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The HTML meta tag is a meta element used to give structured metadata to pages on a website. There are five total HTML and XHTML valid attributes in HTML5: content, http-equiv, name, scheme and charset and a single HTML or XHTML file can contain multiple meta tags. The tags reside in the head section of the file and are loaded prior to the content of the page being loaded.
In the past, when a programmer started to design a html website they would often utilize the meta tags as a means of search engine optimization. Because the tags are in the head section, they are not visually present to a visitor browsing the site. However, when using the meta name attribute a developer can easily plug in appropriate keywords that will help a search engine better categorize the website. The code is simple and needs to reside within your <head> tags. An example of a keyword meta element:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”SEO keywords” >
Search engines like Infoseek and AltaVista, amongst others, are noted for popularizing the keywords attribute back in the mid 90’s. The result was an overwhelming number of companies plugging false keywords in to the attribute or their sites in order to attract more visitors. The keywords would not be relevant to the site and were only entered in an attempt a high search result, regardless of the fact the site had been indexed wrong and didn’t match the searchers desired result. Search engines quickly began dropping the keywords attribute as a factor in their site indexing algorithms and the element was considered all but dead when Matt Cutts of search engine super-giant, Google, stated in September of 2009 that they were no longer taking keywords in to account at all.
Unlike the keyword attribute, the description attribute is a widely supported attribute that gives a precise explanation of the content within a web page. With such a lack of support of the keyword attribute, the description is a great spot for a developer to place some important keywords to help optimize the page for better search engine rankings. There is no W3C specific length for a description meta tag, though most search engines recommend that it be kept under 155 characters. Though the description attribute will not be visible on the page that it actually represents, most search engines will display the description under the link to your site in a list of search results. Having a keywords placed inside a concise and well-written description will help increase traffic to your site.
<meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a description meta tag.” />
Some developers will also utilize other meta tags such as language or zip code to help the indexing of a site. The language attribute tells a search engine what the native language the page is written in (English, German, Italian), opposed to how the website was coded (HTML). Using the language attribute is greatly beneficial in websites that feature multiple languages, as it can be included on each page to assist search engines. It is suggested that you use this tag if your site is written in non-US English. For example, a site based out of theUKwould want to include the following meta tag.
<meta http-equiv=”content language” content=”en-GB”>
When a client is looking to boost their local results you can use meta tags like zipcode, city, and country. However, it’s worth noting that using these tags doesn’t help your search ranking on a site like Google as much as adding your business to Google places most likely would.