What is a META Tag?

Many people who write their own web pages have never heard of, or seen, <meta> tags. This is probably because <meta> tags generally don't affect the appearance of the web page.

Meta Tags for Search Engines

Some <meta> tags are intended to help search engines obtain information about your web page. Search engines try to find the appropriate web page someone is looking for by matching keywords with the contents of the web pages in its' database. So it may be useful to help the search engine by putting a list of keywords in your HTML file. Exactly what information will be read by a search engine and displayed in the results will vary. Most search engines "visit" your web page to create their own list of keywords based on what is actually in the text.

All <meta> tags are placed in the <head> section of the web page.

These two META tags may be read by search engines.

<meta ...>

This lets the browser and search engine know this is a <meta> tag. The other attributes and values modify the tag.

name="keywords"
or
name="description"

If the name of this tag is keywords, the contents are a list of appropriate keywords for the page separated by commas. If you want to emphasise a particular aspect you can repeat the same keyword several times, however it is possible some search engines will consider this a cheat and may reduce the listing importance of the page. There is no limit to the number of keywords you can include, but more than 1000 characters is considered spamming.

If the name of this tag is description, the contents are a general description of the web page, up to a maximum of 200 characters.

Search engines often display the text from the <title> tag followed by the text from the description meta tag.

content="HTML,design,CSS"

This tells the search engine what the content of the tag is.

They may look like this:

<meta name="keywords" content="HTML,hyperlink,tags,URL,GIF,JPEG,JPG,FTP,web design">

<meta name="description" content="Simple Web Page Design - A guide to creating Web Pages.">

Special "Robots" Meta Tag

There is a <meta> tag is designed for search engine robots to read that tells them if they can list a page or follow the links in it.

NAME=

CONTENT=

Two content values can be entered separated by a comma

robots

index

This allows the robot to index the page.

 

noindex

This tells the robot not to index the page.

 

follow

This allows the robot to follow links in the page.

 

nofollow

This tells the robot not follow links in the page.

Example:

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

The example above tells the search engine not to index the page (do not check it for keywords) and not to follow any hyperlinks from the page. You may want to do this if the page is not designed to be read independently of some other page. The robots <meta> tag content should be logical and not include conflicting values such as "follow, nofollow".

Other Meta Tags

This is a useful, fun meta tag. It's different because it does change what is displayed in the browser. This meta tag will redirect the browser to upload the contents of a different file, after the specified number seconds.

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="15;url=http://www.server.co.uk/main.html">

The 15 can be any number of seconds, even "0". The value of url= can be on the same site or anywhere else. This can be used to automatically redirect people to the appropriate web page if you have changed the location of a file. It can also be used as a special effect, for example if you choose the delay time carefully you could create a "slide show" sequence of pages.