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How to Use Meta Tags In Search Engine Promotion
By Christopher S L Heng
If you view the HTML sources for the web pages on my site, you would have noticed that they all contain META tags. META tags influence the way most Search Engines list and index web pages.
There are at least three META tags that you should use to make sure your page is search engine ready.
1. What are Meta tags good for?
For search engines that support them, META tags are used in at least three ways:
i. They are used to determine which keywords your page will be listed under. So if you want your page to be listed in a search engine when the user searches for the term "nosuchwordasthis", the latter should be present in your META Keywords tag as well as in your document.
ii. They are used to describe your site in the search results. For example, if you do not have a META Description tag for your page, some search engines will simply grab the first few lines of your page to serve as the description of your site. This description is more important than you may think. If you were searching for "nosuchwordasthis", which of the following two items listed would you be more likely to click?
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The first item above had a snippet from what appears to be its top menu in the lines below the website title. The second item has a description which tells the person searching exactly what the site is all about.
If you do not put a description tag, what appears in the listing would be likely to be whatever first appears on your page, usually the alt text of some graphic or banner or perhaps your top menu.
iii. There are search engines which also look for a META Robots tag to determine how they index your site. For example, if Google (a search engine) does not encounter such a tag, it will only index the page but not follow the links on it (at least that was its behaviour the last time I checked). If you want it to index the pages linked from your main page, you will need to place a META Robots tag.
There are other META tags, which individual search engines may recognize. However, the tags listed here are the important ones that you'll definitely want to remember to include on your web pages.
2. How to Use the META Keywords Tag
The META Keywords tag should be placed in the HEAD portion of your web page. If you are using a WYSIWYG editor, there is usually some provision for you to enter the keywords on the page using a separate dialog box. If you are typing it yourself into your web page, the tag looks like the following:
    <meta name="keywords" content="put your keywords here">
In place of the phrase "put your keywords here", you should of course give a list of your keywords. The keywords should be comma-delimited. That is, if you want to your page to be listed when the user searches for "medical help" and "free diagnosis", you should use the following tag:
    <meta name="keywords" content="medical help, free diagnosis">
Each search engine has its own limit to the number of characters in your keyword list. The general advice given is not to make your list longer than you need it to be. Some search engine experts recommend that you do not exceed 1000 characters in your list. However, it seems that even 1000 may be too long since it appears that Alta Vista does not recognize anything beyond 500 characters.
A word of caution. Although you might think that this is a good place to put in common misspellings of keywords that you spelt correctly on your page, you should probably note that some search engines (including Alta Vista) penalize web pages that contain keywords that cannot be found on the page itself. They are probably trying to guard against abuse by people trying to "spam" the index. The latter have been known to dump every conceivable keyword they can think of even if it is unrelated to their web page. Unfortunately, this policy also penalizes legitimate site owners who really want to catch those common misspellings of their page content.
You should also not repeat a particular keyword too many times in your tag. Again, some engines make a note of such things and penalize your site. Note that it is possible to accidentally repeat a keyword multiple times when you use a word in different phrases: eg, a tag that has the following keyword list, "search engine promotion, search engine ranking, search engine placement", would have repeated the words "search engine" three times even though they occur in different phrases. Some repetition is apparently acceptable (possibly even up to three times); excessive repetition is regarded as "spam".
3. How to Use the META Description Tag
A META Description tag, for those of you who write your web pages using raw HTML code, looks like the following:
    <meta name="description" content="put your page description here">
Give a brief description of your page in this tag. Bear in mind that this description (or part of it) will be displayed in the search engine results so try to make sure you phrase it in such a way that the person searching can tell at a glance that he's found the correct page for his search. Minimize irrelevancies and put the essentials near the beginning of the description so that if the search engine only accepts the initial (say) 150 characters, the essential parts of your description will still be displayed.
4. How to Use the META Robots Tag
Although this Meta tag is seldom mentioned in search engine promotion guides, it is still important if you want certain search engines to crawl through your website using the links on the page you submit. Since adding it involves little additional effort, you might as well do it while you add the other tags.
In general, you will add the following line to your web page if you want the search engine to index your page and follow the links on it.
    <meta name="ROBOTS" content="INDEX,FOLLOW">
In cases where you do not want it to index your page simply use "noindex" instead of "index". Likewise if you don't want the engine to crawl through the links on your page, use "nofollow" instead of "follow".
Google and search engines that use the Inktomi engine, like HotBot, apparently recognize this tag.
Furthermore, if you do not want Google to keep a cache of your page on their servers, you can affix a NOARCHIVE value to the CONTENT attribute, such as in the example below:
    <meta name="ROBOTS" content="INDEX,FOLLOW,NOARCHIVE">
5. Which Search Engines recognize META tags?
To give you an idea of how important Meta tags are, here's a list of some search engines that recognize the Meta tag. It is probably not exhaustive, and since search engines are continually changing, the list may not necessarily be accurate by the time you read it:
Alta Vista, Excite, Google, HotBot, InfoSeek, Lycos, Northern Light, WebCrawler
6. So how important is the Meta tag?
Like all things in search engine promotion, the Meta tag helps your listing and perhaps even placement in the search engines. It only requires a little additional effort when you first create your page, but it yields its dividend over and over again with each visitor that you manage to attract to your site from the search results.

Source: Copyright by Christopher S L Heng. All rights reserved.
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