In January 2000 the Web consisted of an estimated one billion pages. Most search engines admit that they have no more than a quarter of all sites indexed.
Search engines and their spiders and robots that roam the web searching for new web sites, new documents, updates and changes, are doing their best - but it seems an enormous task if they rely on free text searching.
As web designers, we can actually do something about this that will not only make a search engine's life easier, but also improve the visibility and ranking of our sites. [Update October 2002: This article argues that it is time to drop the use of the meta keywords tag because it is no longer supported by many search engines. Whether one agrees with this or not, it should be pointed out that this refers only to the use of the keywords meta tag by search engine. It does not mean that all metatags should be abandoned. From a librarian's point of view metadata is incredibly useful.]
Metadata, embedded in the HTML code, invisible to the user, is structured data about data, a brief description of the contents of a page, its author, creation date, language and other relevant information. A robot can simply check the metatags of a document and still record all the necessary data about it - more, in fact, than can be extracted from the text on a page alone.
Metatags are, as netmechanic calls them, "the librarian's favorite tag". Metatags present an opportunity to index and catalogue this vast new resource more effectively. Metatag syntax has already been adapted to several subject field and languages and many projects are working on developing standards and software tools.
Some search engines give the contents of the <TITLE> and <META> tags a stronger emphasis in the ranking of sites. Most search engines index the data from the description and keywords metatag and some give the META description as the page summary. If these tags are used correctly and truthfully they can increase the relevance of search results, which is of advantage for both the website owner and the user.
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12 February 2000
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