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Home > Tips > Search Engine Tips > Meta Tags Uncovered & Explained

Meta Tags Explained

by Jerry West
Updated May 6, 2011

What are
Google Meta Tags?
Review recommended
Meta Content Type
.
Should you use the
Meta Author
tag?

Over the years, Meta tags have become quite misunderstood and are often used incorrectly on the Internet. This document will provide a brief explanation and breakdown of the most widely used Meta tags, as well as recommendations regarding the ones you should or shouldn't use for your website. Done correctly, Meta tags can be a valuable onsite optimization tool and can have a positive effect of conversion rates.

What are Meta tags? We are asked this question all the time. Meta tags are snippets of informational code that have been located between your <HEAD> </HEAD> tags that are a part of the HTML document you've generated.

There are two known styles/attributes that you'll see for Meta tags. These are:

1. <META HTTP-EQUIV="name" CONTENT="content">
2. <META NAME="name" CONTENT="content">

In the mid 90s, Meta tags were developed to assist with the rapid growth of web pages. In the late 90’s there was a major occurrence. Many Webmasters, generally those who ran adult-orientated websites, began to abuse the use of Keyword Meta tags. Many unrelated keywords were placed on their sites in the Meta tag section, causing their pornographic sites to begin appearing in search results unrelated to topics such as "Smithsonian".

Eventually the major search engines began discontinuing the use of Meta tags as major criteria for listing sites. Google had always ignored the use of Meta tags, and currently will only index Google Meta Tags. There are several searches that do read Meta tags in their own way. I have another article on Google Tags if you are looking for information specific to Google.

The following list of links will take you to information about the most important individual Meta tags:

Recommended Tags
Meta Content Language (non-US English ONLY)
Meta Content Type
Meta Description
Meta Language (non-US English ONLY)

Optional Tags
Meta Abstract
Meta Author
Meta Copyright
Meta Designer
Meta Google
Meta Keywords
Meta MSN (No ODP)
Meta Title

Not Recommended Tags
Meta Content Script Type
Meta Content Style Type
Meta Distribution
Meta Expires
Meta Generator
Meta MS Smart Tags
Meta Pragma No-Cache
Meta Publisher
Meta Rating
Meta Refresh
Meta Reply-To
Meta Resource Type
Meta Revisit After
Meta Robots
Meta Set Cookie
Meta Subject
Meta VW96.ObjectType

Now that you've seen the list of recommended, optional, and not recommended tags, here is a little more information on each of these. If you'd like to quickly jump to a specific Meta tag, select the link from above.

Meta Abstract

Gives a short summary of the description. The Meta Abstract is used primarily with academic papers. The content for this tag is usually 10 words or less.

Example of a Meta Abstract:

<META NAME="Abstract" CONTENT="Short description of page">

Recommendation on Meta Abstract: This is an optional Meta tag. It will not assist you with the major search engines. If you have content that is highly specialized, the use of the Meta Abstract tag will allow search engines that are apart of your field of expertise to index your website correctly. Currently the Meta Abstract tag is not a part of Google, Yahoo!, or Bing algorithms.

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Meta Author

The Meta Author tag will display the author of the document. This Meta tag will reference the name of the person who developed the HTML/XML document being viewed. If you use the Meta Author tag, it is recommended to use it with the author's first and last name. It is not recommended to have the inclusion of the author's email address due to the proliferation of Spam. If the author would like to be contacted, it is advised to include a contact form on a HTML page instead.

Example of a Meta Author tag:

<META NAME="Author" CONTENT="George Costanza, gcostanza@vandalayindustries.com">

Recommendation of Meta Author tag:The use of the Meta Author tag is optional. If you have several individuals contributing to the content of your site, include this tag for assistance in tracking the author. The Meta Author tag is not indexed by Google, Yahoo!, or Bing. While it will not assist you in search engine rankings, it is recognized as part of the "Meta Tag Standard."

