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Lesson #11



This lesson will focus on the use of meta tags in your Website design. You will learn how to properly place the appropriate meta tags on Web pages that you create.


HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is the basic code used to design Web pages. To help get a feel for HTML, think about the "Markup Language" part of the name. Remember the old days when an executive penned out a document and then gave it to the secretary to type on a typewriter. When the typed document was returned to the executive, he or she would often "mark it up" with a pen or pencil, indicating changes that needed to be made to create the final draft. In efficient offices and the publishing business, an efficient set of shorthand symbols was used to "mark up" the documents. Marking up was also used when a document had to be routed to several people within an organization. Each person would leave comments on the document (which were not to be confused with the original text itself). Thus, corrections, revisions, and comments to a document were accomplished by markup symbols.

HTML is not about correcting a document, but about displaying it. However, HTML is to some extent based on the historical markup concept. Web pages at their basic level are simply text documents prepared in a simple text editor (such as the Notepad or Wordpad applications built into the MS Windows operating systems). Web browsing applications (such as Internet Explorer) can read basic text documents (saved as file types with the .TXT extension) but do not know how to format them without a little help. This help comes from HTML tags placed in the document. When such tags are placed in the document, the document is given the .HTM extension (instead of the .TXT extension) so the Web browser applications will know the document is ready to be read and formatted in a Web browser. (Unix systems will use the four-letter.HTML extensions, instead of the three-letter .HTM file extension used by Windows operating systems and servers.) The HTML tags serve much the same purpose as the old mark-up symbols used in proofreading. The tags tell how the material should be displayed. They provide font style and size, paragraph formatting, spacing, listing order, and many other formatting features. For example, the <P> tag tells the Web browser to start a new paragraph. The </P> tag (with the forward slash) signals the end of the paragraph.

As you can see from the above example, HTML tags usually come in pairs. The opening tag is placed right before the text you wish to effect and the closing tag is placed right after the text you wish to effect. Some tags are an exception to this pairing rule, however, and all of the information is placed within a single tag. All HTML tags must be placed within the <head> and </head> tags on a Web page.

Before we get into meta tags, there is one other HTML tag with which you should be familiar. The comment tag is used to add comments about the page. These comments are not visible to those who view the page in a Web browser, but are visible to those who read the file as a text document. This is important because the search engines read a Web page as a text document and see the comments. The comment tag looks like this:

<comment> -- this a comment not visible from a Web browser, but visible when the source text file is read ---</comment>

HTML, like everything else having to do with computers and the Internet, comes in different versions. Newer browsers support the newer versions of HTML. This is only important so that you will understand that some people who use old versions of Web browsers may not get the effect of HTML tags (including meta tags) supported only by the newer versions.



We introduced you to keywords in the previous lesson. Search engines, in one way or another, index your Web pages by keywords. Before you begin to design your meta tags, you need to have determined your keywords and your keyword strategy.

With respect to keyword strategy, you should become familiar with the concept of "key phrases." Key phrases are keywords that consist of more than one keyword. For example, you could have the keywords: "earning" and "profit," but you could also combine them into the key phrase: "earning profit." Due to the stiff competition in search engine placement, you should use key phrases along with keywords. Key phrases are much more precise in finding particular subject matter. The key phrase "earning profit" is more likely to be searched for by someone looking for pages discussing how a home-based entrepreneur can earn profit, while the keywords "earning" and "profit" used separately may be used by people looking for pages comparing the earnings and profits of various industries and large corporations. For a searcher, using key phrases helps to narrow down the results of a search. For a Webmaster, using key phrases on your page increases the likelihood that your page will show up when your target market searches.

Keywords and phrases are important in all of the meta tags, not just the keywords meta tag. Thus, the first step in preparing your meta tags is to identify your keywords, and, more importantly, your key phrases and the strategy behind them.



Meta tags are often divided into two categories: 1)HTTP-EQUIV, and 2) meta tags with a NAME attribute. You should not be confused or concerned with this, as we mention it here only so you can ignore it. The difference between these two types of meta tags has to do with how the Web browser applications talk to the Internet Web server applications before the actual Web page is sent. (Recall we discussed this concept briefly in an earlier lesson on Web page design.) But, for now, you do not need to worry about it.



While there are many different meta tags that do many different things (from refreshing your page automatically to preventing your page from being cached), our focus is on those tags that serve to promote your site in the search engines. The main ones are "title," "keywords," "description," and the "robots" tags.


The "title" opening and closing meta tags look like this:

<title>Put the title of your Web page here.</title>

To draft your page title, pick your two most important key phrases and include them in a sentence or two that does not exceed 200 characters. Make this an attention grabbing, powerful sentence. Some of the search engines will use your title along side your link in the search engine listings. Your title will be the information used by people to decide whether to click through to your page. You have to make them want to see the page by the wording of your page title. Many search engines search the title content first when matching keywords. Thus, be sure to include your most important keywords and key phrases in your title meta tag,



As discussed in the last lesson, the keywords meta tag looks like this:

<META Name="keywords" Content="first key phrase, second key phrase, keyword1, keyword2, keyword3, etc">

Note that, unlike the title tag which has an opening tag and a closing tag with the text between the tag pairs, the keyword meta tag is just one tag with the text of the keywords and key phrases included within the quotation marks in the content attribute of the tag.

