This question has been debated for the last few years and has caused confusion and disagreement among web developers and website owners. Meta tags were originally created to help web crawlers categorize websites and make search engine results more relevant. At one time, they were probably the most important tool in search engine optimization.

Like most things, people quickly realized how to take advantage of the system and discovered how to abuse meta tag keyword listings. They stuffed keywords into tags that had nothing to do with their product or service just to generate extra traffic to their website. So, search engines decided to ignore these keyword tags in their rankings.

That must mean we don’t need meta tags anymore, right? Not exactly. Meta tags are not important to search engine rankings anymore, but the description and title meta tags are extremely important in maximizing and influencing the visitor’s decision to click through.

The meta tag description has now become a critical line of advertising copy that lets someone searching the web know exactly what a given web page contains. This meta description should include important keywords, but also be powerful enough to encourage someone searching the web to click on a page. Since most page content is different, so should the meta description on each page to avoid duplicate results.

Google and other search engines bold keywords in the meta description that match what someone has typed in a search box to help people find what they are looking for. Search engines will also automatically edit down meta descriptions that are too long so it is important to write short and succinct copy that is no more than 156 characters in length.

Search engine robots will extract keywords naturally from page content as they “crawl” a website so if meta descriptions are not available, it is not the end of the world. However, the website owner then loses control over which text the search engine chooses to grab and list in search results. Well written and enticing meta descriptions can help differentiate one website from another and influence whether someone chooses to click on a site.

It is important to make sure that a meta tag description and title jibes with the actual content on each page so as not to confuse the search engine spiders. In addition to a well written meta description and title, don’t build a website that relies on graphics or Flash alone because spiders crawl text, not Flash or images.

Be patient and remember, one of the quickest ways to get your site ranked highly is by natural incoming links from web pages that already have a popular PageRank. Never try to trick, exchange or buy links because doing so can lower your ranking.

Meta tags should be just one element in an overall SEO strategy to create a strong brand awareness and increase your ROI! Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to notice results because search engines are slow to index websites.

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