California Bar Journal
spacer.gif (810 bytes)


<Meta> Tags equal <Mega> Confusion
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Dana ShultzWebsite development takes a lot more insight and expertise than it used to. When I started the Law Office Technology Homepage four years ago, all I thought about was laying out promotional text, articles, a logo and my photo. When I recently created a new site for my coaching services, I found out how much things had changed.

It wasn't just the new formatting options and multimedia capabilities that make your head spin. The challenge is to encode a website so search engines will retrieve it and users will figure out, at a glance, what the site offers.

Meta tags

This is where HTML Meta tags come in. There are several Meta tags, but two are most important: Description and Keywords.

The Description tag is easy to use. Its purpose is to provide the brief summary that many search engines present when they display results.

The developer's task is to write a summary of up to 200 characters that conveys the significance of the site. Here is what I wrote as a lead sentence (105 characters):

"TechManager Transformations turns technicians into effective managers using one-to-one coaching and related services."

I added a different second sentence on each page so searches that retrieve multiple pages will show the scope of the site.

The Keywords tag lets you define search terms that make your site more searchable. They are somewhat like West key numbers that appear before the text of a case.

Unfortunately, while the Keywords tag is conceptually simple, using it well is difficult. One problem is that the various search engines operate differently. The greater problem is that many self-proclaimed Keywords experts provide advice that is incomplete or just plain wrong.

Conducting research

I decided to do some investigation on my own. I went to supposedly authoritative websites. Regrettably, they offered conflicting advice on Keywords.

So I switched from theoretical to empirical research. I used Metacrawler (, a service that aggregates the results from many well-known search engines, to research several topics. When I went to the retrieved sites, I examined the html source code to try to understand how different searches matched different Keywords.

Then I went back to the authoritative websites to see which one had explanations that best fit my search results. The winner was Search Engine Watch (

Though fixed rules regarding Keywords are hard to come by, the following are ones that I feel fairly comfortable passing along:

The total number of characters in Keywords should be less than 1,024 - the AltaVista limit.

To the extent that some search engines are case sensitive (it is unclear how many are), lowercase is preferable because most users do not capitalize search terms.

Both single word and phrase Keywords are appropriate.

If you would like to see how I dealt with the Keywords dilemma, stop by and look at the source code (View|Source in Internet Explorer, View|Page Source in Netscape).

Dana Shultz is an Oakland-based certified management consultant, speaker and coach specializing in office technology. He may be reached by e-mail at and on the web at