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Does Google penalize for leaving Meta tags empty?

 4:49 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

I am creating a custom CMS system which will allow for the ecommerce store owner to input the "Meta Description" and "Meta Keywords" on the same page that he will use to create a new product. The store owner has an existing site that already has a number of products listed. I am simply moving the existing product catalog into the new site database. The existing site does NOT have "Meta Descriptions" or "Meta Keywords". Thus, when I move the existing products to the new site, each product page on the new site will have empty an "Meta Description" and "Meta Keywords" tag for an undetermined amount of time (until the store owner gets around to logging into the new site's CMS and entering them).

Will Google penalize for this? Would it be better if I design the CMS so that it simply omits the "Meta Description" and "Meta Keywords" tags all together until they are entered by the store owner?



 5:02 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

You have to be careful about this. Google might pick up the words on a navigation or catagory bar and use them in indexing pages. It might cause duplicate issues.


 5:39 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Thank you for the comment trinorthlighting!

Sorry, I don't understand what you mean when you say "Google might pick up the words on a navigation or catagory bar and use them in indexing pages." Could you please explain what this means? Sorry for being a newbie ;)


 5:40 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have sites that rank #1 that don't have meta description or keyword fields at all.


 5:47 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Google probably does not currently use keywords, but descriptions are used by most SEs and many directories; in the abscence of a description, SEs may pick up the first lines of code.

While this probably does not affect your listing, it can seriously affect the appearance of your listing.

Your pages may (depending on search terms) appear as:

The Best Wesite In The Whole Wide World
<table cellpadding="1" border="0" width="97%" height="95"><tr><td bgcolor="#990

Worse, if all your pages have no - or identical - meta descs, most may appear as supplementary listings - or not appear at all.

The more specialized the search term, the less likely the problems - so search for domain.com, and all might appear OK; search for 'standard widgets', and you may experience a disaster.

[edited by: Quadrille at 5:48 pm (utc) on Aug. 29, 2006]


 5:59 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm removing all metas shortly as I believe this creates
more dupe problems than are actually warranted IMHO.

[edited by: twebdonny at 6:07 pm (utc) on Aug. 29, 2006]


 6:04 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think I might not have been clear enough. Just so you all understand, the exact scenario I am concerned about is:
Will Google penalize your site if the Meta Description and Meta Tag exist but contain no text.

Sorry if I confused anyone :)


 6:05 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

If at all, G should reward empty meta tags, because it looks lesser SEO.
Last time I checked, meta tags were totally irrelevant to G, is that still true?


 6:07 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Quadrille, in reference to:
"Google probably does not currently use keywords"

I was under that same impression until I came across the following post from Taiwan_Tim from the thread [webmasterworld.com...] and I changed my mind:

"Taiwan_Tim - 3:26 pm on Dec. 31, 2005 (utc 0)

I just noticed this thread---let me see if I can rekindle the discussion.

Two important keyword phrases for my industry are of the form:

many door widget
many door gadget

The two phrases refer to exactly the same type of product.

About 4 years ago we decided to use "many door widget" exclusively. We've been ranked No. 1 on Google for "many door widget" ever since. However, this left us out in the cold with "many door gadget." Our main competitor uses "many door gadget."

The new marketing manager at my company recently modified the homepage description and keyword metatags to include "many door gadget" (in both tags), but the phrase appears nowhere else on the homepage (not even in the browser page title).

We are now ranked No. 5 or 6 on page 1 of Google for "many door gadget" (95% of our search engine clicks come from Google).

Is it possible that Google has recognized the synonymity of the two phrases, saw from our description and keyword tags that we wanted to be ranked for this phrase, and then rewarded us accordingly?

I'm tempted (but reluctant) to remove "many door gadget" from the keyword tag to see if it's JUST the description tag that's giving us such a high ranking.

I've had to eat some crow since in the past I told my boss (i.e., the marketing manager) several times that the description and keyword tags were not considered any more in keyword ranking algorithms. Forthunately, she was gracious enough to accept my apologies."


 6:11 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

My wishful thinking is that Google will be neutral toward the empty Meta tags. And, the products that we do add Meta Descriptions and Keywords to will be done in a reasonable fashion, so I think they should get a positive or atleast neutral mark from Google.


 6:29 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Does anyone agree with Plasma? "If at all, G should reward empty meta tags, because it looks lesser SEO. Last time I checked, meta tags were totally irrelevant to G, is that still true?"

Plasma, I value your opinion, just want a second opinion, nothing personal :)


 6:30 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

An interesting thread.

