What are Meta-Tags Useful For?
By Richard Lowe, Jr.
A meta-tag is a special HTML tag which provides some data about your web page (and site) to the outside world. There are many hundreds of tags which declare information such as the copyright holder, cache time (the time the page is to be saved before being reloaded), category and so on.
Whether or not you use meta-tags and which ones you use depends upon the purpose of your site. Some sites will find it very useful to include many of these tags to precisely control how their site is seen and used. Others simply do not care as long as visitors arrive in mass.
My site, for example, is educational. Thus, I include keywords to help others categorize my pages, to aid the various research search engines and directories, and to ensure that my pages are understood as family safe. Thus, what is important to me is that my site gets properly placed on thousands of research directories and search engines all over the internet. I want libraries and universities to add it to their list of references.
Stating my copyright is also important, as I might need to enforce it later. I want people to understand that they cannot just freely make copies of my hard work and claim it as their own.
A commercial site, however, might not have any use for any of that. I can easily see that a site selling candy or whatever would restrict the meta tags to the basics. Who cares which of the small directories it gets listed within – all that’s important is targeted traffic.
I find these meta tags extremely useful to tell robots and other things which visit my site how I would prefer it be handled, categorized and saved. I like having control over these things, as then my sites become optimally useful to my audience.
I’ve done a lot of research on meta tags and their use, and here’s an example of what I have concluded is of most value to me. You may come to different conclusions based upon your own needs. The point is simple: use what’s important to you and your mission. Don’t use what’s not important.
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=windows-1252">
This declares the character set of the page. It’s nice to tell the browser so it displays everything properly.
<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en-us">
Language is useful to readers and search engines what to expect. Some of my pages have been translated into Spanish and, of all things, Russian, and are marked accordingly.
<meta http-equiv="pics-label" content='(pics-1.1 "http://www.icra.org/ratingsv02.html" l gen true for "http://www.internet-tips.net" r (cz 1 lc 1 nz 1 oz 1 vz 1) "http://www.rsac.org/ratingsv01.html" l gen true for "http://www.internet-tips.net" r (n 0 s 0 v 0 l 1))
‘> <meta http-equiv="PICS-Label" content='(PICS-1.1 "http://www.classify.org/safesurf/" l r (SS~~000 1))’>
I like to let my readers know they can expect my site to be safe for all ages.
<meta name="author" content="Richard G. Lowe, Jr.">
This tells the directories and search engines the name of the author of my pages. This is displayed upon occasion.
<meta name="copyright" content="Copyright © 1999-2002 Richard Lowe and Claudia Arevalo-Lowe, All Rights Reserved">
This meta-tag tells the world that our works is copyrighted and that we own the copyright. This can be useful later if there is a need to sue.
<meta name="description" content="TCP/IP – the foundation of the internet. This is the information about the protocol which makes the internet work.">
The description is useful for many search engines. This is also what is displayed by my own internal PERL search engine.
<meta name="keywords" content="tcp/ip,tcpip,ip,network protocol">
Keywords help search engines (both my own and the others available on the internt) determine what things to search for. Also, I have found some of the smaller directories and engines use these to categorize the site.
<meta name="rating" content="GENERAL"> Another way to say my site is family safe.
<meta name="ROBOTS" content="ALL"> The page can be indexed. The above tag is the default so only needs to be specified if you change the options.
<meta name="MSSmartTagsPreventParsing" content="TRUE">
Keeps away Microsoft Smart tags.
<title>TCP/IP – the foundation of the internet</title>
Of course, the title is used by both my internal search engine and the others as well.
I specifically set "pragma" and "expires" in the HTTP header because HTML is not parsed by proxy servers and such. The HTTP headers are always examined. My pages don’t change often so I want them to remain cached for a long time, so I set the expire to 6 months in the header.
One thing that I did right away was to remove the following tags:
<meta name="GENERATOR" content="Microsoft FrontPage 4.0"> <meta name="ProgId" content="FrontPage.Editor.Document">
These (and they are created by other HTML editors as well) are simply marketing and statistical tools used by companies. My advice is to get rid of them – they do you no good at all.
My philosophy on the use of these tags is simple. Yes, they are of value to some search engines, but more importantly, the tags tell the outside world things about my pages. So the questions I
ask myself is "what do I want to make known that is not obvious from the page itself", "is a meta tag the best way to do it
(sometimes setting the HTTP header is better, for example) and "is the tag abused (such as reply-to))
I am also starting to use more and more of the <LINK> tag, as I think it is very useful to tell the world how my web site is structured. I like the way you can relate a page to it’s chapter, section, table of contents and so on. This seems like, when the feature becomes more widely supported, it will make life easier for everyone.
Additional Information – Articles
IIS 5 Administration – HTTP Headers Tab
This very full tab allows you to do many different things, all involving
HTTP headers Meta-Tags
Be sure and set up your meta-tags properly if you want to be found by some search engines.
Real Life Internet Evil- Microsoft’s Smart Tags
In early 2001, Microsoft attempted to harness all of the creative energy of the internet into one vast, almost awe-inspiring advertising machine.
Additional Information – Meta Tag References
HTML tag reference guide – <META>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv expires>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv ext-cache>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv content-language>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv page-enter>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv page-exit>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv pics-label>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv pragma>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv refresh>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv content-script-type>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv set-cookie>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv site-enter>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv site-exit>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv content-style-type>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv window-target>
HTML tag reference guide – <META http-equiv content-type>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name abstract>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name author>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name classification>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name copyright>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name description>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name distribution>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name doc-class>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name expires>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name generator>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name googlebot>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name keywords>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name MSSmartTagsPreventParsing>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name owner>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name progid>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name rating>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name refresh>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name reply-to>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name resource-type>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name revisit-after>
HTML tag reference guide – <META name robots>
HTML tag reference guide – <TITLE>
Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets at http://www.internet-tips.net – Visit our website any time to read over 1,000 complete FREE articles about how to improve your internet profits, enjoyment and knowledge.