HTML META Tags - A Complete Guide

This is an in-depth META tags tutorial that would help you to know what are META tags, what is their purpose and how to write them effectively.
| Sunday, September 14, 2008
HTML META Tags are used to describe a web page. They sort of provide a synopsis of the web page. Their sole purpose is to provide structural metadata to search engines and web browsers. In Search Engine Optimization (SEO) circles they are known to be one of the many on-page optimization factors. Search engine spiders mostly use META tag information to serve the purpose of adding relevant information about a web page in their indexes. Some META tags which are used by the browser help serve the purpose of providing enhanced functionality to the web page. There are also some META tags whose sole purpose is to describe the web page. Let us see different types of META tags, how they are created and how to effectively write and use them.

List of HTML META Tags

  1. Abstract META Tag
  2. Author META Tag
  3. Copyright META Tag
  4. Description META Tag
  5. Distribution META Tag
  6. Expires META Tag
  7. Generator META Tag
  8. Keywords META Tag
  9. Language META Tag
  10. Link Relationship META Tag
  11. Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) META Tag
  12. Pragma META Tag
  13. Refresh META Tag
  14. Reply-to META Tag
  15. Revisit-After META Tag
  16. Robots META Tag

Most of the META tags listed above need not be used and are optional. Let us see details of each tag and how they can be written and used in your web pages.

Abstract META Tag

The Abstract META Tag is used to provide a brief summary about the web page. This tag can sound like description but it need not be.

Usage Example

<META name="Abstract" content="210 words, 1226 characters with spaces" />

Author META Tag

The Author META Tag describes details of the author of the web page. These details can include name and email address of the author. This tag is recommended to use as many search engines use this tag while indexing.

Usage Example

<META name="Author" content="Matt Damon;matt@hollywood.com">

Copyright META Tag

The Copyright META Tag, as the name suggests, specifies the copyright information of the underlying web page. This tag may include any registered trademark names, patents description, etc that is of intellectual property and which is to be publicly disclosed. Most of the times, search engines ignores this tag.

Usage Example

<META name="Copyright" content="Copyright © 2008 Xyz Ltd.">

Description META Tag

The Description META Tag is used to provide a short description of the web page. This tag is considered to be a very important tag with respect to search engines. Many search engine spiders use this tag to store the web page description; of course this is coupled with their indexing algorithms. This description can be seen when you see the search results. The recommend content length for this tag is 25 words.

Usage Example

<META name="Description" content="Xyz enterprises brings to you ancient artifacts and rare ancient photos. Browse our collection today and buy artifacts and photos starting at $2.99">

Distribution META Tag

The Distribution META Tag provides classification with regards to distribution of your web page on the World Wide Web. Currently, there are three forms of distribution that can be specified in the content of the distribution tag:

  • Global (suggests that your web page can be widely distributed)
  • Local (suggest that your web page distribution is limited to local extents)
  • Internal Use (suggest that your web page is not intended for public distribution and is limited to internal confinements)

Usage Example

<META name="Distribution" content="Global">

Expires META Tag

The Expires META Tag declares when a web page is set to expire. The purpose of this tag can be seen both for search engines and browsers. On web browsers, expired pages use a new GET request whenever they are tried to access again rather than a cached version of them being loaded. Search engines on the other hand use this as a directive for them to remove the web page from index. If this tag is used in conjunction with the META Revisit-after tag, search engine crawlers come up after the given interval to re-index the page. The Expires META Tag is particularly good when your web page is updated regularly such as a web page delivering news. It is important that the date and time specified in the content attribute is in accordance with the RFC 1036 format which earlier was RFC 850.

Usage Example

<META HTTP-EQUIV="expires" CONTENT="Mon, 16 Oct 2008 04:21:07 GMT">

Generator META Tag

The Generator META Tag describes the tool or software that was used to build the underlying web page. This is more of an informative tag although browsers can use it for improving their own functionality.

Usage Example

<META name="Generator" content="FrontPage">

Keywords META Tag

The Keyword META Tag consists of number of keywords that may be used by people to find your web page through search engines. This is also one of the most important tags with regards to on-page SEO and is generally used along with the META Description tag. The keywords specified in this tag must reflect the content of your web page to help search engines rank your pages in an efficient manner.

