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I have built a site that I mainly use to mess around with various design techniques, etc. It is mostly text based, using html 4.01 strict in most instances.
I don't have any h1 tags on the pages, using h2 tags instead. When I use the site:www. etc search in google, it lists the pages, with their <title> tags as the link title, then the contents of the h2 tag, then some of the page contents. I don't really have any complaints about that.
On two other sites, that I have built for more commercial purposes (albeit my own) I have followed a similar layout but used h1, then h2 tags (some pages don't have h2) and when I do a site:www. search for them in google I get the page title followed by the navigational links from the top of the page... not really what I expect.
I can post some code snippets if these will help, I just wanted to make sure I'm not breaking forum rules
I always used to use these but stopped building sites for a few years and now I'm on a crash course (self taught!) trying to get back up to speed with current conventions and not quite getting it right half the time!
Meta keywords are largely ignored, although it's a good idea to include them anyway. In any case, all three (including title tag) should be unique and relevant to the page.
I did have meta descriptions but removed them because I was concerned that SEs wouldn't index the content of the page but only look at the contents of the meta tags.
SE's will look at the content of the page, regardless of whether you have a meta description or not. In fact they are far more likely to place most weight on the page content rather than the meta tags, in terms of actually indexing the page, as meta tags have been so heavily abused in the past.
the pages on my experimenting site don't have meta descriptions but aren't displaying the first content encountered.
Are you sure? From O.P.,
when I do a site:www. search for them in google I get the page title followed by the navigational links from the top of the page... not really what I expect.
If it's text, it's content. :-)