Why Metadata is an Important SEO Factor
When search engines evaluate a webpage, one of the objectives is to determine what the page is actually about. Crawling through an entire document of code, text, images, media and other data can sometimes be an inefficient method of gaining insight as to what a page is specifically about. This is where metadata can be very helpful since it is simply data about the data. In some ways, various meta elements can be pieced together to form a summary of the content. While the page content is still analyzed, the information provided in the meta elements can help to reinforce the relevance of a query. Keywords and phrases may carry more weight in a document since it is essentially the first bit of information a user will see when browsing a results page. Search engines use the title tag and meta description to show to users while browsing the SERPS.
HTML Meta Elements
The current HTML5 specifications consist of many different meta elements (or meta tags), many are useful for purposes independent of search engine optimization, however we'll only discuss the few that a search engine would consider for ranking purposes. For a more complete list of HTML meta tags, check out this database of meta tags.
Although the Title Tag is not technically a meta element, it is still a component of metadata.
The Meta Description is used by many search engines to display a text snippet in the results page when a website is displayed. Although the exact description is not always used (depending on the search query), it's an important tool for website owners to issue their first Call-To-Action. There is much debate about whether Google and Bing use the meta description as a ranking factor, ie by considering the keywords used in the description as a supplement to the document's main text. When a search query matches keywords in the description, Google will boldface the matches, indicating that it at least takes note of the match, but does not necessarily use it to provide a boost in relevance. In the most conservative view, the boldfaced keywords can help grab the user's attention and increase the likeliness of a click-through.
In the early days of search engines, the meta keywords were used to provide additional information, Google has announced they don't consider this information in their rankings due to a large amount of spamming. At SEOwrit, our model algorithm has developed a new purpose for the meta keyword tag and we wish to encourage it's new use.
The meta keywords tag should be used by webmasters for either of these 2 purposes (in conjunction with a new meta tag indicating negative keywords, inspired by Google's Adword feature). :
- To solidify the relevance of important keywords/topics that may not be widely prevalent in the body of the document. There are specific cases where this might apply and should be implemented carefully.
- To suggest alternative keywords/search queries that are still relevant to the text, but were not highly prevalent. This is for the purpose of removing ambiguities
This should be used in conjunction with the "negative keywords meta tag" (not official), similar to the negative keyword feature in Google Adwords and Bing Ads. Refer to the Adwords or Bing Ads guide for the time being to learn more about negative keyword implementation.
The meta abstract has a very specific purpose in many search engines that are not considered mainstream like Google or Bing. This tag should be reserved for websites that produce official documents that are intended to be stored in corpuses and indexes under specific categories for either academic, research or legal purposes.