Read more on Meta Author

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Meta Content Language

The Meta Content Language tag declares the natural language of the document. This is also known as the Meta Name Language. Robots use this tag to categorize the language of the web page.

Example of a Meta Content Language tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Language" CONTENT="en-GB">

Example of a Meta Content Language tag: It is advised only to use the Meta Content Language tag if your website is written in non-US English. To date we have not tested this tag, but we have had reports from our members that it does assist non-US English sites in getting categorized properly by the search engines.

Read more on Meta Content.

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Meta Content Script Type

The Meta Content Script Type tag is used to specify the default scripting language of the document.

Example of a Meta Content Script Type:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Script-Type" CONTENT="text/javascript">

Recommendations for Meta Content Script Type: It is advised not to use the Meta Content Script Type tag. Search engines do not need this tag to detect scripts as they do this on their own. Browsers do not use this tag either, as they have other detection methods in place.

Read more on Meta Content.

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Meta Content Style Type

The Meta Content Style Type is used to specify the default Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) language for the documents.

Example of a Meta Content Style Type tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Style-Type" CONTENT="text/css">

Recommendations for Meta Content Style Type tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Content Style Type tag. Search engines do not need to know the style sheet of a document. Web browsers also do not look to the Meta tags for style sheet information.

Read more on Meta Content.

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Meta Content Type

Used to declare the character set.

The Meta Content Type tag is used to declare the character set of a website. It has become recommended to always use the Meta Content Type tag even if you use a DTD declaration above the Header. If you fail to do so, it may cause display problems. For instance, the document may use UTF-8 punctuation characters but is displayed in ISO or ASCII character sets. There are other benefits to using the Meta Content Type tag. Simply subscribe to our SEO Revolution Newsletter (nominal fee membership) to get the entire scoop of what the Meta Content Type tag can do for your site

Example of a Meta Content Type tag:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1">

Recommendations of a Meta Content Type tag: It is recommended to always use the Meta Content Type tag along with the DTD declaration format by the World Wide Web Consortium. If you fail to do so, you may cause display problems. For example, the Meta Content Type tag helps properly display the page if the document uses UTF-8 punctuation characters, but is displayed in ISO or ASCII character sets. There are many benefits to using the Meta Content Type tag. To get the entire scoop on the Meta Content Type tags, become a paid member and subscribe to our SEO Revolution Newsletter.

Read more on Meta Content Type.

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Meta Copyright

The Meta Copyright tag is used to include a copyright, trademark, patent, or other information that pertains to intellectual property.

Example of a Meta Copyright tag:

<meta name="copyright" content="Copyright 2008">

Recommendations for a Meta Copyright tag: It is not required to use a Meta Copyright tag. Please be aware that the Meta Copyright tag will not protect your site's content or your intellectual property. Consult your attorney to ensure you are protected properly.

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Meta Description

The Meta Description tag gives a brief overview of the document. The Meta Description tag is a short, plain language description of the document, usually consisting of 20-25 words or less. Search engines that support the Meta Description tag will use the information to publish on their search results page, normally displaying below the Title of your site listing.

Example of a Meta Description tag:

<META NAME="description" CONTENT="Citrus fruit wholesaler.">

Recommendations of the Meta Description tag: It is recommended to always use the Meta Description tag. Make your Meta Description as compelling as you can, as that description is often the motivating factor involved with getting your listings clicked in the search results. The Meta Description tag is particularly important if your document has very little text, is a frameset, or has extensive scripts at the top.

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Meta Designer

The Meta Designer tag is used to declare the designer of the website.

Example of a Meta Designer tag:

<META NAME="Designer" CONTENT="Art Vandaley">

Recommendations of the Meta Designer tag: The Meta Designer tag is optional to use. Usually web designers who want advertising or to catch people hijacking their designs use the Meta Designer tag. It should be understood that search engines do not support the Meta Designer tag.