I agree with the points made about descs - I have no doubt at all, from personal experience as well as many 'second hand' reports, that identical or missing descs can contribute to supplementary listings, and pages being dropped.

While I've really no knowledge of placing an empty meta desc, my guess would be that Google would - at best - treat it as 'identical descs', and at worst, it could conceivably prevent effective spidering (unlikely, but possible).

As you may be aware, Quadrille's Oft-Quoted 12th Law states "If you use Meta Tags, then use them correctly - failure to do this may lead to duplicate page problems, ugly SE listings and conceivably, pages not being listed at all"

Looks like the meta keywords issues has the jury out again- it would be good to hear more views on that - and maybe some experiments. But don't risk a money-earning domain!


 6:33 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

If you have a navigation headers such as:

Main Page
Photo Gallery
Product A
Product B
Site Map

Google might pick those up and place them in the description. If your site is template based, that means every page could index like that.

Also, remember google is not the only search engine, a lot of search engines still use keywords. I would venture to say that google still uses the tag somewhat as well.


 6:37 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Plus, the description is important when people do a search on google. That snippet goes into google search still and people do read it. Do you want google to populate that or do you want to decide what goes there?


 6:47 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

OK, so it looks like the answer to my basic question is that possibly yes, Google may interpret the multiple 'empty' Meta Description and Meta Keywords tags as duplicates and mark them as supplemental. Therefore, if I don't have time to create text to use in the Meta Description and Keyword tags until a later date, I should omit the entire Meta tag code from my HTML until I am ready.

Furthermore, I should use Meta tags since if I don't Google may do the work of forming a suiting text string based on what it sees on my page and it may or may not be what I would ideally want to have.

Thanks alot for you help guys!


 6:56 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Ommitting them can be just as bad. Google might still pick up a page and mark it supplemental. Once its supplemental it will not be crawled and updated as frequently and making changes down the road might take a long time to pick up if at all......

Take the time and build the page right the first time. Its worth it doing it that way. That way there will be no issue down the road for you.


 6:58 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

The title tag and the meta description are very important. Do not omit the tags or present empty tags.

There was a longer thread on this only a week or so ago.


 7:02 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

You should also build your pages to w3c compliance. That way you will catch simple html errors and the spiders will have no issues what so ever crawling you.


 8:48 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Budbiss, to answer your question directly - yes - Google will penalize you, maybe not directly, but indirectly - or a combination of both.

In the beginning of SEO and sound web design, meta description and keyword tags were essential. When spammers rendered these tags useless, search engines discounted these tags and looked to link structure (mostly backlinks) to categorize, index, and rank pages.

Most recently, search engines - Google and Yahoo's most recent update - have discounted incoming links that appear spammy, and most important to this thread and your question, have looked at the meta description to index - or not index and send to supplemental - pages.

I'm not suggesting that the meta description tag is a key component in rankings, however I am suggesting that the tag is important to indexing and categorizing a site's pages. We know for fact that duplicate descriptions will send those pages supplemental. My hunch is that empty tags will probably send those pages packing as well.

Lastly, from a ranking standpoint, internal factors are becoming more and more important as search evolves. Going back to the basics, a good page title, good meta description, h1 tags, solid internal linking, and unique content are king.

My 2 cents, unique meta descriptions are an absolute must.


 9:03 pm on Aug 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

make METAs unique and real for 2 reasons:
a/ search engines - if they are not unique pages will less likely get cached.
b/ for the user - the better meta description the better CTR from the SERPs


 4:09 pm on Aug 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the information guys! Your comments have been much appreciated!


 2:54 pm on Sep 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

Yes, meta descriptions are the best place to "pitch" the destination page. Personally I have found that if your site is an e-commerce site and you are coding a product page, then the description tag is a good place to include specials, pricing and amenities. If you have the privilege of having a site that is crawled once a week or more, then you can change pricing and specials in the meta description without losing much "down-time" between crawls.

Remember though, 154 characters is all you get before it is truncated with an elipsis


 4:59 pm on Sep 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

I removed META descriptions from my blog after studying how Google pulls text to generate snippets for a page. No problems so far.

However, if you don't know how Google builds snippets, I'd say you're rolling the dice by pulling your META description tags. Google will not always magically find the right snippet to display in the SERPs. Just adding/subtracting one DIV can make Google index the wrong text. It's one area where you'd be better off not overestimating them.

[edited by: Halfdeck at 5:02 pm (utc) on Sep. 1, 2006]

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