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Building the Perfect Page - Part III - The Basics

Developing an effective META Description Tag.



12:40 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Continued from...

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META Description Tag (Metadata)

The META Description Tag usually consists of 25 to 30 words or less using no more than 160 to 180 characters total (including spaces). The META description also shows up in many search engine results as a summary of your site.

Directories like Yahoo! and the ODP (Open Directory Project - dmoz.com) show the page title and description that you entered (and the editors modified) on their manual submission form.

Make sure your META Description Tag is relevant to the content on the page.


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While many feel that metadata (META Tags) are of little relevance in today's SEM environment, I like to think otherwise.

The META Description Tag was designed to be an integral part of page development and document identification.

When dealing with the

section of your document, there are three pieces of metadata that I make mandatory on most pages that I develop; charset, description and keywords. I'll talk about the META Keywords Tag in another topic (don't obsess over this one, but don't ignore it either).

The META Description Tag is still an important factor in the overall equation of page development. Everything you do to that page will have an influence on something. You know, that "for every action there is a reaction" type thing.

Over the past few years, I've experimented with different strategies for the META Description Tag. I've settled on one which I feel has been of the most benefit. I will typically build the META Description utilizing content from the first one or two paragraphs on the page.

An interesting thing has occurred by formatting my META Descriptions in the above manner. Google will actually display full snippets of the META Description Tag when the proper keyword phrase or keyword sequence is queried. Yes, I've confirmed this by utilizing slight variations in the description as opposed to cutting and pasting exact copy from the page. In many instances, the exact META Description is displayed in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

When developing your pages, utilize the areas you have available to you for describing that page to various resources. As far as I know, the META Description Tag is considered in the overall equation of page relevancy. Use it effectively and follow the suggested standards for formatting.

In addition to the above, think about those who are going to be viewing your pages from a technical standpoint (viewing source). This would include Directory Editors, Webmasters and other Internet Marketing types.

When I develop resource areas for my clients, the first thing I do is build a title and description for that resource. The first place I look is at the

section of the page I'm linking to. If the web designer/developer have not made proper use of metadata, I've got to go the extra step and build a description from the visible content I see on the page which is somewhat of an inconvenience.

Another effect of utilizing the META Description Tag is from a spidering standpoint. Many of the automated programs for building directories and/or resource areas will spider the title and description. Since the user is usually presented with that information in the SERPs, a well written META Description presents visual appeal! ;)

[edited by: pageoneresults at 1:17 pm (utc) on June 18, 2004]


1:08 pm on Jun 18, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

What a great series pageone. You may want to add a link to Part II under the link to part I.

Another note that may be of interest. Advanced browsers such as Opera will record the site description when you bookmark a site. This makes it easier to find what you are looking for when searchin your bookmarks.

Along with this great resource, it might also be nice to have a list of the character limits for the description for different search engines, if someone would be so kind as to provide this information.


2:58 am on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Here's a question: Syntax!

I've got all my pages as validated XHTML/CSS.

Now. That means I close my meta tags with " />" just like image tags close with /> to conform with xhtml standards.

But, I just used the sim spider for the hell of it, and when it spiders the page it says it can't find a meta description or keywords.

What could be wrong with the syntax? Again, it validates to W3C. Should I just close the meta tags with ">" even though thats not xhtml, and accept it not being valid?

It worries me that I just noticed this now, and my site's been up for a year!

Thanks for any info!


3:10 am on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Also, are .dc (Dublin Core) meta tags at all useful? I'm sure some engines must use it, but is it worth the effort to add those to a site?


7:42 am on Jun 19, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member pageoneresults is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Previous discussion here...

DCMI - Dublin Core Metadata Initiative [webmasterworld.com]
Whose supporting the DCMI standards?

Your syntax is correct for the closing of the metadata. But, as you've found out, SIM Spider does not see that metadata if in XHTML format.

What I've done to get by this is use a closing

instead of
...description /">
. It validates and it appeases SIM Spider.

One of two things could be happening with SIM Spider. One, there could be a bug. Two, the spider may not be able to interpret the XHTML closing syntax for metadata. Maybe there are still spiders of importance out there that react the same way and SIM Spider was designed with that in mind.?


12:23 am on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Thanks - Yes, that's what I'm worried about, there may be other spiders that aren't reading my meta data correctly. Can't hurt to change it to </meta>!

Robert Charlton

6:47 am on Jun 20, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

pageoneresults - Another great post. Thanks.

Interesting that you build the page description and title first. I pretty much do the same... and in fact one of the very first things I do after coming up with a prioritized target phrase list is to come up with a generic c15 word description that I can apply to the entire site. For me it's a way of focusing priorities for a site. I then customize this for each optimized page.

In the scheme of things, I think titles are extremely important and that meta keywords are pretty much useless as a tool for ranking, though keywords may be useful in helping you focus your thoughts too. Nevertheless, I've always tried to do them as if they might count.

I've always held descriptions in higher regard than the keywords, and I have always been careful about them. Over the years, I've seen engines display descriptions, drop them, then display them again. They certainly don't ignore them. I'm guessing they may look at them as if they were text higher up on the page, particularly if there is text higher up on the page that reinforces them.

Regarding character limits, here's an old post on the subject that I think still holds... roughly 150 characters, sometimes 200 displayed, with a 250 character max across all engines....

maximum kw meta-desc length
all engines included


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