Posts Tagged ‘seo’

What Are Meta Tags and How Do They Work?

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Search engines are in the business of giving searchers what they are looking for, so they are always looking for information that describes what every page on your website is about. You can help the search engines by using meta tags.

Meta tags are snippets of code in the source code of a web page that give the search engines information about that web page. While a person viewing the web page doesn’t see them, the search engines do. There are about a dozen different meta tags but two are most important for our purposes: the Title tag and the Description tag. Their names pretty much tell you what they do. The Title tag is the title of the page and the Description tag is a brief description of what that page is about.


How Meta Tags Help

The search engines will rank your web pages for the words in your Title tag. How high the search engines place your web pages in the search results depends on whether you’re doing other things right and how many other sites are competing for those same key phrases. While the search engines don’t use the Description tag as a factor in your rankings, the Description tag is still very important. The Description tag should “make the sale by enticing the searcher to click on your listing in the search results as opposed to your competitors.

You might have heard that you should use the Keyword meta tag too, but don’t bother. In the early days of the internet the Keyword meta tag was a list of words to help the search engines understand what the web page was about. But search engines don’t give any importance to the keyword meta tag any more. Frankly, all it does is tell your competitors what you’re trying to rank for and possibly give them ideas for key phrases they should try to rank for too.

Meta tags are REALLY important! In fact, I’ve had more than one client’s site get on the first page of the search results just by adding or changing meta tags. Even sites programmed in search engine un-friendly languages like Flash can see rankings improve by adding meta tags.


Meta Tags at Work

Meta Tags in the Search Results

You can see the Title and Description tags at work by doing a simple web search. Here is the first search result when I type “growing dahlias” into Google.

Meta tags in the search engines.


The Title tag of the page is the first line of text that is blue and underlined. In this case, the title tag is “Planting, Growing and Caring for Dahlias.” The words “growing” and “dahlias” are bold because they were words used in the search. If the search term had been “caring for dahlias,” those words would have been in bold instead.

The next 2 lines of text are the Description tag. In this case the description is “A guide to the care and cultivation of Dahlia plants, with tips on planting, digging and winter storing.”


Meta Tags on Your Website

The following is the source code of the webpage. The Title tag is outlined in red and the Description tag is outlined in blue.

Meta tags in the source code.


Besides helping your website rank better for your key phrases, well written meta tags ideally make the searcher click on your listing instead of your competitor’s. If your web page doesn’t have meta tags, the search engines pull a snippet of text from the page and display that instead. There’s no guarantee they will use text that works to your advantage. So, I strongly recommend you check your meta tags and make sure each page has a unique title and description tag. If not, write them and have your programmer add them. It shouldn’t cost very much to add them and they’re definitely worth the return on investment.

Click here for a PDF version of “What Are Meta Tags and How Do They Work?

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Even the Big Guys Screw Up SEO

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

When I first saw the title of this Sunday’s cover story in the Business section of New York Times, my first thought was “Really? This is news?” But I quickly realized that if you don’t spend your life immersed in the world of search, the fact that a major retailer was using black hat techniques to improve their rankings in Google, would be news. I wasn’t surprised because I think it happens way more often than Google lets on.

The article, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, by David Segal tells the story of how J.C. Penney’s website was coming up #1 for a whole bunch of search terms (aka key phrases). They even outranked manufacturer’s websites for their own product names. I’m not sure how this came to the attention of the  New York Times, but they hired a search engine marketer to figure out why J.C. Penney’s site ranked so well. He was able to reverse engineer the process and discovered that J.C. Penney was up to some pretty shady SEO practices or what we call in the industry “black hat SEO.”

Before I explain what they were doing and why it was a problem, it helps to understand a bit about how rankings work. There are 2 types of search engine optimization; there is onsite optimization and offsite optimization. Onsite SEO is when you do everything you can to make your website appeal to the search engines. Offsite SEO is when you do things around the web to improve your rankings. The majority of offsite SEO consists of getting other websites, blog, etc. to link to your website. This is because Google considers a link to your site as a vote of popularity and in general, the site with the most links to it wins the rankings war.

What was going on in this situation is that J.C. Penney’s SEO company improved their rankings by paying for links to the site. This is a big no-no in Google’s book and when they catch you doing it, your site disappears from the search results.

Although they don’t say so directly in the article, I’m willing to bet J.C. Penney had no idea what their SEO company was doing to improve their rankings. Often, the marketing executives in charge of hiring the SEO company have no idea what it takes to improve rankings so they don’t know the difference between white hat techniques and black hat techniques. All they cared about was the fact that their rankings were going up which drove more traffic to their site and presumably made more sales.