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Meta Distribution

The Meta Distribution tag is used to declare the distribution of your web content. The three classifications of distribution are:

  • Global (the entire web)
  • Local (reserved for the local IP block of your site)
  • IU (Internal Use, not for public distribution).

Example of a Meta Distribution tag:

<META NAME="Distribution" CONTENT="Global">

Recommendations for the Meta Distribution tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Distribution tag. If you want to have restricted distribution, use the robots.txt tag or your HTAccess file.

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Meta Expires

The Meta Expires tag is used to declare the date and time after which the web document should be considered expired.

Example of the Meta Expires tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="expires" CONTENT="Wed, 26 Feb 2004 08:21:57 GMT">

Recommendations for the Meta Expires tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Expires tag. While the Meta Expires tag is good conceptually, it is impractical for search engines. Not only do search engines not read the Meta Expires tag, but according to my testing, browsers ignore it too. Are you looking to stop Google from caching your site? Even if you use the Meta Expires tag Google will cache your page. The Meta Expires tag is worthless; don't bother with it.

Read more on Meta Expires Tag.

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Meta Generator

The Meta Generator tag is used to declare the name and version number of the publishing tool used to create the page. Tool vendors use the Meta Generator tag to assess market penetration.

Example of the Meta Generator tag:

<META NAME="Generator" CONTENT="FrontPage 4.0">

Recommendations for Meta Generator tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Generator tag. If you have Meta Generator tags, delete them if possible. Meta Generator tags serve no useful purpose for your pages.

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Meta Google

The Meta Google tag has several options that are exclusive for use with Google. These include:

  1. Googlebot: noarchive - does not allow Google to display cached content
  2. Googlebot: nosnippet - does not allow Google to display excerpted or cached content
  3. Googlebot: noindex - similar to the robots meta element
  4. Googlebot: nofollow - does not allow Google to pass any PageRank or link popularity to the link served.

Recommendations for the Meta Google tags: The Meta Google tags are optional to use. You generally do not need to use Meta Google tags unless you want Google to do something specific with your site. The Meta Google tag is one of the few Meta tags Google will read, index, and obey.

Read More on Google Meta Tags .

For more info straight from Google, see Google's Remove Page.

Also referenced: meta tags google

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Meta Language

The Meta Language tag is used to declare the language used on the website. Webmasters who wish to declare the primary language of the web page can use the Meta Language tag.

Example of the Meta Language tag:

<META NAME="Language" CONTENT="english">

Recommendation of the Meta Language tag: It is recommended to only use the Meta Language tag for sites in non-US English languages. No testing has been done in other languages to verify that the Meta Language tag does indeed work.

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Meta Keywords

The Meta Keywords tag is used to list keywords that define the content of your site. In addition to words from the title, document body, and other areas search engines use keywords to properly index your site. The Meta Keywords tag is typically used for synonyms and alternates of title words.

Example of the Meta Keywords tag:

<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="oranges, lemons, limes">

Recommendations for the Meta Keywords tag: It is recommended to use the Meta Keywords tag with caution. Make sure to only use keywords that are relevant to your site. Search engines are known to penalize or blacklist your site for abuse. The Meta Keywords tag also exposes your keywords to your competitors. Five hours of keyword research can be wasted if your competitor can hijack your work within just a few minutes.

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Meta MS Smart Tags

The Meta MS Smart tags were part of a beta test of Internet Explorer and were removed due to negative press and feedback from users. In short, Microsoft would sell keyword phrases, then the Meta MS Smart Tags would allow those keywords to be highlighted on web pages that would take the user to the advertiser's site. This would mean your site could promote your competitor's site without your consent.

Example of a Meta MS Smart tags:

<META NAME="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" CONTENT="TRUE">

Recommendations for Meta MS Smart tags: It is recommended not to use the Meta MS Smart tags. Microsoft discontinued Meta MS Smart tags technology. If you are working with an SEO firm that demands to insert these tags, quickly find a new SEO company.

