Meta Tags and Link Deficiency Confusion

The Toronto Search Engine Strategies (SES) show is one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a small gathering, keenly focused on SEO (define) fundamentals and Canadian search engine marketing (SEM) issues.

I’d like to clear up a few questions the attendees had about some of the presentations.

Meta Tags Matter

Even after all these years, meta tags remain a mystery to many implementing organic SEO campaigns. Some SEM professionals say only the title tag matters, because that’s all the search engines use. Others say keyword and description tags still matter. No wonder people in Toronto were a bit confused about meta tags.

Meta tags remain a fundamental part of any Web site. That’s not because they’re a silver bullet able to shoot an indexed listing to the top of results, but because they deliver behind-the-page relevancy for topics covered on the page.

What meta tags don’t do is boost keyword relevancy. They match topics on the page, something spiders look at, particularly when meta tags don’t match page content. Abide by the World Wide Web Consortium’s (WC3’s) rules on HTML document structure, and your meta tags will be fine.

Remain language-specific with meta tags. If page content is in Canadian French, meta tags should be in Canadian French. Incongruous meta tag language use impairs a page nearly as much as keyword stuffing (define).

Link Deficiency

At SES, linking was consistently touted as key to improving a site’s position in the search engines. Several presenters delineated the best tactics for obtaining links to your site, from how to request and pay for links to how to issue press releases that encourage linking to your site. The idea is you can never have too many links. Yet if this were truly the case, why would Google ramp up its algorithm’s link-dampening capabilities?

Not all links are good. The most obvious bad link is a broken one. Using advanced search commands such as “” and “allinanchor:yourcompanyname” can help root out broken links to your site. An email to the linking site’s Webmaster can help repair those broken links.

If a link to your site tries to tap a page that no longer exists or content that’s moved to a different URL, a permanent redirect (301) will take care of all broken links to your site that your log files reveal.

Another type of bad link is one that uses inaccurate anchor text to connect with your site. The most renowned bad link is encapsulated by a link that reads “click here.” Adobe is the number one and two Google result for a “click here” search query. It’s joined by over 1.05 billion other Google-indexed listings. Never hesitate to politely ask a linking site’s Webmaster to change anchor text used to link to your site to help eradicate the “click here” conundrum.

Bad links can also be found in link farms (define). If your site has attracted link farmers’ attention, get it removed from these communities. About 70 percent of link farm Webmasters will remove your site with a simple email request. The other 30 percent usually respond to a saber-rattling message from your attorney. If revenge is what you seek, report the link farm as spam to the search engines — after links to your site have been removed.

If we extend the idea of bad links to include those that do nothing for your site, links from authoritative sites that address your content’s topic are most important. Off-topic links may not be bad, per se, just useless to your cause.

Most SEM professionals agree that Google PageRank really doesn’t mean anything anymore. Some still consider it important when determining the value of linking with a site. A more accurate way to determine this is to review the backward links to the third-party site in all the major search engines, not just in Google.

Final Observation

Common sense: it’s not sexy, and there’s no presentation with a snappy title about it. But successful SEM campaigns embody good judgment and the sagacity to leverage common sense. As Voltaire so wisely observed, “Common sense is not so common.”

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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