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Creating a Meta Description Tag
by Jill Whalen (The Web Whiz) Written March 2000
The words placed within the Meta Description Tag can help a page to rank high in the search results.
The meta description tag is a snippet of HTML code that belongs inside the Head section of a Web page. It usually is placed after the title tag and before the meta keyword tag.
The proper syntax for this HTML tag is:
META NAME=Description CONTENT=Your descriptive sentence or two goes here.
The Purpose of the Meta Description Tag
The purpose of this tag is twofold. The words placed within this tag are given some weight with most search engines and can help a page to rank high in the search results for these particular words. Just as important, the words placed in this tag appear under the title in a search engine's list of results (in most search engines).
If no information is supplied for this tag, or this tag is omitted from the HTML code of a Web page, the search engines will often use the first words that appear on the Web page as the description of the site that appears on search results pages. You've probably seen a search results page with some of the results that look like this:
"Joe's Motor Homes" — [home] [next page] [more info] [links]
The search result looks like that because Joe neglected to put a meta description tag in his HTML code. The search engine picked up the first words on the page, which happened to be some navigational links. As you can see, not only does this look bad, but it doesn't give searchers much information to go by to know whether or not they should click into this site. I know that I personally tend to skip over results that look like this and click on the next link that has some more relevant information describing what is on that particular page.
How to Create Killer Meta Description Tags
Because this tag serves two purposes, it must be thought about differently than the title tag and meta keyword tag. I use both of those tags strictly for high search engine results rankings, but the meta description tag must also be thought of as a marketing tool along with being a vehicle for high rankings. It should definitely utilize the important keywords for the page, yet it should also be written in such a way that it will entice people to click on the link and visit your site.
If you've taken my previous advice (from past articles) and had a professional Internet copywriter write the copy for your Web site, you can often take an important descriptive sentence or two from the copy and place it in the meta description tag. Even if the page wasn't professionally written, you can still probably find a line or two that will work for this purpose. Some people recommend using the first line of text on your page if you're stumped as to what to use. If you have an appropriate first line, then that can certainly work fine.
I don't believe the search engines give this tag nearly as much weight as they give the title tag. However, I do feel that some engines do index the words in this tag, and therefore it is important to get some keywords into it. I have also heard that the first words in this tag are often given more weight than later words. Because of this I put the important keywords first. I also usually try to use the same first words that I've used in my title tag as the first words in my meta description tag whenever possible. I usually limit this tag to one good descriptive sentence, although I have occasionally used two sentences if they're fairly short. Generally, most engines will index approximately 200 characters of the meta description tag. The longest ones I've seen have been in HotBot. I try to not repeat words in this tag; however, I do use various forms of words in this tag, i.e., plural/singular, "ed" or "ing" forms of words, and that sort of thing. I always make sure this tag is an actual sentence, not simply a list of keywords.
If you create a good meta description tag, you can often use it as the description you enter in search engine directories such as Yahoo!, LookSmart, and the Open Directory.
Contact Jill Whalen by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 508-309-3037.
She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.