Search engine optimization (SEO) contains dozens of techniques and no small amount of controversy when it comes to which of these techniques are the most effective. The legitimate SEO community agrees that quality content, back links to the target site and optimization for well-researched keywords (phrases used in search engines) are critical components. Meta Data (information that is not visible on the web page itself, but within its coding) is the subject of some debate from SEO professionals. Some Meta Data is known to improve SEO, but in other cases, the evidence is weak – and the wrong technique may actually damage a site’s rank on Google, Yahoo! or Bing. So when and how does Meta Data matter? The development team at SEO firm GILL Media had the following to say about Meta Data in SEO:
Page Title: Strong
Page titles are the most visible Meta information fields in a web page. Search engines usually harvest a page’s title for its link in a search engine results page (SERP). The consensus remains that this is one of the strongest on-page SEO factors. That means webmasters should always include related keywords in their page titles, but need to remember that the title is visible in SERPs. A title that looks awkward due to keyword stuffing may not garner as many organic (human-decided) clicks as one with fewer keywords that conveys information to the user. Furthermore, remember that Google displays roughly 70 characters from a page title, making longer examples look awkward.
Image Alt Tags: Medium
One of the cardinal sins of SEO friendly web design is to forget that images are not machine-readable. In other words, your big banner naming your site and what it’s all about looks great to humans, but all a search engine spider sees is the image reference tag. Alt tags are designed to deal with this issue by adding a Meta tag telling spiders (and users who hover over the picture) what the image is all about. Designers should always fill in image tags with topical, SEO friendly titles, but avoid stuffing keywords in alt tags or using them in a deceptive fashion. For example, if alt tags are inconsistent with the site’s content, that may serve as a red flag to search engines. This is critical for image heavy sites, but less so for text-dominant sites. When it doubt, it’s always a better idea to provide information in visible text than Meta Data.
Meta Descriptions: Medium
A Meta Description is a short sentence that describes the page, but isn’t visible on the page itself. This is weaker than it used to be because too many SEO firms “gamed the system” by stuffing the Meta description with keywords. It may still have some weight with search engine spiders but nowadays the Meta Description is important to human readers. Many search engines import the description to the SERP, so searchers will have a chance to read it as a summary of the page’s content. Therefore, it’s your goal to not only include keywords in a natural fashion, but make the description appealing to a typical reader to increase organic clicks.
Meta Keyword Tags: Weak
Google representatives have publically said that the separate Meta Keywords field now has little to no weight on SERPs, and it’s likely that other search engines have largely followed suit. Nevertheless, you should still fill these out in the interest of completeness. Meta keywords may still be used by certain small scale search engines, and might serve as “tie breakers” when it’s time to rank two sites with an otherwise very close claim to the same position. Avoid using too many keywords here.