3.3. Meta Information
Meta information, sometimes called meta tags for short, is a mechanism you can use to provide information about a web page.
The most common meta tags provide a description and keywords for telling a search engine what your web site and pages are all about. Each meta tag begins with a name attribute that says what the meta tag represents. The meta tag:
<meta name="description" ...></meta>
means that this tag will provide descriptive information. The meta tag:
<meta name="keywords" ...></meta>
means that the tag will provide keywords.
The description and keywords go within a content attribute in the meta tag. For example, here's a meta description tag (often simply called the meta description):
<meta name="description" content="Quality information, articles about a variety of topics ranging from Photoshop, programming to business, and investing."></meta>
Keywords are provided in a comma-delimited list. For example:
<meta name="keywords" content="Photoshop, Wi-Fi, wireless networking, programming, C#, business, investing, writing, digital photography, eBay, pregnancy, information"></meta>
It's easy for anyone to put any meta tag keywords and description they'd like in a page's HTML code. This has lead to abuse when the meta tag information does not really reflect page content. Therefore, meta tag keyword and description information is deprecated by search engine indexing software and not as heavily relied upon by search engines as it used to be. But it is still worth getting your meta tag keywords and descriptions right.
In Chapter 2, I explained how to create a short (one- or two-sentence) elevator pitch for your web site. The meta description is a perfect use for this elevator pitch. Be aware that your meta description may be what searchers see displayed for your site, particularly if your site doesn't have much text on the page.
Meta keywords should be limited to a dozen or so terms. Don't load up the proverbial kitchen sink. Think hard about the keywords that you'd like to lead to your site when visitors search (See "Pages and Keywords," later in this chapter).
For the keywords that are really significant to your site, you should include both single and plural forms, as well as any variants. For example, a site about photography might well want to include both "photograph" and "photography" as meta tags.
For example, the home page of Digital Photography: Digital Field Guide shown in Figure 3-4 doesn't have much text, but it does have a lot of images.
Here's the meta tag information included in the HTML source code for the home page for the Digital Photography: Digital Field Guide site:
<meta name="description" content="Digital photography by Harold Davis: examples: techniques: companion site for book: site constructed with Flickr API"> </meta> <meta name="keywords" content="Digital, photography, photographs, photograph, field, guide, flickr, slide, camera, digital camera, tripod, filter, photo, processing"> </meta>
Since Google's software can't find what this page is about except by reading the meta description, because the page is almost all images with no text, the meta description is what shows up when the site is part of Google's search results (see Figure 3-5). The moral: if there aren't very many words on your page, pick your meta description and keywords with special care.
Figure 3-4. Meta description information is particularly important when your web site or page doesn't have much text (like this home page)
Figure 3-5. In this example, Google simply took the meta description verbatim since it couldn't find a description on the page itself