A couple of years ago, using meta tags definitely fell out of style. They went from being near the top of every search engine optimiser’s to do list to being dropped right off the bottom and added to a site more as an afterthought than a SEO technique. True, they stopped being the sure-fire SEO technique they were several years ago, but should they really have been relegated to non-existence? Definitely not.
Even today, however, marketers are confused about what meta tags are actually good for, especially with so many people saying meta tags are useless and not to add them. But then add to that the fact that Google, Yahoo & Microsoft have stepped up to add new meta tags into the mix in the past year to allow webmasters to customize how their sites are displayed in the search results. So here is what meta tags are still useful for in 2007, and why you should be using them.
First and foremost, Google sometimes uses the description you place in the meta description tag as the snippet when certain criteria is met. This sometimes includes site search or keyword searches when keyword(s) that are searched for also are contained within the meta description.
The meta robots tag is useful for excluding certain pages from being indexed by bots. When you don’t want to use the robots.txt file for excluding bots, such as you don’t want to alert competitors to a specific directory you have on you site, the robots meta tag comes in quite handy. It is also good for those who are still terrified of somehow screwing up a robots.txt file and inadvertently blocking all the bots from an entire site, even though there are plenty of robots.txt checkers out there now.
There is also the fairly new NOODP tag. If your site is listed in the ODP directory (aka DMOZ) with a less-than-desirable description, using the ODP tag will tell MSN (which started this one), Google and Yahoo that you prefer that description not be used for your snippet.
Likewise, Yahoo also allows webmasters to use the NOYDIR meta tag, which tells Yahoo to not use your Yahoo Directory description as the snippet in Yahoo search results.
Preventing a cache copy being taken is another use for meta tags. While this tag is definitely useful in certain circumstances, do keep in mind that using no-cache can be a signal of spam, since most spammers prefer you see what they serve you and not what they actually dished up to Google (or Yahoo or MSN) to get there.
Using AdSense? There is definite evidence that your meta description and keywords can be an influential factor in ad targeting, so using this can help to get highly targeted ads.
In the grand scheme of things, you can leave all meta tags off your website and still rank well in the major search engines. But they can help in the search results, and even if it just gives you the smallest boost in your rankings, it is worth adding them to your page. But meta tags still have their uses, even if it isn’t a strong part of the ranking algorithm, so it is worth taking the extra 30 seconds and adding any relevant meta tags to your page when you create it, or spending some time to go through an older site without any metas and adding them.