Death of Meta Tags – or Maybe Not

“Meta Tags – the golden word of Web 1.0 – are irrelevant now”

I heard someone at a local dev event making this comment today and it immediately got me thinking. True, I do not spend as much time as I used to – oh the good old days – worrying about meta tagging. But are meta tags really irrelevant? This introspection set into motion an evening of soul searching and web research, followed by this blog entry.

The truth of the matter is that “meta tags” are not nearly as important as they used to be, and that should be remembered when one is allocating his/her time towards this specific task. Not too long ago – during the time of the good old Web 1.0 – meta tags were a primary factor for search engines, and all of us gave those ”meta keywords tag” and “meta description tags” that little extra bit of attention. They are, however, no longer the primary factor for the modern search engine. And alas, the statement that got this introspection going is relatively true …

Whilst meta tags are no longer the main factor in classifying indexing, titling and describing websites in the modern web world, some – such as the “meta description tag” mentioned above – are still important and should not be immediately discarded.  To better explain, a meta description tag is a brief and concise summary of your page’s content. If you do not use one, then Google (and other search engines including Yahoo and Live Search) will simply do its best to describe your page by using a section of your page. This tag is especially important when it comes to the “related sites” functionality.

On the flip side, taking the example of the “meta keyword tag”, it is a summary list of the most important (key)words in your web presence. At the time of its introduction, this tag was meant to make it easier for search engines to find relevant content online. Working as a partnership between web site developers and the search engines of time, the tag was a pointer to the site content – and relevant and contextual content to that effect. The partnership collapsed when web developers and web managers started resorting to “anything at any cost” to bring visitors to their web sites, and in the process abused technology through techniques such as “keyword spamming” and consequently broke the psychological contract in place with the search engines. This – for obvious reasons – has resulted in the search engine algorithms assigning less (or, for some tags, none) importance to specific meta tags.

The “meta keyword tag” – to be precise and to the point – is dead. It is useless, a waste of space, quite redundant code, and not worth anyone’s time. None of the major search engines make use of “keyword technology” any more, and outside of the major search engines (even if the minors index it) no one should really (really) care. The old “meta description tag”, I would say, is still relevant.

One tag that is still very relevant, and absolutely a must to put in, is the “Title” tag. It is imperative that you make good use of the “Title” tag and maximize its impact by making sure that the title of pages across your website are different – even if only by a little bit. A careful and systemic use of the “Title tag” gives you good control over search engine robots behaviour, and therein lies the reason for my quandry earlier today. True, tags are not what they used to be, and true, you cannot leverage them as we once used to – but they are definitely not irrelevant and a smart, judicious use of tags can still go a long way in ensuring that your website is pulled up whenever someone searches on … your keywords.

For more information on the history and usage of the meta tag check out the wikipedia entry here, and for a really good list of meta tags, their attributes and their usage, please click here

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