Meta Tags

Meta tags are a strange HTML construct which provide "information about information" (hence the name 'meta'). They are intended to provide search engines with information about the information contained on the page, without all the meaningless 'and's, 'but's, 'again's, 'sometimes's, 'e-mail's, and other ubiquitous generic words confusing the search engine as to the intent of the document. They are also very useful if you have java applets, javascript, images, or other 'gobbledegook' close to the top of your page.

Meta tags go near the beginning of your HTML document, between the <HEAD> and the </HEAD> tags. You must type each one out on one big long line with no carriage returns - tags CANNOT contain line breaks. Each meta tag contains two pieces of information - it's name (the type of information), and it's content (the actual information). Both pieces of information must be enclosed between quotation marks.

Here's a simple example:

The contents of the 'description' meta tag are often displayed as a page summary by search engines on their 'search results' pages. But this is not always the case - sometimes they will display your title, or the first few dozen words on the body of your page. I found one of my pages once with the summary "NOTE: this page has moved from blah blah blah please update your bookmarks...", because that was the first thing that appeared on the page. Avoid this mistake.

Here's a more realistic example:

Note that the 'keywords' meta tag contains comma-separated key-phrases. Some search engines recognize this. The 'keywords' meta tag can also contain synonyms for your main concepts (partially blind, visually impaired, print-restricted, vision diminished, gifted with the ability to read very large print comfortably as a bat...) The more important the idea to your page, the closer to the beginning of the tag it should be.

The 'Author' meta tag is something I have seen used, but I do not know what it is for. There are other meta tags, too, but 'keywords' and 'description' are the most important ones.

Some pages have meta-tags that look like this:

Don't let them scare you. They're the same thing.

More and more, search engines are placing less and less emphasis on the content of meta tags, as they can easily be abused: The classic example is of some marketing firm including 'child care' in the meta tag for a page that had nothing to do with child care, in the hope of getting lots of hits from people looking for something to do with child care.

Meta tags are good to have, for the sake of search engines that do pay attention to them, but don't rely heavily upon them - You still must have the words you want to be found in your title and early in your document.

Are meta tags about meta tags meta-meta-tags?

You can let the major search engines know your site exists with the help of this list of Search Engine Submission Sites.

To help you pick hexadecimal colour values for your web pages, I have developed a hexadecimal Colour Value Calculator.

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Updated November 27, 1997