In the Head
A Web page is divided into two sections. The head is the portion of code that is not displayed, but contains information about how the page will be shown on the screen and how it will act. The head also contains certain elements that are read and cataloged by search engines. The body portion of the code is the section of the Web page that is actually displayed on the screen by a browser. It contains the images, text, videos, and other features that are part of the Web page experience.
The elements in the Web page head that are of particular interest to search engines are the title of the page and the meta tags. Each must be carefully formed for the best SEO performance.
The page title tag is displayed in the top bar of the browser and is usually displayed as part of the search engine results. In some instances it can also be incorporated into a bookmark or browser favorites listing.
Here is an example of a page title as it appears coded into the head:
<title>Search Engine Optimization - A Tutorial from the Interactive Media Center at the University at Albany</title>
The properties of a well-formed title tag are:
- The title should be specific to the page in which it is used and explain what the page is about
- It should have keywords and phrases that are appropriate to the subject of the page
- The title must avoid repeating words so that it does not look like an attempt to spam the search engines
- All page titles should make sense to the humans that read them
- Good titles will use keywords and phrases that are similar to, but not necessarily exactly the same as, the keywords in the page
- The length of a page title should not exceed a normal sentence.
- Although there are specifications about how long a page title can be, assuming that that it is a "normal sentence" is a good rule of thumb and easy to remember.
Meta tags are specialized tags that have wide ranging effects over the entire Web page. There are many different meta tags, but the ones that seem to be the most consistently used by the search engines are very few.
The description meta tag can be made up of two or three sentences, or a short paragraph. It should incorporate keywords and phrases that are appropriate to the topic of the Web page. The description meta tag must be easily understood by humans. It must not repeat words or make any attempt to spam the search engines. Each description met tag should match the page subject closely and be unique to the page. Sometimes description meta tags are displayed in the search results, so avoid making them confusing.
The robot meta tag was originally intended to control how the search engine robots followed links and cataloged pages. The phrasing for the tag determined if a page was indexed (that is, cataloged for inclusion in the search engine). However, it currently appears that all search engine robots always follow links and catalog pages unless it is specified otherwise. If you wish to exclude a page from the search engine, use this form of the meta tag:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />
If you wish the robots to NOT follow the links on a page, use this form of the meta tag:
<meta name="robots" content="nofollow" />
You can combine the forms so that the robots will neither follow the links or index the page:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow" />
At the time of this writing it appears that the keywords meta tag is not used by the search engines. (Remember, the search engines tend to keep the specifics of their algorithms secret, so it is hard to know exactly what is included.) Other meta tags that may or may not be used (depending on the search engine) include the author meta tag and the copyright meta tag. Nearly any other meta tag is ignored unless it is used by a specialized search engine or Web crawler.