If you’ve followed the search engines for any reasonable period of time you’ve likely seen a number of very old articles about META tags. Perhaps even more likely, you’ve probably seen dozens more articles since roughly 1997 or so proclaiming that META tags are dead, useless, etc.
Honestly, I don’t know exactly how big a factor they are. I do this: lots of sites can get ranked very well without even having META tags, or with doing the not-advisible and using one tag copied and pasted on each page of their site.
So clearly this is not a critical factor. It hasn’t been for quite some time, as they are just too easy to manipulate in an “unethical” manner. The search engines made a valid conclusion in that if Site A really is all about topic ABC, than surely they should be able to derive that from looking at the visible content of the page and not relying on hidden tags which were widely abused and misused.
Okay, so why bother to spend 15 minutes of my day writing this post? Well clearly I think they do still have some marginal value – however incremental it is. And in fact, as is my trend lately – let’s chalk this up under “general internet marketing” rather than “SEO”, as I don’t think they directly help in moving up the rankings as an algorithm criteria.
Where they do help is in your CTR (click-through rate). Getting a top 5 ranking is great – but that’s only 1 phase of the mission. Once you are there, you want people to visit your site. Thus, it is desireable that the link and description shown for your site on the SERPS (search engine results pages) be:
a) highly-related to the search and your page’s content
b) enticing and “action-worthy” – clickable
Over the past year I’ve noticed all of the Big 3 search engines experimenting with the META description tag and using it in certain instances as the description of the site in the SERPS. Think about it, this is your chance to NOT worry about rankings for once, and do some real marketing. Make a good description tag that, alright, still mentions a few keywords – but more importantly appeals to the actual person viewing your link and deciding in an instant whether or not to click on it.
Too often I catch myself forgetting that the web, the internet, search engine marketing and website conversions are, in fact, all about people. We’re not talking about computer programs or automated bots visiting your site who you are hoping to convert 5% of – we’re talking about someone that may be very like yourself, or one of your good friends or family members. A little “traditional” marketing and a personal touch can really help here.
Now to go practice what I preach…