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Meta Tag Optimization: Baloney or Good SEO?

Posted on Jul 24th, 2007
Written by Lee Odden
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    While perusing a new social network for the advertising industry, I noticed an interesting question posted regarding whether meta tags were relevant to search engine optimization. With all the hype about subjects like Google Universal search, personalization and social media, it’s fun to revisit some of the basic “textbook SEO” topics like meta tags.

    As long as SEO experts have been publishing advice about things like meta tags, it was interesting to see perceptions of proper meta tag use were as varied as the respondents.

    It’s sort of like asking how to treat the symptoms of the common cold. Ask 100 people that question and you’ll get a wide variety of responses ranging from chicken soup to Sudafed. Which one is the right answer? Which advice is obscure, unfounded home remedy? (Not that all home remedies are obscure and unfounded) 🙂

    With the meta tags question, I do think it’s an easier task to find the “right” answer or at least one many professional search marketers will agree upon.

    Anything you can do to make it easier for both users and search engines (bots) to understand a web document has benefits. While often abused, meta data does provide a small signal in this regard.

    For example, most title tag writing efforts focus solely on being accurate. Some sites pay a slight homage to keyword use, but most title tag writing efforts do not consider the user, intent and outcome. Title tags should be a focused indication of the on page content with most important keywords on the left, yet written in sentence form and if relevant, with a call to action. This is both an art and a science.
    As far as the meta description tag goes, it should be an elaboration of the title tag with the consideration that it’s use as a link description in the search results will influence clickthrough to the web site.

    After working with literally hundreds of site optimization projects since 1997, the most common mistake I see is the non-use of any kind of meta or title tag, or more often, hard coding the exact same title/meta information on every page of the web site. This is akin to naming every chapter in a book the same thing. It might save the web developer and content editors time on site maintenance, but it does very little to distinguish one page from another. Especially to search engines.

    Dynamic web sites can automatically populate title and meta description tags from other on-page content elements from the database. When used in combination with hard coded “broad keywords”, dynamic insertion of keywords and descriptions can provide a reasonable way to “have your cake and eat it too” in terms of having relevant information and site maintenance. This is not ideal, since the creative writing and call to action may not be present, but it’s much better than no tags at all or exactly the same tags on every page.

    What are some of the common misconceptions you’ve seen with title and meta tag optimization?