturally occuring. Never even thought about adding them in with the keywords. But then again, I haven't targeted that tag in quite some time. Maybe its time to revisit! ;)

(edited by: pageoneresults at 8:08 pm (utc) on May 30, 2002)

Robert Charlton

 8:23 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>add: and, or, not, + and - to your keywords<<

I don't get it... these are Boolean operators, not words of content. If people are going to be searching a lot for an exact phrase match, then build your page to deliver the exact phrase. How many people actually search for "red widgets" as "red AND widgets" anyway?

Also, since it's likely that the meta keywords tag isn't going to come into effect until that content is found nowhere else on the Web, including these operators in the meta keywords tags is not likely to produce any effect.

I'd spend my time building good pages.

(edited by: Robert_Charlton at 8:26 pm (utc) on May 30, 2002)


 8:43 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

to Robert C., i might suggest you try them in your keywords, most people use them in their phrases, ill bet ya they turn up in your stats ! :)

ok maybe +,- are somewhat personal, and/or outdated ! ;)

Best Wishes


 9:05 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>actually search for "red widgets" as "red AND widgets" anyway?

They don't. But they search for "cigars and cutters" and "humidors and hygrometers" and "software for macs" yep, "for" is a filter word too, and they look for "information on cryptography" and "on" is another filter word.

Everyone is very careful to mention using the keyphrase in titles, headers, anchors and body, so if you have a page entitled Pass Algrebra and Trig Tests why would you leave "and" out of the meta keyword and description phrase? ;)


brotherhood of LAN

 9:12 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Its worth taking note of IMO at least...

SERP referrals with "stop words" as i know them

1. for 4.04% 2. the 1.5% 3. in 1.4%

anyone think this may reflect searches in general or only to specific sites?


 10:35 pm on May 30, 2002 (gmt 0)

Those are all listed at the W3C.

No, I don't think they are. Searching w3.org for "document classification", "document rights", "document type" "document rating", "Copywritten work" and "Safe for kids" didn't turn up anything about those particular meta tags.

I've been following the W3C for a long time, and to the best of my knowledge, they've never taken meta tags that seriously as metadata (the format is suboptimal for computer-parsing), especially when it comes to content ratings. They go for XML, RDF, and third-party rating services.

Unless somebody can show me an actual citation for those NAME values, I'm classifying these particular tags as Voodoo Tech Support (at best) or a waste of time (at worst).

Robert Charlton

 4:01 am on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>why would you leave "and" out of the meta keyword and description phrase?<<

Because I prioritize.... I leave many words that might be searched out of the meta keywords tag. As pageoneresults suggests, I do use them in the title, description, and on the page as they might naturally occur.

There are a lot of words that people will search for that I figure the page will pick up if I've optimized well for my main terms. Even if the meta keywords tag had the magic powers that some here are ascribing to it, if you consider how the tag might be viewed by the engines, putting anything but one's most important targets into the tag would only dilute the tag's effectiveness.


 7:38 am on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

I haven't seen anyone ascribe any magic powers to the meta tags. I've also stated that metas could be dispensed with altogether.

>>if you consider how the tag might be viewed by the engines

That's exactly what was done. If words like "and" and "for" are filtered out it doesn't seem likely that the addition of those words would dilute the effectiveness of the tag. If they are filtered out of the metas they are more than likely filtered out of the body text as well.

What I'm seeing with Google and some of the other engines is a shift in the serps when words like "and" and "an" are used as a query.

Since no one can say for certain what is being filtered out or how that filtering influences the serps a little experimentation is healthy. Since I don't believe in the magical meta tag I certainly can't see it as harmful.

Tossing an unlikely search term into the fray and basing the unlikelihood of a search on that phrase didn't prop up your argument though. Since searches are based on phrases, adding a word that allows for the creation of a natural phrase rather than a litany of keywords seems logical.

I fully agree with spending time on building quality pages but I also recommend exploring all the options. If metas come back into vogue, who can say how the engines will look at them the second time around? It didn't take long for people to recognize that "click here" isn't exactly good anchor text, but they didn't find out by constantly using "click here" in anchors.

If "red green apples" ranks differently than "red and green apples" and you have "Red and Green Apples" as your title, in your header, in your body content and in anchors pointing to the page, how would the addition of "and" in the meta keyword tag dilute the effectiveness of the tag?



 8:05 am on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

RobertC, i guess you have made more pages than your own homepage, but dont you think if you used meta's on that page it would rank higher on (example) google ??


 8:17 am on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

Meta description, meta keywords: two lines, 5-15 words each on average. I'll take both thank-you. While I don't rely on them, I don't ignore them either.

I also have seen the results of "natural phrases." I have one page in particular that pulls traffic from the search term "(keyword1) in (keyword2)(keyword3)" The term is present in the title, description and keyword meta, as well as used as a prominent heading. The results prove themselves out: while (keyword1) in (keyword2) return the same results as (keyword1) and (keyword2), enclosing the search term in quotes "(keyword1) in (keyword2)" brings and entirely different set of results.

So yes, I'll continue to use meta tags, at least the basics:

http-equiv="Content-type" content="text/html;charset=ISO-8859-1"

name="description" content="description goes here"

name="keywords" content="keywords go here"


 8:43 am on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

Some reasons for me still using (more than 10) keywords in 2002.

1. Some local search engines that use meta-keywords can still cover up to 30% of the local search market in some countries (however small they may be).

2. For directory listings; some directories automatically "extract" your metatag keywords for their internal search requirements.

