Meta Tags are the hidden text behind web pages that describe what a web site is to a search engine. But as search engines have evolved, just how important are these hidden tags to modern search engines?

What is a Meta Tag ?

A meta tag is a special HTML tag that provides information about a web page, usually to search engines and screen-readers.

Meta Tags are the hidden text behind web pages that describe what a web site is to a search engine. But as search engines have evolved, just how important are these hidden tags to modern search engines?

Unlike normal HTML tags, meta tags do not affect how the page is displayed. Instead, they provide information such as who created the page, how often it is updated, what the page is about.

More importantly they can also contain keywords which describe at a glance, the page’s content.

The Old School

Many search engines used to read meta tags when building their indices to help with ranking a web site.

Many felt that the most important tag was the keyword tag, which was used to relate appropriate keywords and phrases with the web site.

Early crawler-based search engines used the keywords meta tag, though it’s unclear who was the first to adopt this. Throughout the mid 1990’s most of the major search crawlers were using this technology.

A New Direction

The dominance of the keywords meta tag did not last much after 1997. Experience over time with the tag showed it to be a great source of attraction for spam.

Web site owners could insert misleading words about their pages or use excessive repetition of phrases in the hope of tricking the crawlers about the relevancy of their web site.

Slowly search engines started to drop the use of the keywords (and other) meta tags and a new breed of web crawlers slowly evolved towards the end of the 1990’s.

Some search engines such as Google
have never supported the keywords meta tag
By early 2000 the keywords meta tag was supported by only two major search engines.

A Better Way

The keywords meta tag has always provided some confusion as to its implementation and was open to a lot of abuse. The time involved in trying to develop a series of key phrases simply wasn’t worth the reward.

A better way was needed to rank a web site.

Speed Reading

The latest generation of search engine spiders, basically speed reads every page of a web site to determine what it is about and what key phrases are relevant.

They are capable of indexing millions of web pages per hour; reading, sorting, indexing and ranking every second of the day.

Ranking

Each search engine uses a complex ranking algorithm to determine web site placement for a given search term.

The ranking algorithms are a closely guarded secret and each search engine favours different techniques, so what works for one may not work for another, though there are many similarities between them.

Points mean…

Each search engine effectively gives points to each search phrase it finds in a web site.

Different points are given for the different locations of the key phrases and words on each page.

Examples; The page title, headings, bold and italic writing, placement on the page, hyperlinks, alternative graphic and title tags.

The search engine then ranks the web page according to how many points you have scored. The more points your page or site has, the nearer to the top of the search results it will be. Simple !

Concentrate on Content

It is now far more important for web site designers and owners to concentrate on creating good web site content, containing proven key phrases that are actually being searched for, than to worry about meta tags.

Search engines have taken a great leap forward in actually reading the content of a web site.