Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mysteries of Meta Title and Description Tag Revealed

I get asked variations of questions about these tags as eager website owners try to figure out what to do with them to answer SEO needs, like: "Fill in your meta tags!" or "We'll give you Meta Tags for $$". But you want to know what the heck they are before you go and get these tags, or pay someone to get you keywords for your tags.

Title and Meta Description and Keyword Tags Overview

First of all, your keywords for the specific page go into these tags. These tags are specific to each page in your website, and are not used to generally describe what is on your whole site. They are located under the hood in your HTML code. Depending on how you update your website (straight HTML pages that you upload or through a content manager where you press Save or Publish), you will have different ways of accessing and customizing these. At their most basic level, they tell the search engine what the page is called, and what the search engine might find there.

We'll get to the pictures in a minute, but the most heavily weighted by the search engines is the Title Tag. The Meta Description Tag is less weighted, but very important for different reasons - actual people could read it in the search results and gauge if they want to click on your page or not. And how do they click on your page from the search results? By clicking on the Title Tag. The Meta Keyword Tag is not so important, but is a place where you can put a string of keywords that appear on the specific page.

Tag Definitions:

Title Tag:
Shows up in your browser window and in search results (see both pictures). Search engines place good deal of weight on what you plug into here. Keywords should go at the front, as users scan the search results page and have their specific keyword that they just searched for on the brain.

title tag in search engine
The blue underlined text is the title tag that people click on to get to your page. Not just to your whole website, but to a specific page. The black text, in this case, is the meta description tag. The black text can also be viewable copy pulled from your actual page depending on the better keyword match. The green text is the URL, which is the direct way to get to that page on your website.

Meta Description Tag: It can show up in the search results when you run a search on a search engine like Google. It will only show up if there is a good keyword match between what is in meta description tag and what the user typed into the search box. Otherwise, it is
another indicator to the search engine about what is on the page. The main reason you want it filled in is to show the user a sentence about what the page is about. It's more of a marketing-type sentence and should be different than the content on your actual page. Different, as in, not identical.

The screen shot picture above shows how the meta description tag is displaying in the search results for the query: "jewelry bag travel". The below screen shot shows the first line of text on my jewelry bag page that this search result is pointing to. Usually, for a page with not a lot of content, and if there is no meta description tag, or if the copy in the tag is not a great match, the search engine will display snippets from the first few lines of actual copy from the page, and may include copy from your text based menus, etc.

title tag in browser
This is the top of a browser window. The very tippy top has text in it. That's the title tag. See how it can show up everywhere? So you want to choose it carefully. Mine could be better, but this is what we've got for now. :) The white area is the Address Bar. It shows your URL, which was that green text from the search engine result in the picture above.

Meta Keyword Tag: This is just a long list of keywords found on the specific page like: "jewelry bag bags pouch pouches travel traveling jewlry silk pink brown drawstring pull snaps snap pocket pockets elastic" It doesn't have that much weight in the search engines, but it doesn't hurt to fill it in. And what do you fill it in with? Words that appear on the page and misspellings of those words. The meta keyword tag will not display anywhere and is only for the search engines to read.

Text on the Actual Page

See how the regular copy on this page is not the meta description tag we saw in the search results above. The title tag is in view in the top of the browser window (in picture above, not this one below). But note how the keyword that I'm targeting, "jewelry bag" is in some hot spots on the page. It is in linked copy below each image, and they all link to the specific color of jewelry bag. The text under these jewelry bag pictures is not an image. It is actual text, which is readable by search engines, which is what you want. If it's an image, the search engines can't read it. These tag images I have posted here are just images, and totally unreadable by search engines. But I have placed my desired target keywrods in other places of this post, so I can take the loss of actual text in this case.

tags and page content

Title and Meta Tag SumUp

Title tags are very important. The are read by users and search engines, and may be pulled by other websites who link to you, like the social networking sites like StumbleUpon. If someone uses a special website like StumbleUpon or ThisNext to vote for your page as a good page, that website will automatically pull your title tag and show it on their website. You may have Title and Meta tags filled in with keywords, but there are plenty of other places you need to put keywords, like in the body copy, alt tags, image file names (that's my theory anyway), headers and sub heads, menu copy, in text links pointing to your pages, etc etc. Now that you know this, the tricky and fun part is getting creative with how you place your keywords (that you have researched, of course). Hire out or think of creative ways yourself, but either way, be aware of it.

Good luck!

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