I’m even willing to bet that SearchDex, who J.C. Penney fired when this story came to light, wasn’t even doing the link building themselves. Link building is an incredibly time intensive process and frankly, it’s insanely boring. There are companies that specialize in it and most of them use methods that won’t get you in trouble with Google. What this company did wrong was pay for them and use link farms.

I think it’s important for any business owner to read the full article because it’s a cautionary tale. If it can happen to a major retailer like J.C. Penney, it can happen to you. That’s why it’s important to have a basic understanding of how SEO works and know what your SEO company is doing in your name.  It’s kind of like bookkeeping. If your company fails to pay payroll taxes, the IRS won’t go after your bookkeeper, they’ll come after you. Google is a lot like the IRS in that respect; they don’t have any sympathy for the “I didn’t know” excuse.


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Posted in Cautionary Tales, Search Engine Optimization | 3 Comments »

How NOT to Use Articles to Improve Your Rankings

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

The company that ranks #1 for “internet marketing articles” has quite a few articles on the subject. I’m sure it took a lot of work to write all those articles but I’d be willing to bet all that work hasn’t paid off. Why?

First, consider the words used buy people looking to buy a service versus people looking for information.

When people want to find a service provider, they use words like:

When people are looking for information, they use words like:
Case studies

Second, the articles tell you how to do something but they don’t show you why you should hire this search engine optimization firm. The author could argue that the purpose of the articles is to build the perception of expertise. Providing good information is one way to do it but these articles aren’t particularly well written or all that helpful.

If you’re going to try to improve your website’s rankings with articles make sure your articles demonstrate your expertise AND subtly show the reader why they should hire you to do the job. Otherwise, you will just wind up with a bunch of looky-loos and no customers.

(*I’m giving them a link for “internet marketing articles” as a consolation prize for being my “how not to do it” example.)

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SEO Basics: Every Page Is Your Home Page

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Business owners tend to assume that when a potential client does a search on Google or Yahoo and clicks on their website, they wind up on the home page. Sorry. That’s rarely the case.

While your house might have one front door, each page of your website is a front door to your business. Why? The search engines don’t really care what page you want people to land on. What they care about is what page on your site is most pertinent to the searcher. NEWS FLASH! Many times the most pertinent search result page is not your home page.*

So if each page of your website is a front door, what information do they need to have?
• Each webpage needs to be able to get to the main areas of your site. Make sure you have basic navigation on each page.
• Each webpage needs to indicate to the visitor who you (and your company) are.• Each web page needs to make it easy for people to contact you.
• If your customers are local, you need to have your address on each page.

So how do you make each page your home page? Look at each page of your website individually and ask yourself “If a first time website visitor landed on this page, would they get the information they looking for?”

Looking at each page as if it were your home page will go a long way to making your website more user friendly, help your website rank better and will help make it easier for people to contact you.

* Not sure what your home page is, it’s the one you land on when you go to

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How to Use Webrings for eMarketing

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

What is a webring?
A webring is a group of websites and/or blogs linked together by topic or interest. In each webring, member websites band together into linked circles.

So far they’re used primarily for hobbies and special interests but as is the case with social networking, they will quickly catch on in the business community. Personally, I’m thrilled because they fit right in line with my business philosophy of “Let’s be successful as a team.”

Webrings Can Drive Traffic to Your Website and Improve Rankings
When a visitor lands on another website in the webring, there will be a link to either the next website in the ring or a link to the list of websites in the ring. Visitors are more likely to explore the other websites in a webring than explore a typical list of links because they know that the other websites are going to be on the topic they’re interested in.

My guess is that a link to your website from the webring would be considered a high quality link by the search engines and would help your website’s rankings.

How to Use Webrings to Your Advantage
To use webrings effectively, you have to have valuable information on your website such as articles and other resources. When submitting your website to a webring, I suggest that you don’t submit your home page but instead submit a link to your newsletter archive, your blog or a resources page. Remember, webrings are about information first and promoting your business second. Keep in mind that providing helpful information is the best kind of promotion on the web.

How to Find Webrings
There are a couple of ways to access a webring Some are displayed in list format while with others when you land on a page that is part of a webring there is a link to the next website in the ring. I started by using the search phrase “webrings” in Google and came up with tons of results.

Visit for a list of webring directories and systems.

Let me know if you start a webring. I’ll be glad to promote it here on my blog.

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