QUESTION: How important are the keyword and description tags for SEO ranking? Someone recently told me thay have no value

Imogen Davies, FreshFields Packaging, Carlisle

ANSWER: The keyword tag is relatively unimportant, however it should be completed as some minor search engines still appear to use it. There’s some evidence that the search engine spiders look for consistency across the metatags even if they dont use them for ranking purposes so best to populate them.

In the past some people have commented that Yahoo may penalise you if you have keywords in the keyword tag that dont exist on the page. So, something like 4-5 words in the tag is what we generally do nowadays – making sure all words exist as visible text on the page in question.

The description tag is an important tag. Again its not generally used for ranking purposes (although I have seen pages ranked where the phrase getting searched on doesnt appear on the page but does appear in the description tag).

The main use of the decription tag is for maximising click-through rates. Look at the following example snippet:-

This is not bad. The term searched for is ‘dr martens’. You can see the way Google highlights the term searched for in the description tag (and the title) so this is what your eye gravitates to in the searchlist thus maximising the click-throughs.

We always recommend that you repeat the keyphrase in question 3 times in the description tag which generally works quite well.

Also, you have 25 words available. Use them all to maximise the visibility of your snippet and push the competitors that bit further down the list. Make it a bit salesy as well, as in the above example, to encourage people to click through.

A final point on the description tag: If you dont enter one the search engines will take content from your page to populate the snippet. You dont want this to happen. Also sometimes your snippet content gets taken from the Open Directory (DMOZ) if you have an entry there; and sometimes from the Yahoo directory.

You can override this by using the NOODP tag and the NOYDIR tags in your code so your snippet content is taken from the optimised content in your description tag.