(General, mature, restricted, and 14 years)

Design & Publishing . / . WEB . / . Tips & Tricks . / . Short Course on Meta Tags

David Neibert sends in his questions about

What are meta tags and how important are they on a web page? 
How do I format them and include them on my site? 
I use Design Shop Gold which suggests to use meta tags but 
doesn't tell me how to do it.  Thanks, Dave

Short Course on
Meta Tags

Meta Tags can do a lot for your web pages.

First, let's clear something up... META tags aren't just those tags you include on your web pages for the search engine robots. <META> sends instructions or 'metainstruments' to the browser or server purveying the file. It's like a red flag that says "Hey server: stop and read this first before deciphering the page!"

There are different kinds of META tags. You did not specify which ones you're talking about so here goes Fred's arm-chair seminar on META tags...

META Tags are primarily used to send information about the file (or page) to the server and browser. META tags can also make the browser do something, like client pull commands, etc. They are invisible to the reader, and must be placed between the file's <HEAD> tag and the </HEAD> tag.

Here's how they work...

<META HTTP-EQUIV="theaction" CONTENT="attributes">

We won't go too far into EQUIV here because it's a deep subject. The most popular of these is the "refresh" command that tells the browser to wait, then reload the page or move to another.

<META HTTP-EQUIV="refresh" CONTENT="3; URL=http://theNextFile.html"> 

would tell the browser to wait three seconds then load theNextFile. The URL could be anywhere, or the same page. It could be the same page with a different graphic.

Other actions can include deleting the page from search engines:

<META HTTP-EQUIV="expires" CONTENT="august 18, 2000">

META Tags also tell the browser as much about the page as the author wishes, and can actually send key information across the system. This is the "Name" attribute:

<META NAME="What kind of name" CONTENT="the specifics">

These are the ones people covet for the search engines...

<META NAME="robots" CONTENT="index, follow, archive ">  
<META NAME="description" CONTENT="Fred Showker's Seminar on Meta Tags in HTML Pages"> 
<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="Meta Tag, html, web pages, showker, graphic design"> 
<META NAME="author" CONTENT="Fred Showker"> 
<META NAME="copyright" CONTENT="1999, The Design Center"> 
<META NAME="rating" CONTENT="general"> (General, mature, restricted, and 14 years)
<META NAME="publication_date" CONTENT="August 27, 1999"> 
<META HTTP-EQUIV="expires" CONTENT="august 18, 2000">
<META HTTP-EQUIV="Reply_To" CONTENT="showker@graphic-design.com"> 
<META URL="http://www.graphic-design.com/letters/questions/META.html"> 

... of course for those of you who are hiding secrets that you do NOT want the world to know about, use "Excludes" tags...

<META NAME="robots" CONTENT="noindex, nofollow, noarchive">  

Tips for using Meta Tags

The "Keywords" attribute should have each word separated by comma/space. Group words like "graphic design" shouldn't use the comma.

Don't use over 276 characters in a Meta Tag Content attribute.
Don't use the same word again within five words, and no more than twice in "Keywords"

Make sure the "description" gives a very short, clear synopsis of the page. The more key words you can repeat in the description the better, except do NOT repeat them.

This is very important and should be accomplished in human-readable, easily comprehended text no longer than about 25 words separated by spaces.

Search engines are very suspicious of "spammers" and will delete you if they suspect you're just padding the META tags to build higher ranking search results.

Some people have discovered the "reindex" tags which tell the spiders, crawlers and robots to reindex the page at intervals... however I'm not including them here because most search engines have now banned them. The porno and off-shore (illegal) gambling sites have started using these to spam the engines. You won't be listed if you use them. Isn't it a shame a few low-lifes ruin everything for the rest of us.

There is a lot more to the "META" tag story. If you really thirst for the deepest, darkest secrets of these little gems, you can dig into the same reference materials I've read in my own education process: (books in order from light to heavy)

(links will be at the website so you can click to look at books)

The very handy, and wonderful little
** The Hip Pocket Guide to HTML 4 - IDG Books - $14.95
My favorite desk-side reference Peachpit's
** Visual Quick Start Guide for HTML 4 - Peachpit - $17.95
Jennifer Niederst's
** Web Design in a Nutshell - O'Reilly - $24.95
Jim Heid's (now getting whiskers)
** HTML & Web Publishing Secrets - IDG - 600+ pages - $49.99
The awesome and fabulous tome 1,400 pages
** HTML Master Reference - IDG - $69.99

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