Usage Example

<META name="Keywords" content="ancient artifacts, ancient photos, cheap ancient photos">

Language META Tag

The Language META Tag specifies language used in the web page. This tag is most often used by search engines to determine the language of your web page but can also be used by web browsers. The language specified in this tag should be according with the RFC 1766 standard. EN (for English), JA (for Japanese), RU (for Russian) and IT (for Italian) are just a few examples.

Usage Example

<META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Language" content="JA">

Link Relationship META Tag

The Link Relationship META Tag is another very important META tag. The specification of this tag helps both search engines and web browsers. Let’s discover this amazing META tag in detail.

Relations

  • Alternate
    Specifies link to alternate versions of a web page. When this relation attribute is used along with the language attribute, it states a translated version for the web page. When this relation attribute is used along with the media attribute, it states a different medium version for the web page.
  • Stylesheet
    Specifies link to a CSS Stylesheet to be used for applying CSS styles to the web page.
  • Start
    Specifies start to the first link in a series of web pages. It helps denote the starting point in the series of web pages.
  • Next
    Specifies next link in a series of web pages. It helps denote the next page in the series.
  • Prev
    Specifies previous link in a series of web pages. It helps denote the previous page in the series.
  • Contents
    Specifies link to some descriptive content or table of contents which can be used for reference purposes.
  • Index
    Specifies link to the index of underlying web page.
  • Glossary
    Specifies link to a glossary of terms related to the underlying web page
  • Copyright
    Specifies link to copyright information for the web page.
  • Chapter
    Specifies link to chapter information in a collection.
  • Section
    Specifies link to section information in a collection.
  • Subsection
    Specifies link to sub-section information in a collection.
  • Appendix
    Specifies link to appendix information for the underlying web page.
  • Help
    Specifies link to additional help and resources for the web page.
  • Bookmark
    This relationship attribute is meant for web browsers in particular, although search engines might use it for their own purpose. It is basically a key entry point in an extended document, just as permalinks.

Usage

<link rel="relation-name" href="actual-link">

For ex: For Stylesheet relation, <link rel="stylesheet" href="doc.css">

Platform for Internet Content Selection (PICS) META Tag

The PICS META Tag can help from preventing children accessing the web page. It can be used to specify rating levels. It also helps for other uses like code signing, privacy and management of intellectual property rights.

Usage Example

<META http-equiv="PICS-Label" content='

                                     (PICS-1.1 "http://www.gcf.org/v2.5"

                                    labels on "1994.11.05T08:15-0500"

                                    until "1995.12.31T23:59-0000"

                                    for "http://w3.org/PICS/Overview.html"

                                    ratings (suds 0.5 density 0 color/hue 1))

 '>

Reference

http://www.w3.org/PICS/

Pragma META Tag

The Pragma header META Tag prevents page caching and thus each time a page with this attribute is accessed, a request for a new version is made from the web server.

Usage Example

<META http-equiv="pragma" content="no-cache">

Refresh META Tag

The Refresh META Tag is interpreted by web browsers to redirect from the current page to some other location after a given number of seconds. This can be a very useful tag, however many search engines discourage the use of this tag due to the fact that this tag can be manipulated by users to create duplicated or fake content which can create problems to the search engine index. Use of this tag is not recommended, however one can use them on authenticated pages for functionality. Bear in mind that if you are allowing your authenticated pages to be crawled by search engines, using the Refresh META Tag can be lethal.

Usage Example

<META http-equiv="Refresh" content="5;URL=http://www.some+website.com/">

Reply-to META Tag

The Reply-to META Tag specifies the concerned person to contact for any issues regarding the underlying web page.

Usage Example

<META name="reply-to" content="me@some+website.com">

Revisit-After META Tag

The Revisit-After META Tag is useful to let search engine spiders know when they should visit the page for crawling again. This tag is generally useful when you have an idea on how often the content within your web page is updated.

Usage Example

<META name="revisit-after" content="30 days">

Robots META Tag

The Robots META Tag is solely meant for search engine spiders. They help you to communicate with search engine spiders about your choices on how they should index your web page and the in-page links. You can specify more than one option by separating it with a comma. You can use the following options with the Robots META Tag.

  • NOINDEX
    Directs the search engine spiders to not index the page
  • NOFOLLOW
    Directs the search engine spiders to not follow any links within the page
  • NOARCHIVE
    Directs the search engine spiders to not show a cached version of your page in their search results. Note: Use of this directive won’t affect any search engine rankings. 

Usage Examples

<META NAME="Robots" CONTENT="NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW">

<META NAME="Robots" CONTENT="NOARCHIVE">

   
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