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Meta MSN (No ODP)

The Meta MSN (No ODP) tag is used for your description in the Bing search results instead of the description used in DMOZ.

Example of a Meta MSN (No ODP) tag:

<META Name="msnbot" CONTENT="NOODP">

Recommendation for Meta MSN (No ODP) tag: It is optional to use Meta MSN (No ODP) tag. If you are unhappy with the description from DMOZ, and most Webmasters are, use the Meta MSN (No ODP) tag. While this is only good for BingBot, you can sub "Robots" for "BingBOT" in the Meta MSN (No ODP) tag to be valid for all bots. As of right now, however, Bing is the only search engine using descriptions straight from DMOZ.

Note: Using the Meta MSN (No ODP) tag will not remove the DMOZ listing immediately. It can take up to four weeks.

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Meta Pragma No Cache

The Meta Pragma No Cache tag is used to prevent visitors from seeing a cached version of a specific page. The Meta Pragma No Cache tag forces the browser to pull information from the server each time the page is viewed.

Example of the Meta Pragma No Cache tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Pragma" CONTENT="no-cache">

Recommendations for the Meta Pragma No Cache tag: The Meta Pragma No Cache tag has no affect on search engines and is mainly implemented with the intent of helping users. For example, if you have a site that changes on a daily basis, the Meta Pragma No Cache tag would ensure that the visitor sees the most recent version of the page.

However, since you are pulling information from the server each time a visitor views the page, the load time will be affected as well as incurring increased server activity.

Google has stated: "The http-equiv values pragma and expires are attempts at bypassing caches without having to set the HTTP headers correctly. These are probably unnecessary uses; any scenario where there is a legitimate reason to limit caching, the author is going to have enough control over the server to send the appropriate headers. In addition, the meta tags can't be considered reliable (e.g. proxies and transparent caches aren't going to honor them)."

In my opinion, it is better to set the HTTP headers correctly. To learn how to do this, view our article (must be an All Access Member of the SEO Revolution).

Note: The above also applies to the Meta Expires Tag.

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Meta Publisher:

The Meta Publisher tag is used to declare the name and version number of the publishing tool used to create the page. The Meta Publisher tag is the same as the Meta Generator tag. Tool vendors might use this tag to assess market penetration.

Example of the Meta Publisher tag:

<META NAME="Publisher" CONTENT="FrontPage 4.0">

Recommendations for the Meta Publisher tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Publisher tag. If you have t Meta Publisher tags, delete them if possible. The Meta Publisher tag serves no purpose for your pages.

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Meta Rating

The Meta Rating tag is used to display a content rating similar to the movie rating system (i.e. PG-13).

Example of the Meta Rating tag:

There is not a set form of this tag, nor is there any official statement from the W3C. Some sites recommend using this tag. However, these recommendations have no basis in fact as the governing body of HTML has no reference to it. According to our testing, this tag has no merit.

Recommendations for Meta Rating tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Rating tag. The fact that there is not a set form for the Meta Rating tag suggests you would be better off acquiring a rating from the International International Content Rating Association.

Read more on Meta Rating Tag Explained.

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Meta Refresh

The Meta Refresh tag is used to specify a delay in seconds before the browser automatically reloads the document or URL specified.

Example of the Meta Refresh tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Refresh" CONTENT="3;URL=http://www.domain.com/page.html">

Recommendations for the Meta Refresh tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Refresh tag. Search engines can detect the use of the Meta Refresh tag and they consider it to be Spam. The penalty is either ignoring the page or banning your site completely from the index. You should use a 301 or 302 redirect instead. To get more information on how to do redirects properly, subscribe to our paid membership and check out the SEO Revolution Newsletter archive.

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Meta Reply To

The Meta Reply To tag is used to harvest email addresses. The Meta Reply To tag is a Spammers tag. The Meta Reply To tag picks up your email address, then hits you fast and hard with offers-a-plenty.

