SEO 101: Getting Meta

When people think of Search Engine Optimization, the first thing many of them think of is Meta Keywords. Once upon a time, having a good set of Meta Keywords was an easy way to get good placement in search engines. The trouble is that hasn’t been the case for a long, long time now. Less than scrupulous Search Engine Optimization services often emphasize Meta Keyword optimization as part of their SEO strategy; this is a waste of both time and money.

Search Engine Optimization

Meta Keywords and Why They Aren’t Used:

Meta Keywords, for the uninitiated, are a list of words and phrases that are supposed to represent what searchers might find on the page. These keywords don’t display on the page itself, but load in the background code (hence “Meta”) and are visible to search engines and anyone looking at the source code of a webpage. As you can imagine, these keywords were very, very easy to abuse. One simply needed to spam a bunch of popular, yet unrelated terms into his or her Meta Keywords, and they’d be rolling in traffic.

Of course it didn’t take the search engines long to get wise to this, and Meta Keywords became less and less important to them when ranking sites for search results. Today, most major search engines like Google simply ignore the Meta Keywords altogether. They might be used by some search engines, but they are no longer the golden ticket they once were.

Where Your Time is Better Spent:

If you’re interested in improving your website’s visibility with search engines by working on background content, spend some time crafting up better Meta Descriptions and Page Titles instead of the generally ignored Meta Keywords. Unlike Meta Keywords, both Page Titles and Meta Descriptions are valuable items for search engines. Furthermore, they also both show on search results and can be an important factor for users when deciding whether to click on a link.

Your page titles and meta descriptions can encourage more click throughs

Your Meta Description is a short – 160 characters or fewer, including spaces – description of a page on your site. When writing Meta Keywords, it’s important to ensure that they are unique to the page, not only to maximize search engine impact, but also to help potential visitors more easily find what they’re looking for. Like Meta Keywords, the Description does not show on the page, but can be viewed in the source code.

Page Titles should likewise be unique to the individual page, although you generally have more latitude for branding. For instance, a lot of sites like to include both the name of the page and the site in their Page Title (i.e. Page Name | Site Name, or some variation thereof). Also like the Meta Description, you should be conscious of the length of your Page Title. Generally speaking, you want to shoot for seventy characters or fewer, including spaces. While the page title doesn’t show in the page content, it does display in the browser/tab header.

When writing Meta Descriptions and Page Titles, it’s important to remember that actual people are going to be reading it. Be as descriptive as possible in as few words as possible; this can be tricky, but with a little practice you’ll be a pro in no time. With Descriptions, try to write in complete sentences that are both easy to read and contain words and phrases that people might be looking for. If you’re a small business with a brick and mortar location, be sure to include geographic terms whenever possible. These include your city, county, state, service area, and major landmarks. If someone is interested in purchasing your product or service, they’ll likely be searching for where it’s available in their immediate area.

Bear in mind that writing good Meta Descriptions and Page Titles should only be a part of your overall search engine strategy. Cultivating links from other sites, writing strong content, and streamlining your code are still extremely important tasks.

8 Responses to “SEO 101: Getting Meta”

  1. fastharry

    Hi David,

    When I am writing the meta description I sometime just use the title words as they pretty much fit the bill. Should I instead be using the first opening the paragraph as description? or both?..or something unique…

    Thanks

    Harry

    Reply
    • David

      Hey Harry,
      You’d be better off writing something unique. When it comes to search engines, originality counts. As a general rule, think of it like a very short summary of what’s on that page, or a teaser or what people will find there.

  2. fastharry

    So I should really be writing something to entice the person looking at the search result to click on the link?…Also, on the actual word press title of the post and the meta title of the same post..which one gets picked up by the search engines?…Thanks

    Reply
    • David

      Well, people do see the description in the search results. I doesn’t have to be sales-speak, per se. Something that give a good overview of what they’re going to see is probably going to work better. To much of a sales spin might get people to click through, and then back right out once they realize this isn’t what they were looking for.

      As far as WordPress goes, by default WordPress will use the post title as the page title. If you have a SEO plugin installed, it generally gives you the option to override that. In your case, it sounds like the “Meta Title” will be used if there’s content there, and the post title if there isn’t.

  3. fastharry

    I notice that when I google or Bing my results from my own website they take a few of the phrases from the first paragraph that has the search words in it.

    When I write the description, should that include some keywords in it?…What does google use to pick my keywords? the title, description or both?..thats where I am confused…

    Reply
    • David

      I believe by default, WordPress uses the first X number of characters (probably in the 160 range) as your description, which is probably why you see it in Google.

      You should definitely use keywords in the description.

      Your question about keywords is a good one, and I think where a lot of the confusion about Meta Keywords come from. Roughly speaking, Google and other search engines use programs to read the content on your site. Using a complicated algorithm, it takes that content and generates a list of keywords that are relevant.These keywords are generally terms that are used frequently and prominently (titles, headlines, links, bolded text, etc would be high priority content).

      Does that make sense?

  4. fastharry

    it does…I am going to test it…I just wrote a description, using keywords from the title and worded differently than the opening sentences in the 1st paragraph…

    Lets see if that shows up verbatim in a couple of weeks..

    Also, I sent you an email…

    Reply

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