If I were to talk to you about your web pages and how to better craft them for search engines – would you listen? What about if I told you that 2/3 to 3/4 of folks that have pages on the web don’t use what I would like to get with you on – would you listen then? It’s my intent to introduce you to META data.
What is META data?
Let’s start at the beginning. META data is data about data (see this on Wikipedia, specifically the information in HTML and use of this data).
With markup technologies (such as SGML and HTML / XHTML) there is metadata, markup and data content. The metadata describes characteristics about the data, while the markup identifies the specific type of data content and acts as a container for that document instance.
Sounds … hard! Really, it’s not. In fact, using the meta element is easy, and what it can do for you is assist in search engine placement and relevance.
What META does
Basically, if you populate your meta information, you can add value to your pages for search engines that use the meta information in their algorithms. For example, if you are crafting a page all about dichotomy – you would probably have the word on the page, especially if you were writing information or an article on that subject. To add relevance, you may also include this word in your meta tag under either meta description or meta keywords (or in both).
What this does is allows search engines that factor the meta data in their results to view the information (content) on the page that is seen by all individuals and see that the information is also in the meta data (remember – this is data about data) and – from a computer algorithm point of view – see relevance (we’ve added meaning to the data in that we have told the program that this is meaningful data about the data we have provided it).
What META does not do
This is not a panacea for all search engine opportunities. In fact, no one will make the claim that this works for all search engines because … not all search engines take this data into account in their algorithms. But for those engines that do use it (like Google) it can be advantageous for you, as a web designer, to utilize this set of information.
If you clicked on the Google link above, you’ll note that Google ignores the meta keyword information. At least they do currently. So does that mean you shouldn’t populate it? No – note that it doesn’t count against your page, and what isn’t said there is that many other search engines DO use this information.
Also, please understand that information in the meta tags you use do not show up on your web pages. It is ‘hidden’ from your view and – as stated earlier – is just data about data, so it is used for other purposes.
Each situation – and search engine – is unique
I recommend using all the meta data necessary for your application / customer / design. Some say this is a waste of time and energy while others swear this was their ticket to the top. The truth is somewhere in between – it all depends on the search engine doing the indexing and how they use the information that is provided to them.
If you are interested in search engine optimization, then you can get great value out of using the meta information. Just keep in mind different search engines use this information (or do not use it) as they see fit (read that – there is no silver bullet fix for all your SEO needs).
I hope you find some of this information thought provoking – even helpful! For more information on meta data and how to use it, I recommend getting familiar with the W3C (with a reminder – please code to standards!) and starting to review the information at WDG (web design group). Searching on the subject will also bring up a ton of information on how meta data can be used to your (and your customer’s) advantage.