There is always an ongoing debate among the experts as to how many keywords you should use, whether to include the commas and/or the spaces between the keywords and phrases, and other such issues. The best course for beginners to follow is to start the list with two or three key phrases (such as "earning income, part time income, . . . ") and then add about twenty (20) more single keywords, including the keywords that make up the two key phrases. That is, in the example above, your keyword tag might look like this:

<META Name="keywords" Content="earning income, earning parttime income, earn, earning, income, earning, money, earning, profit, parttime, work, learn, homebased, entrepreneur, marketing, sales, business, course, opportunity, wealth, rich, financial, security, sixfigure">

The strategy is in using key phrases rather than just keywords. Also, the strategy is in which words and phrases you pick to use. Further, there is strategy in the order of placing your keywords. Note the places where the keyword "earning" is repeated in the example above. It ties the keyword "earning" to the words that come before it as well as the words which come after it, thus doubling the chances of matching a search phrase in some search engines. Picking the right words and phrases to match the content of your site to search queries made by your target market is the name of the game. Exactly how many words you use, and whether you use spaces or commas are secondary considerations which you can safely ignore for now.

The final consideration for the keywords tag is to avoid keyword spamming (repetitive use of a single keyword in order to manipulate search engine indexing and ranking). Do not use the same word repetitively, at least without other meaningful keywords between each instance of your main keyword. There is no known exact number of times you can repeat a single keyword before it will be considered keyword spamming by the major search engines. The number seven is touted about as the maximum number of times you can use a single keyword, but there is no real basis for this number. Looking back at our last lesson and the considerations discussed there will help you to realize that whether keyword spamming has occurred depends on how meaningful and useful it is to repeat a keyword, in light of the content of the site. Less important is trying to determine any particular number of repetitions that will penalize the site.


The description meta tag looks like this:

<Meta Name="Description" Content="Put the description of your site here">

Use your keywords and key phrases in your description, but make it meaningful! Like the title tag, what you put in the description tag content is used by some search engines to tell people what your site is about. It's your only chance to motivate most people to click to your site.

Common questions include: "How long can the description be?" and "How many times can you repeat your keywords in it?" Again, there are no exact answers to these questions. The rule of thumb is just to describe your site as attractively as you can using the fewest words possible. Put the most important stuff first in your description so that, if some of the description does get truncated by the search engines, the important stuff will likely still be included.

In addition to using a description meta tag, it is also smart to include the description in an HTML comment at the top of the page. Some of the search engines simply ignore the meta tags and grab the first few words they see on your page. Even better, use your description as the beginning of the displayed page itself. If worded properly, your description will serve to entice your visitors to continue reading your Website.



Despite the standards specifications for the robot tag, which suggest a means of controlling the search engines, in reality the robot tag is only used by most search engines to honor your wishes to exclude certain pages and content from the search engine's reach. Your instructions for revisits (which can be included in the robot meta tag) are pretty much ignored. But it is very useful to be able to exclude incomplete or distracting content that may interfere with your search engine rankings.

You can tell a search engine to ignore a page and all the links from that page with the following tag:

<META NAME="robots" CONTENT="noindex,nofollow">

To be safe with most engines, you should also include a text file named "robots.txt" in any directories on your Webserver that you want excluded from the search engines and put the words "noindex, nofollow" in that file as well.

Thus, the robot meta tag can be used to exclude certain content which you feel will penalize your ranking in the search engines, either because the content is incomplete or because it is off-subject from the rest of your content.



There are no magic rules that apply to all search engines. However, there are standards for meta tags that are followed to some extent by some of the search engines. It is important to properly include meta tags in your Web pages. The most important of these meta tags are the title, keywords, and description tags. A common strategy applies to the use of all three of these tags. Pick out the important keywords and key phrases that best match both the content of your site and the search queries most likely to be used by your target market. Order these words properly in these three tags so as to accomplish the best use of language and best positioning of the keywords and phrases to match likely search queries of your target market. Do not worry so much about how many words you use or how many times you repeat them. Rather, be concerned with the meaningfulness of your tags when compared to the actual content of your site.

Then, work to improve your ranking in the search engines by improving the quality of the content of your site to more closely match the search queries you anticipate from your target market, and adjust your meta tags accordingly.


More on Search Engines! Looking at specific search engines.

by George Little
Copyright (year) Panhandle On-Line, Inc.
License granted to Carson Services, Inc. for distribution to SFI affiliates. No part of this work may be republished, redistributed, or sold without written permission of the author.

For more information on the Internet Income Course and other works and courses by George Little, see

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