The META tag: Search Engines -- DESCRIPTION

In addition to the KEYWORDS META tag, many search engines also recognize the DESCRIPTION META tag. The DESCRIPTION META tag allows you to create a brief description of your page or website which will display below the TITLE and URL for your website on a robotic search engine's results page.

In other words, when a user performs a keyword search at AltaVista, he/she receives a number of results pages which contain links to various web pages; these links are usually represented by the TITLE of the HTML page in question, the text of that TITLE having been hyper-referenced to the desired page; the URL of the page is also present. Right below this information, there is a brief text description of the page. If the DESCRIPTION META tag has been set for that page, then the user sees the CONTENT of the DESCRIPTION META tag. If the DESCRIPTION META tag has NOT been set, then the user sees the first 10-20 words from the BODY of that HTML page in place of the description.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, visit and try a keyword search for yourself. You'll see the individual entries on the search results pages, and the descriptions below the links for each page.

Attribute: NAME
Value: description

Attribute: CONTENT
Value: any text, which will act as the DESCRIPTION of your HTML page on a search engine results page.


<meta name="description" content="We sell pastry online which is delivered overnight." />

A search engine will only store about 10-20 words of your description. Therefore, it is extremely important that you choose your words carefully and keep your description brief.

I remember seeing several websites with DESCRIPTION META tags that went on for pages, describing the entire mission statement of a given company. When viewed in a search engine results page, this type of description looked something like this:

You're in luck! Widgets Incorporated believes in service by the people, of the people, and for the people. Yes, no other company in the world...

Well, what are they selling? What do they do? What kind of business is this? Do we understand anything about this company, or about this page?

Again, keep your description brief and to the point. The most important words in the description should come right at the beginning. If the user is interested in your site, they will find out more once they visit your page. The user won't visit your page if you're a blowhard in the description; it implies lack of real content. It is your job, as the designer or programmer, to be pithy and clear. Entice with simplicity.

There are other META tag types which can prevent robots from following links on a page (preventing entries for frame sub-pages, if you wish), or which further clarify information on your page. Again, the most comprehensive listing of these META tag variants is available at AltaVista,

For the most part, the META tag and its search engine capabilities will, one day, be replaced by XML, which allows for better and more comprehensive organization of content within web pages (and within databases and between databases). The MATURE development and adoption of XML in web pages and web browsers, however, is still years, possibly decades, away, and requires adoption of modern XHTML standards in the web development community as well as standards agreement and implementation amongst browser manufacturers (an uphill battle on both counts). Until that time, the META tag is here and extremely useful to web developers in its ability to assist robotic search engines to organize, prioritize, and describe your HTML pages.

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