I’ve been involved in a couple discussions this week about meta tags, and it still surprises me to see and hear so much confusion and uncertainty about what they do, and how to use them — if at all.
There’s one meta tag you really should/must use, and one that rarely matters, if at all.
“Description” meta tag — This one you should/must use. Every page on your site should have a unique description that corresponds to the visible content of the page. This will often show up in the SERPs as your site’s “snippet,” so make sure you write these with the searcher in mind. A well-written Description meta can be the trigger that gets searchers to click.
“Keywords” meta tag — Hardly ever matters, if at all. Has no bearing on your rankings. I still use it for some client sites, and don’t bother with it on others. Google ignores it entirely, while Yahoo and MSN reportedly take a look at it but only use it as an absolute, final, end-of-the-line, last resort to help figure out what a page is about. If you decide to use it, don’t go overboard — keep the keywords list short.
Any official word?
What do the search engines say about meta tags? Not much. To my knowledge, the last time a SE representative gave concrete information about meta tags was when Mike Grehan interview Jon Glick of Yahoo all the way back in 2004. Glick said the Keywords meta is more about “matching” than “ranking.”
“…if you have a product which is frequently misspelled. If you’re located in one community, but do business in several surrounding communities, having the names for those communities or those alternate spellings in your meta keywords tag means that your page is now a candidate to show up in that search. That doesn’t say that it’ll rank, but at least it’s considered. Whereas, if those words never appear then it can’t be considered.”
So on a real estate site, for example — the agent may cover 10-12 different cities/towns, but on the web site you may not have content about all 10-12 towns. So you might use the keywords tag to make sure the full list of localities is covered.
(It should be noted, too, that Yahoo is currently the only SE to recommend use of the Keywords meta tag. Google, MSN, and Ask make no mention of it in their webmaster help pages.)
Your focus, ultimately, should be on the Description meta tag. In the interview, Glick says Yahoo counts the Description text “similar to body text”. It’s quite possible that’s changed to some degree in the past two years, but the Description meta tag is still the one that you really should / must use across your web site.