In 1998, my boss took me aside and said, “Alan, we need to learn about meta data.” I had been a web editor since 1995 and I hadn’t heard of meta data yet, but that’s probably because I was working closest with a designer and developer, both of whom had come over from graphic design. I searched the Web and couldn’t find anything meaningful. SEO was in its infancy but early ground-breakers were setting the stage by telling people like my boss, “You need to learn about meta data.”
It was true then and it’s true now: Understanding how to be found in search engines is all about getting a grasp on meta data – taming meta tags.
A Decade Later…
Even today, there are designers and developers, editors and writers who don’t know much about meta data. Yet meta data are the keys to effective optimization. Oh, sure, there are a lot of things that build good optimization, but without solid meta data, nothing else really matters.
Meta data are invisible (thus, the “meta”). Examples include the Page Title which, although it isn’t invisible, I include because it resides with the rest of the meta tagging in the source code – it just shows in the browser’s tag as a readable title.
Basically, the meta data (plural) tell the search engines what your page is about and how relevant its content and contents are. Meta data include such tags as:
- Page Title Tag
- Keywords List*
- Image Tags
- Alt Tags
*Keywords List isn’t essential for Google but it is relevant for many other search engines, such as Yahoo. Creating one can still help you focus the rest of your tagging for that page.
There are other meta tags that can also influence page relevancy, which programmers write. As an editor, I don’t begin to understand all of that arena, but my IT guys do and we make sure that all those are covered, too, when preparing a site to go live. A good primer on all meta tags is available from Search Engine Watch.
As an editor, you have a lot to worry about to launch sites or post pages. However, as a web editor making sure that your site ranks well in a search should also be a high priority, and that’s within your grasp with solid meta data. It may seem at first glance a heady enterprise to write, but once you learn a few rudimentary rules, it will become simple and a matter-of-fact effort – no worse than writing good headlines.
A Few Rudimentary Rules
Meta data should:
- be unique for each web page – no duplicates or repeats!
- focus on keywords and placing them foremost in the tags
- treat the page title like a catalog subject, not like a book, composition, or name title
- focus the page title on the page subject itself not on the business or organization name
- present the description as unique copy and focus on keywords and paraphrasing the page topic
- show the relationship between keywords as well as list the unique keywords themselves
- include every iteration of a keyword a searcher may use but do not include any that don’t appear on the web page itself
Learn more about meta data and meta tags by reading these excellent sources: