I deal with many questions from curious website owners everyday. One question I have a new answer for is, "Should I use META tags on my site when do search engine optimization?" Old Answer: It couldn't hurt, but don't worry about them, the search engines ignore them for the most part. New answer? Read on...
Should I really use a META tag? Really?
The new answer is yes, you should use META tags on your site. The keyword META tag is still not used by search engines but when submitting to directories, a valuable use of time by the way, the META keywords are used in many cases to automatically fill in the keywords for your site in that directory.
Even more amazingly, the META description tag has soared in importance. How so you ask? Google has started showing the META description in its search results when certain criteria are met.
The criteria being used appears to be very simple, unlike many of the other things Google does. When the keyword or search terms appear in the META description, the META description is used instead of the snippet of text containing the keyword on your page.
For example, if you do a search in Google for 'Big Oak SEO' you will see our site in the first listing and the description used is our META description tag. All three words being searched for are also in our META description.
If you do a search for 'big oak client' you will see the first listing is pulling a snippet of text from the page itself. Since 'client' is not in our META description, it uses a snippet of text from the page where all three words can be found.
Where should you use a META description tag?
Every website should use a META description tag on the home page at the very least. This way you can say exactly what you want and not worry the snippet of text being used is not best choice for your message. What this really means is Google is giving us some measure of control.
And now that we have this knowledge and control, how best to use it? This allows us to take off our search engine optimizer hats and don our search engine marketer hats. Think of what you can say in the brief sentence that will entice a user to click your link rather than the one above or below. You can put your phone number in the META description for starters or how about being really creative and offer a discount or advertise a sale. Tell them your unique selling proposition. It should be a one sentence phrase already in your head. The only caveat to remember is that your META description will only show if the search term is in the META description. While this can be tricky, it can be done with some forethought. You can do this for all of your targeted pages and have dozens of marketing messages.
Use the META description wisely: target your market and entice your customers. Do not abuse this control and put outlandish, untrue or slanderous statements as I am sure Google will be watching; and if this technique is abused the META description may have seen its last search result this time.