Meta Confusion – A Primer by Debra Ernye

Want to really get confused? Start reading, I mean really READING, all of the various expert advice you receive each week concerning the importance of meta tags and search engine placement.

If any of this advice starts off by telling you that meta tags, and the search engine algorithms you are trying to entice using them, aren’t rocket science you can stop reading right there and throw the email away. Unfortunately it IS rocket science, or about as close as you’ll ever come to it.

Fortunately there are a few simple things you can do to make your site reasonably compatible with search engine spiders.

First and foremost, the three most important tags in your <head> statement should be

1) your TITLE,
2) your DESCRIPTION, and
3) your KEYWORDS.

They should ALWAYS be your first three tags.

Your TITLE is going to appear in your browser title bar (now you know why it’s called the title). That’s the colored (usually blue) bar at the top of your browser window. Titles can only be a certain number of characters in length if you want them to fit in the title bar. It’s amazing how many people look up in that relatively small space, so choose your title carefully. You want it to be catchy. Something that will encourage people to remember, or better yet bookmark, your site.

Avoid using really common words in your title like, “and”, “it”, “is”, etc. They’re what is know as “stop” items. They are so commonly used that spiders don’t consider them, EXCEPT that they do take up space in the counting tool that the spider is using.

Some/most spiders are using an algorithm (mathematical program) that tells them what to look for AND how long to look. If you are using a lot of “stop” terms the spider is clicking off the numbers but not considering the word. Not a good thing.

Your DESCRIPTION is a mini ad for your site or program. It is what shows up under your URL in search engine returns. Descriptions can only be a certain number of characters long. Anything longer is just cut off from the display. It can make for some very amusing reading for the viewer but is hardly what the web site owner is looking for in terms of credibility.

Your KEYWORDS are, well, key words. What is your site about? What are you promoting? What do you think people are searching for that you are offering? These are what should be listed in your keyword meta tag. DON’T use irrelevant words in your keyword string. “A”, “the”, “and” are great examples of irrelevancy. When is the last time you went to Google and entered a search string for “the”?

Is this the end of “key word optimization”. Nah… but it’s a heck of a good place to start. Without these three basic elements everything else is useless.

Debra Ernye is the administrator of U Play Meta Services, a meta tag review and development site. UPMS offers free meta tag reviews to web site owners. Information about this program may be found at:

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