Back when the web was still young and Netscape Navigator was the premier browser for the Internet, Meta tags were created by the earliest search engines such as Alta Vista to help web crawlers to categorize websites and make their results more relevant. At the time, Meta tags were probably the single most important tool in an SEO specialist’s toolbox.
Keyword Spamming Dropped Their Usefulness
As the web expanded due the exponentially large number of websites being built, the use of meta tags exploded as well. Website owners quickly realized that by stuffing their Meta tag listings with keywords that had nothing to do with their content, they could generate extra traffic to their websites.
This fact led to the leading search engines making a decision to begin to ignore such tags in their rankings.
So Meta Tags Aren’t Important Anymore?
That’s not entirely true. Meta tags were and still are a valuable bit of real estate that every website owner should make use of it they want to maximize traffic to their websites. While Google does indeed ignore the keywords Meta tag, some other, smaller search engines sometimes do index them, making them a somewhat useful, if limited SEO tool.
Don’t Forget Other Meta Tags
In addition to the keyword Meta tags, which are admittedly of somewhat limited value (though for large sites, they can be quite helpful – more on that in a moment), Google and all other search engines do pay close attention to two other Meta tags. They look for title and description tags to help them to index your website properly.
These two tags, when properly used, can help to provide click through traffic since people may see the Meta description mentioned in the Google search results and go take a look at your website as opposed to another one.
It should be noted however that keyword spamming in either the title or description tags is considered to be a form of black hat SEO and as such will have a deleterious effect on your site.
How to Use Title and Description Meta Tags
Title tags should include a descriptive title for your web page and the description Meta tag should include a description. Beyond that, they need to both be…descriptive.
In other words, simply having a Meta tag which says something like “My site about Microsoft Windows” is not nearly as useful as “Windows 7 problems solved.”(Of course the former is still more useful than “Bob’s website.”)
For the description tags, make sure that your description sounds like something a human might read. For example, a description for this blog post might say “A discussion of meta tags – what they are and why they are still important.”
Make sure to use no more than 160 characters for your description and 70 characters for title as these are the limits to what most sites will display.
Why You May Still Want Keyword Tags As Well
A final note: keyword meta tags, as previous mentioned don’t help you for SEO purposes the way they used to. However, Google and the other search engines are famously secretive about their ranking algorithms so that it’s possible such tags could be quietly re-introduced.
Plus, those with large websites should definitely be using Meta keywords as most site search engines still do us them.