One of the most common questions I am asked when developing a website is - Will you make Meta-tags to get me onto the search engines? While Meta-tags still hold some uses they are gradually losing any effect on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) with many search engines such as Google greatly reducing the importance given to them.
So what are Meta-tags anyway? They are information inserted into the <head> section of a website and apart from the title tag, are hidden from view on visitor's browsers. They are used to describe information about the website that human visitors are unlikely to be interested in or are targeted at web crawlers. The following code example shows the title tag and two common Meta-tags relating to optimisation.
<meta name="description" content="Hampton Associates are an Award winning web design, graphic design, and marketing consultancy based in Aberdeen, Scotland.">
<meta name="keywords" content="aberdeen web design, graphic designers, marketing, hampton associates">
<title>Hampton Associates, Aberdeen web design and brand consultants</title>
By far the most important of these three is the title tag. It is still used by all the search engines and it is also what they use as the headings of their search results. To have the best effect this title should give a description of the page's content whilst containing your keywords. A length of between 5 and 12 words will probably have the best impact although simply repeating the same couple of keywords could in-fact have a negative impact on your results, so try and make it descriptive.
The description Meta-tag is still used by a number of search engines so it is worth adding this if you have time. It should be a concise description of the web page's content and again like the title, it should contain your keywords but not simply be a list. Human edited directories will appreciate a good description tag and might simply use your one on their listings.
The keywords tag is still regarded by many people as the important tag for optimising their website. However due to abuse by web designers and advances in search engine indexing, this tag has all but been abandoned by engines such as Google. If you still want to include the keywords tag on your site then make sure that the keywords you use actually appear in the text of the page. Simply including random keywords in the hope of attracting more visitors will not benefit your ranking and might actually incur a penalty.
Over the years, more and more importance has correctly been given to what the actual contents of the web page are rather than what the Meta-tags say. Therefore to give your site the best chances with search engines you should spend the most time in writing your web page's text. Aim to write descriptive, keyword rich text in short, easy to read paragraphs with the most important keywords placed near the start as this will be given a higher weighting. Also ensure that you make use of heading tags - eg. <h1> <h2> <h3> as words in these tags will also be given a higher weighting.
With the modern day search engine hungry for content rich web pages it is safe to say while Meta-tags are dying out, content is king!