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META Tags: Still Useful or Ancient History?

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July 25, 2011
4 min read
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Way back in the early days (we’re talking the prehistoric internet search days of the mid-1990s) META tags were the T-Rex of search engine optimization (SEO). They were basic, lumbering, simple-minded creatures that served a purpose after the World Wide Web cooled. But then a giant meteor named Google exploded onto the scene, wiping out the fearsome META tags. Many of the search engines of the time became, well… dinosaurs. And those that did survive no longer depended on META tags for their indexing.

But META tags may not be completely dead, at least according to some. A few insist that they still have use for these elusive creatures, although the reports usually come from the remote jungles of Argentina or the Congo.

Are META tags really dead? Do they still have any use in today’s high-tech, post-Google society? Our brave team of explorers decided to set out on a perilous journey to search for any signs of life of the once-mighty META tag. Along the way, we would face ADA, a caffeine deficiency, and possible eye strain. We would also come face-to-face with the behemoth known as Google.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion… right after this word from our sponsor.

The word ‘meta’ comes from Greek origins, meaning ‘self’, or self-referencing. With that in mind, META tags are HTML codes inserted into a web page and provide information about that website, such as descriptions and keywords. They are never seen by the website users, but by search engines and directories. If you’re curious, go to a website and right-click on part of a page that doesn’t have text or images (like a border or blank section). Then select ‘View Page Source’. You will see the META tag information for that page.

Back before Y2K entered into our lexicon, META tags were the number one way for early search engines like Alta Vista to determine what a website was about and categorize it for searchers. Better META information resulted in a better search engine ranking. However, the simplicity of META tags would eventually lead to its downfall. Unscrupulous webmasters began filling their META tags with as many keywords as possible, including completely unrelated words, just to increase their search engine rankings. It worked for a while. But the misuse of META tags led to unreliable searches and the search engines quickly altered their methods.

Today’s search engines, like Google, don’t use META tags to rank websites. But just because they aren’t used for ranking doesn’t mean tags should be shipped off to the fossil museum and forgotten either. There are several hundred variables in Google’s algorithm, so it’s quite possible that the search engine looks at them, even if they don’t have a major impact in how your website is ranked.

Even though it’s not really META tag, the title tag still plays a vital role in search engine optimization. Titles are used search engine results pages (SERPs) and are usually the first exposure someone will have to you website – so your title must be well written, enticing and should include your primary keyphrase. And since you find title tags in the same locations as the META tags, they are usually talked about in the same breath. If you completely forget about META tags, there’s a good chance you’ll forget about the title tag too. And that will seriously affect your visibility.

A description tag can be important too because if your description tag is relevant to the search, Google still may use it on the SERP. If your description tag contains false or irrelevant information, Google will take make its own description from your page content. Don’t take that chance. It’s better to write your own effective description tag than rely on Google’s interpretation of what your website is about.

The other META tag to discuss is the keyword tag. Search engines haven’t used these for well over a decade, but we find that most webmasters still sprinkle them in, include a few common misspellings of your most popular keywords. Other than that, spending a lot of time on META keywords and submitting links to search engines are a waste of time. If you are using a SEO company that still relies on this archaic practice, they’re throwing your money away.

So, META tags are not dead. And while they may not play a huge role in your overall ranking, they should not be forgotten either. Like the mighty reptiles of the ancient world, META tags weren’t designed to be the kings forever. But they’re still around and they still serve a purpose. Just like my pet iguana.

So what are the most important factors for search engine optimization?  Do you still use META tags on your website? Or do you ignore them completely? We want to hear from you!  Still not sure what a META tag is? Not to worry, contact one of our team members today and we'll get started!

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Amy Tupper

Vice President, Impact100 SRQ
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