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Meta Tags and The Search Engines

Dateline 11/13/97 (Revised)

A lot has changed in the past five months since Jake Levich first asked me to do a feature on the techniques for using meta tags, i.e. titles, keywords and descriptions, to secure better placement on the major search engines.

A major change has occurred with Infoseek which now only lists one page per site per search. While at first glance this may seem like a negative, especially for those of us that used to have seven or eight of the top ten pages listed for any given search, it is a reasonable solution to the problem of having the top one hundred finds being pages from only a handful of sites. What that means to us, however, if that we need to be even more careful and more specific about how we utilize our meta tags. If done properly, you can accurately arrange for any specific page in your site to be listed high on Infoseek when the right search term is entered. Don't worry if this sounds a bit confusing. We will discuss some specific examples so that you get the idea. I have found that if I follow the techniques outlined in this feature my pages get high rankings in most of the major search engines, i.e. Infoseek, AltaVista, HotBot, WebCrawler, Lycos, and Northern Light Search. Excite is reworking their system and listings seem to change daily in many cases. Remember that some search engines ask that you enter just your main (mbody) page and they then "spider" your site while others, like Infoseek allow you to enter each page separately.

1. Meta Tag Titles

First, and with apologies to whoever wrote up the original template instructions for entering the titles of your features in your meta tags, those instructions do not work.That is why they are being reworked. If the old instructions were followed they actually resulted in very few of your pages being listed. The titles of each of your pages, especially your weekly features must be distinct. If they are not, then many of the search engines have no way of distinguishing one feature from the other.

mcurrent and archived features

Our former mcurrent template instructed you to complete your meta tag title by entering "[Your Site Here] - Feature: [Enter Date like this 03/12/97] From The Mining Company". Had you followed those instructions you would likely show titles for your features like:

Hawaiian Culture - Feature: 09/13/97 From the Mining Company

Hawaiian Culture - Feature: 09/22/97 From the Mining Company

Hawaiian Culture - Feature: 09/29/97 From the Mining Company

Unfortunately, search engines like Infoseek will look at those pages as the same page and only list your most recent entry. So, we have reworked the instructions as you all have now been informed. You need to expand your titles in your meta tags to read like this:

Hawaii Schools on the Internet (Part 1) - Hawaiian Culture - 09/13/97

1997 Aloha Festivals, Keali`i Reichel, and more - Hawaiian Culture - 09/22/97

Images of Hawaii - Hawaiian Culture - 09/29/97

To take this one step further, the actual title of your feature as seen by the reader should match the first part of the title in your meta tags. For example what the reader sees as the title to these three features is:

Hawaii Schools on the Internet (Part 1)

1997 Aloha Festivals, Keali`i Reichel, and more

Images of Hawaii

This is a key item to enable you to list all of your features separately on the search engines, particularly Infoseek. So that is lesson one:

1. Make sure the meta tag titles of your features are distinct from each other.

2. Make sure the title of the feature seen by the reader matches the title in your meta tag.


Now let's look at our Net Links pages.

msub pages

Again the instructions contained on the old msub template did not work. Those instructions advised you to title your msub pages as follows: [Your Site Here] - Internet Resources from About.com. As you probably can see by now, if you did that all of your msub pages would look exactly alike and the search engines would have no way of distinguishing one from the other. For my site, all msub pages would have looked like this::

Hawaiian Culture - Internet Resources from the Mining Company

Remember, the secret is to be specific. You should enter meta tag titles that tell exactly what the page features. Here are some examples of the meta tag titles of a few of my msub pages:

Hawaiian language - Hawaiian Culture Net Links

Hawaiian music - Hawaiian Culture Net Links

Hawaiian history - Hawaiian Culture Net Links

Once again, the actual title of the page where seen by the reader should match the main meta tag title, i.e.:

Hawaiian language

Hawaiian music

Hawaiian history

Remember lesson one now with an addition:

1. Make sure the meta tag titles of your features and msub pages are distinct from each other.

2. Make sure the title of the feature and msub pages seen by the reader matches the title in your meta tag.

You may ask why number 2 is so important. Well, some search engines actually reward you with a higher listing if your meta tag title and text title match. I have no idea of why!

This art of meta tag titles applies to all of the other pages on your site. Just remember, make those titles unique.

