Making meta Tags Count

Contrary to what you can read in thousands of places on the web, meta keywords are not only not the most important meta tag: they are pretty close to useless as far as search engine optimization (SEO) goes at this point. Read on to find out why and learn more about the meta tags that are important and useful to you.

What Happened to <meta name=”keywords” . . . >

After years of webmasters including false keywords in their <meta> tags, and using <meta> tags to lead users to spam sites, the search engines stopped using them. Yep, you heard right: one of the last search engine to use <meta> tags—AltaVista—stopped doing so in summer, 2002. Google’s Director of Research, Monika Henziger said that same year in an article in Journal of Internet Cataloging, “Currently, we don’t trust metadata.”

Not convinced? At Google’s code site, in an article in Webstats called “The <meta> element,” from December, 2005, and accessed in June, 2008, the author says:

“Next we have two name values: keywords, which these days is mostly useless . . .” (MetaData).

And if you look, for example, at Googlecom, you will find a header in which the only <meta> tag is this:

<meta http-equiv=”content-type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″>

The Useful <meta> Tags

Now that we’ve got past the attachment to keyword tags, lets talk about the tags you really need.


The description property of the name attribute is supported by most major search engines, and you can arrange it so that search engines report this content in search results, in combination with other information, including:

  • a portion of the DMOZ (Open Directory Project or ODP) description of your article of your article (please see the article “Getting Listed in DMOZ”)—this is particularly the case if you do not supply a description tag
  • a portion of the first sentence in the body text
  • a varying number of characters from the first use of the search term in the body or navigation of the page (sometimes with the search term highlighted, so users can see how it is used)

In a 2005 survey, search engine used between 100 and 200 words of the description tag text.

To create a description tag, use this format:

<meta name=”description” content=”fill in description of your site”>

It is best to write a description for each page of your site, using a general description for the home page, and specific descriptions for each other page, both because it gives the user a better description and because at least Google is less likely to pick up your description text if it’s the same for every site page.

Don’t feel that you need to write sentences. If you’re dealing with product pages, you might create a boilerplate tag and fill in the information for each product:

  • product type
  • key features
  • price

might come out like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”Children’s Easel; Features: 2-sided, paint cups, brush holder, white-board/chalk board; Price: $29.95″>

To specifically direct search engines to use your description rather than any DMOZ material, use this tag:

<meta name= “robots” content=”noodp”>


Obviously, you’ve just seen one robots tag, but there are others you should know about as well:

  • If you don’t want robots to index a page (perhaps because it’s personal or only for people in your company), you can use noindex <meta name= “robots” content=”noindex”>
  • If you don’t want robots to follow links on a page, you can use nofollow <meta name= “robots” content=”nofollow”>
  • You can also combine these elements like this: <meta name= “robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>


This is the most often used value of all <meta> tags, according to Google’s webstats. This is because it is the standard way to indicate the type of material on the page as well as the character set for the page.  Examples include:

<meta http-equiv=”content-type” content=””text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>

<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″>

<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/pdf”>