How Do Meta Tags Affect SEO

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, has been around since the early 1990s. Almost all the money made on the Internet is made by selling stuff: and that means there’s a huge amount of competition between sites selling the same kind of thing. Search Engine Optimisation aims to get your site higher search rankings than everyone else. This is done by using the way a search engine looks for web sites, to dictate how your site is built. One of the first things SEO traditionally takes care of is the meta tags in your site – which, basically speaking, tell search engine spiders what your site is selling.

Here are the important points you need to understand when you’re looking at meta elements and what they do:

  • A meta description, or meta element, sits in the HTML or XHTML of your site. The tag looks like this: <meta…. [class of content].. [actual content]>.
  • The tag is used to “tell” a search engine what type of content is contained in a web page (class of content) and to “show” it the actual words that refer to what you sell (actual content). So, for example: if your meta tags want to “tell” a search engine that it’s looking at some keywords, then it will read: <meta name=keywords, content=keyword 1, keyword 2, and so on.
  • These are referred to as meta keywords, and are placed in the HTML or XHTML of your site in order to “tell” the search engine what that page is “about”.
  • Meta tags have been used in Search Engine Optimisation pretty much since it started. Initially, the meta description (that’s exactly the same thing as tags – a description of your page content) and the keywords were inserted to help search engines “work out” what your site was “about”. They’d tell a search engine everything it needed to know about your site in one quick glance – like signs in a super market telling shoppers what kinds of goods are in all the aisles.
  • Tags were quickly hijacked by unscrupulous SEO companies, which had realised early on that you could convince a search engine that a site was “about” anything just by listing that thing in its tags. These original meta keywords became meaningless. If an unscrupulous SEO company could stuff a site full of all the keywords it could think of, then the whole idea of tagging fell to pieces. Any site could be about anything and search engines would never know the difference.
  • As a result, modern search engines use much more complicated methods. The rules governing how and why a search engine returns pages with high rankings are insanely convoluted. Rather than just reading tags, modern search engines dip into advanced physics, string theory, cognitive linguistics, probability theory and language theory to check the actual text on a site. They also look at back links, where other sites “endorse” yours by talking about it or linking to it.
  • None of this can be done with meta keywords. While a search engine will still look at a meta description, it is unlikely to return high results for your page based solely on the information contained in the <meta> tag.

So why use the tag at all? Well, if your SEO company chooses to use the meta tags option, that’s pretty good evidence that it is covering all the bases. If a search engine has to “choose” between two sites that are pretty much identical, in relevance terms, it will always choose the site that has been better organised.

In other words: the more conventional elements that a site can “show”, the better chance it has of reaching the top spot. The meta description is one of these elements. Given the fierceness of modern Search Engine Optimisation competition, it makes sense to have all of them in place: and that’s what your SEO company should be doing, if it is really going to take you to the top.