2. Meta Tag Keywords

You can read a dozen articles on meta tags and keywords and get just as many opinions on how many keywords to use and which types of keywords work best. I have my own thoughts which I will share with you. They work for me, but this is an area where experimentation is in order. I suppose my main philosophy with meta tag keywords is "the rule of reasonableness", i.e. don't use too many but don't use too few. I have also recently discovered that Infoseek actually will reject you page if your first keyword is too broad. For example, if I use Hawaii as my first keyword, Infoseek will no longer list the page. Instead they seem to be looking for more detail. Likewise if your site is about dogs, then I would not suggest that your first keyword be just dogs.

The way I approach keywords is to look at a feature or an msub page and put myself in the shoes of person searching for some information on the Internet. What words would I enter if I wanted to find information on Hawaiian music? Well, most likely I would search under the phrase Hawaiian music. That being the case, when I do a feature on Hawaiian music my first keyword is likely to be "Hawaiian music". Remember your keywords may be single words or phrases and in most cases two word phrases do very well unless the topic is so limited and specific that one word will suffice.

Let's look at a couple of the pages we examined when we discussed meta tag titles. Remember my feature titled "Hawaii Schools on the Internet (Part 1)"? That was a feature in which I explored the websites of several Hawaiian schools. What keywords did I use for that feature? Well, I used:

"Hawaii schools, Hawaiian schools, Hawaii education, Hawaiian education, Kailua High School, Waianae High School, Waiakea Intermediate School, Hawaiian culture, The Mining Company, weekly feature column"

My thinking was that someone looking for information on Hawaiian schools might search either under "Hawaii schools" or "Hawaiian schools" or perhaps by the name of a specific school about which they were seeking information.

Let's look at one more example. For the feature titled "1997 Aloha Festivals, Keali`i Reichel and more", I used the keywords:

"1997 Aloha Festivals, Aloha Festival, Aloha parade, Keali`i Reichel, Kealii Reichel, E O Mai, Hawaii Tomorrow, Honolulu Advertiser, surfing, Hawaiian culture, The Mining Company, weekly feature column"

Did you notice that my first keywords almost always match all or part of my title? That is intentional. I find that when the meta tag title, first keyword and actual visible title all match, I get really high rankings. With that in mind here is lesson 2:

1. Choose keywords that you think someone may enter in a search engine if they were looking for information on the topic at hand.

2. Don't be too broad with your keywords. Be somewhat specific. Two word phrases seem to work very well.

3. Try to make your first keyword match all or at least the first part of your meta tag title.

4. Use a rule of reasonableness when deciding how many keywords or phrases to use. Clearly most search engines key into your first five or six keywords.

3. Meta Tag Descriptions

So, we've discussed meta tag titles and meta tag keywords. We have not yet discussed meta tag descriptions. There does not seem to be a lot of agreement as to what degree the major search engines use your meta tag descriptions to enhance the actual listing of your site.

I tend to look at meta tag descriptions as serving another major purpose. The meta tag description that you enter is the one or two line description of your page that many of the search engines will show when that page is located. It may very well be your one shot to encourage the searcher to click onto the link to your page. I find it important to give a brief description of the page or feature with some interesting thoughts to make the reader think that it might be worth his or her while to click onto the page.

Let's look at an example. Once again, we'll revisit our feature "Hawaii Schools on the Internet (Part 1)". This is what I used as a meta tag description:

"Preserving and perpetuating a culture begins with the young. Check out what is going on at some of the schools in Hawaii at their Internet sites, from your About.com Guide."

It can also be very simple and straightforward such us the meta tag description of our feature "Images of Hawaii":

"Join us and see some of our favorite photos and images of Hawaii from your About.com Guide."

My suggestion here is to make sue you limit yourself to a brief sentence or two and try to grab the searcher's attention. It may be your only shot to do so.


I hope that you find these meta tag tips to be helpful. In case you're wondering what type of results I have had using them, let me give you some examples of where my site appears on some of the major search engines. For reasons unclear to me, my site has entirely disappeared from Excite and they are very delayed in adding new listings. I only recently submitted my site to AOL NetFind, so I am awaiting listings there. These results change daily but for the most part they stay pretty consistent:

Search phrase - "Hawaiian culture"

Search Engine Pages placed in the top 10
Infoseek 1 and 2 out of 509,468 results
Webcrawler 1, 2 and 3 out of 52,578 results
HotBot 2 and 5 out of 6223 results
Lycos 1 out of 1925 results
Look Smart 2,3,4,5,6 and 10 results
search.com 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 out of 509,489 results
Alta Vista 1,2,3,4,5,9 and 10 out of 326,518 results
Northern Light 3,6,10, out of 10,599 results


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