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HTML Meta Tag Basics

Meta tags are special html tags that are placed in the <head> section of a webpage to provide information about the webpage to a server. The primary servers that use meta tags are search engines. There are many different kinds of meta tags, the two most common being the description and keywords meta tags.

<meta name="description" content="description of this wepage's content">

The description meta tag is used to provide a short description of the wepage's content. Many search engines use the text in description meta tag's content attribute just below the title of the wepage in their search results. Most search engines will truncate this text after about 200 characters, so keep your description short. If the description meta tag is missing, most search engines will use the first 200 characters of text on the webpage as the description in their results.

<meta name="keywords" content="keywords, related, webpage, contents">

The keywords meta tag is used to provide keywords related to the webpage's contents. In the early days of the Web, in order to generate more traffic, unscrupulous webmasters stuffed the keywords meta tag with the most popular keywords, like "sex" and "money" even though those keywords had nothing to do with the webpage's content. Today, no self-respecting search engine reads the keywords meta tag, instead they gather keywords from the content of the webpage.

<meta name="revisit-after" content="30 days">

The revisit-after meta tag is supposed to tell the search engine how often it should revisit the webpage, however no search engine reads this tag because it's totally unnecessary. Instead the search engine can more reliably determine if the webpage has changed since it's last visit by reading the Last-Modified entity in the HTTP header. Web hosts fill the Last-Modified entity with the last-update time stamp of the file.

<meta name="robots" content="index, follow">

The robots meta tag is supposed to tell the search engine if it should index the webpage, and if it should follow any links on the webpage (in order to index those pages also). The example robots meta tag tells the search engine to index the webpage and to follow any links on the webpage. The example shown below tells the search engine to index the webpage, but do not follow any links on the webpage.

<meta name="robots" content="index, nofollow">

Shown below are other possible configurations of the robots meta tag.

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, follow">

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow">

Any self-respecting search engine will respect the robots meta tag, but there's no law that says they must comply, and in todays highly competitive search market, every search engine wants to be the one that returns more results than the others. So don't be surprised if you configure a webpage's robots meta tag to noindex, nofollow and still find it's contents fully displayed in search results.

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