Example of a Meta Reply To tag:

<meta name="reply-to" content="your.email@address.com" />

Recommendations for the Meta Reply To tag: It is highly recommended not to use the Meta Reply To tag as it is used as a Spamming tool.

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Meta Resource Type

The Meta Resource Type tag is used to declare the resource of a page.

Example of a Meta Resource Type tag:

<META name="resource-type" content="document">

Recommendations for the Meta Resource Type tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Resource Type tag. Use the DTD Declaration instead.

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Meta Revisit After

The Meta Revisit After tag is used to inform search engines when to return to index your site. It has been stated that the Meta Revisit After tag will boost your site's rankings with search engines that credit fresh pages. This information is false and has no basis.

Example of the Meta Revisit After tag:

<META NAME="Revisit-After" CONTENT="30 days Days">

Recommendations for the Meta Revisit After tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Revisit After tag. Search engines will not obey the Meta Revisit After tag and come back to index your site on their own schedule, not when you inform them.

Read more on Meta Revisit After

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Meta Robots

The Meta Robots tag controls search engine robots on a per-page basis. It tells Robots they may traverse the page, but not index it.

Example of the Meta Robots tag:

<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX,FOLLOW">

Recommendation for the Meta Robots tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Robots tag as the search engines often ignore it. If you need to control the search engine robots, use a robots.txt file or modify your HTAccess file instead. Many people are concerned that if a bot comes to their site through a subpage and not their homepage, the robots.txt file will not be read. This is not true. The robots.txt is read each time a good boy comes to a new domain. You can verify this through your web logs.

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Meta Set Cookie

The Meta Set Cookie tag is a cookie used to set a cookie in the user's web browser. If you use an expiration date, the cookie is considered permanent and will be saved to disk until it expires. Otherwise it will be considered valid only for the current session and will be erased upon closing the Web browser.

Example of the Meta Set Cookie tag:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Set-Cookie" CONTENT="cookievalue=xxx;expires=Wednesday, 21-Oct-98 16:14:21 GMT; path=/">

Recommendations for the Meta Set Cookie tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Set Cookie tag. While the Meta Set Cookie tag was used years ago to set cookies, cookies can now be set and customized very easily. If you need assistance with cookies, our programming staff can assist you for a nominal fee.

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Meta Subject

The Meta Subject tag is used to declare the subject of the web site.

Example of the Meta Subject tag:

<META NAME="Subject" CONTENT="Web Page Subject">

Recommendations of Meta Subject tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta Subject tag. No third party agents, including browsers and search engines, support the Meta Subject tag.

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Meta Title

The Meta Title tag is used to declare the title of the page. The Meta Title tag would normally have the same title as contained in the <TITLE></TITLE> tag.

Example of the Meta Title tag:

<META NAME="Title" CONTENT="Page Title Here">

Recommendation for the Meta Title tag: It is recommended to use the Meta Title tag with caution. According to our testing, Yahoo! and Bing index the Meta Title tag, but its effect on the algorithm is unknown due to inconsistent test results.

Read more on the Meta Title.

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Meta VW96.ObjectType

The Meta VW96.ObjectType is used to define the purpose of specific pages. This is based on an early version of the Dublin Core report, using a defined schema of document types such as FAQ, HOW TO, etc.

Recommendations for the Meta VW96.ObjectType tag: It is recommended not to use the Meta VW96.ObjectType tag. None of the search engine or major browsers support the Meta VW96.ObjectType tags.

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Meta Tags Explained - including meta tags html & meta tags SEO

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© 2003-2011, WebMarketingNow.com

Jerry West is the Director of Internet Marketing for Web Marketing Now. He has been consulting on the web since 1996 and has assisted hundreds of companies in gaining an upper-hand over their competition. Visit Web Marketing Now for the latest in tested and proven marketing tips.

The above article can be reproduced on your site or e-zine as long as the signature file remains.

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