As part of this analysis process, one area that we look at is the “meta-data” elements of the site. This concept is often new to the small business executives I talk to, so I thought it’d be helpful to provide a simple description of what it is and why it’s important. As is the case with prior articles in this series, if you’re an uber-techie and already grok all this stuff, feel free to save a bookmark to this article for the next time a business-type asks you what meta-data is. It will save you 10 minutes of your life that you can’t get back. You’re welcome.
Meta-Data Overview: Meta-data is information about a web page that is not part of the “core” content of the page. It provides useful information regarding the page to various pieces of software (a browser, search engine crawlers, etc.). From a structural perspective, meta-data is stored in a different part of the web page’s HTML code than the usual web content that people see.
There are three primary pieces of meta-data that you should be concerned with.
1. Title: This is without a doubt, the most important piece of meta-data there is. One could further argue that it is the most important part of your web page, period. Why? Two reasons. First, the title is what is recognized to be the one piece of information that describes what the page is about. (Similar to a book title or article title). It shows up at the top of the browser when users are browsing your site. It is the default title your browser and book-marking sites will automatically use when people decide to “save” your site for future use. Second, it is what search engines also use to figure out what the site is about. Compared to everything else on your page, it gets the most “weight” from the search engines. Think of your meta-data title just like you would if you were writing an article for the Wall Street Journal or authoring a book. The title is immensely important.
2. Description: This is an “abstract” or summary of the web page. Most SEO experts will advise you that you should ensure that important words and terms about your site should be crafted into the description somehow. I would agree. Another use of the description is that currently Yahoo! (and possibly other engines) use this provided description, or a part thereof, when your site “matches” on a given search term and it has to show a small summary of your site below the title.
3. Keywords: This element provides a set of key terms or words that describe the web page. Many years ago, when search engines were first introduced, the keywords element was very heavily weighted towards determining the context of a web page. It was a quick way for the search engine to “figure out” what a web page was about (instead of having to scan all the content). But, as time went on, people started abusing this “feature”. They stuffed words into the meta-keywords element that had nothing to do with the web page’s content. (The rationale was that by stuffing “popular” words, they’d draw some traffic). As a result of this abuse, the importance of the meta-keywords element has been greatly diminished. Search engines no longer look at this information as the definitive way to figure out context. However, most SEO experts continue to advise that it is important to use the keywords element because it is still used.