3. Give your unexperienced competitor the wrong idea for ranking high in Google.


 8:56 am on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

3. Give your unexperienced competitor the wrong idea for ranking high in Google.

In that case, shouldn't you also add a line says "Our SeKrIt plans for GoogLe Rank. Delete it before we PoSt, dude!" :)


 8:25 pm on May 31, 2002 (gmt 0)

i just read some info on the http-equiv, and since its so highly rated i thought it might be worth mentioning;



 5:53 pm on Jun 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

Great post DrDoc. I have made my metatags all over again after your post and the ideas in the replies to that.


 6:22 pm on Jun 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thank you, pgsbs. And thanks everyone who has replied to it.

I must say that this post has some valuable information for all of us, both positive and negative, something we all can learn from.

Keep it coming ;)

Robert Charlton

 7:21 pm on Jun 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>I haven't seen anyone ascribe any magic powers to the meta tags.<<

digitalghost - Forgive me if my response was too vehement, but I'm with JayC in having a "knee-jerk reaction" against the emphasis on meta tags... and I am seeing a fair number of posts that may make newbies visiting the board think that meta keywords are more important than they are. I cannot tell you how many people I encounter who think that "doing keywords and submitting" is all there is to SEO.

>>I've also stated that metas could be dispensed with altogether.<<

Yes, I think we're basically in agreement about them, and you've said some things about the length of the tag, etc, that needed to be said.

>>If "red green apples" ranks differently than "red and green apples" and you have "Red and Green Apples" as your title, in your header, in your body content and in anchors pointing to the page, how would the addition of "and" in the meta keyword tag dilute the effectiveness of the tag?<<

To really answer all the if/then combinations in your question would take a lot of time... and my main point is that if the tag isn't that effective anyway, worrying about it a lot dilutes my effectiveness.

I just did some quick test searches on Google, based on one of your examples.

For cigars and cutters (default all-the-words), Google returned, "The "AND" operator is unnecessary -- we include all search terms by default," followed by 18,300 results.

For "cigars and cutters" (exact phrase search), Google displayed "Results 1 - 3 of about 73."

So, obviously you'd want to do some testing on this one, or whatever... I'm sure you weren't trying to be precise... before you took the trouble of targeting it as an exact phrase.

At the other extreme of an exact phrase match, I tried Cheech and Chong.

For Cheech and Chong (default all-the-words), Google returned 45,600 results.

For "Cheech and Chong" (exact phrase search), there were 20,500 results returned.

The top 10 results for both searches were exactly the same. I glanced at AltaVista, where the top 10 results differed a bit.

Most target phrases will lie somewhere in between these extremes, and if I think they need to be targeted as an exact phrase match, I do some research.

I'd probably treat the phrase "Cheech and Chong" as if it were one word, and chances are I'd put the "and" in the meta keywords. For most else, frankly, it doesn't matter. On page factors and incoming links are much more important.

If I used my keywords tag also for theming, as I describe in one of my posts I link to above, the "and" might be taking up some real estate I might like to save for a more critical word. In general, I don't repeat my target words in my meta keywords to achieve all possible exact phrase matches.

In all the years I've been on the web, I think I've only seen one example of a term being found because it was in the meta keywords tag but not on the page... some obscure Greek mythological figure. The only reason I'm spending all this energy talking about it is because the misplaced reliance on this area gives SEO a bad name.

As to HoMeR's note...

>>i guess you have made more pages than your own homepage, but dont you think if you used meta's on that page it would rank higher on (example) google<<

HoMeR - I see that in your profile you haven't linked to one of your optimized pages either. ;) The link to my "homepage" is intended to give folks here some background about me apart from SEO. If I were to revisit that site and optimize it, there are a whole bunch of things I'd do to it before I'd touch the meta keywords tags.

As for Google, it definitely does use the title tag, which I usually don't lump with the meta tags. Google generally does not, though, use the meta description or meta keywords tag. There has been some discussion on the board about whether Google will look at these tags if the page is otherwise devoid of content.

I think I have seen Google return the meta description when there was nothing else on the page. To me, this suggests that Google probably does index the description tag, and maybe the keywords tag, too... and that they're probably last in line, after all other factors, in importance.


 8:30 pm on Jun 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

This thread is interesting ..

Ok, I'm performing a SE test. Unfortunately I won't be able to present the results yet. It's a simple test really, but it should be the end to any disagreements ;)

Robert Charlton

 8:40 pm on Jun 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>If "red green apples" ranks differently than "red and green apples" and you have "Red and Green Apples" as your title, in your header, in your body content and in anchors pointing to the page, how would the addition of "and" in the meta keyword tag dilute the effectiveness of the tag?<<

A PS to my post above, just to clarify an important point... I could have "red and green apples" as title, in my header, etc, but still be targeting "red apples" and "green apples," in which case the "and" is completely superfluous.

brotherhood of LAN

 8:56 pm on Jun 1, 2002 (gmt 0)

I just wanted to slide in a little deduction, selfishly for myself, in this seemingly interesting thread. Lots of opinions as to what is what!

1. reading each post in here about the "meta keywords" tag is less effective than forgetting the whole thing. Still use them, because there are many "cut and paste" search engines on smaller sites that rely on keywords.

2. All the above mentioned good use of description and title, correct use of CSS (H tags in logical size order)

Huge issue, you have to wonder "what is what" what what is worth what. Some of the things I have read I believe have such a small affect on things they are a waste of time thinking about them (no offence anyone).

.....and some meta tags are just a waste of space. Opinions will vary here.

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=windows-1252">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en-gb">
<meta name="description" content="forhumanconsumption">
<meta name="keywords" content="yeah...no commas btw">

This is what I will stick to for now :)

/edited typo

(edited by: brotherhood_of_LAN at 9:15 pm (utc) on June 1, 2002)

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