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Meta Descriptions that will NOT help SEO

John Doherty —  October 26, 2011
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Sometimes as I am browsing through the Interwebs, I come across something that dumbfounds me. Sometimes this dumbfoundery is completely blatant and in plain sight. Other times, however, the goodness is hidden beneath the surface.

I’m talking about hidden gems within the code that someone read somewhere would help them out with SEO on their site. And while I wish I was kidding about these following incredible meta descriptions, I am not.

Hear me loud and clear folks:

These following meta descriptions actually exist in the wild of the Internet and do not help your SEO. Do not use them on your website.

Now that I have that off my chest, here are some amazing meta tags that I have found on the Internet.

Alexa

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”alexa” content=”100″ />

Here’s why: If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times. Now I’m saying it, so it’s been said at least 2,000 times. ALEXA RANKINGS MEAN NOTHING. And if you thought you could manipulate rankings by a simple meta tag…sigh. You’re wrong.

Do this instead: Use MozRank instead as a metric to measure your site against. We do not know what real Pagerank is, but Toolbar PageRank is only updated every 3 months or so, thus rendering it unreliable..

Author

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”author” content=” “> (found via source)

Here’s why: If you want to show who the author of your content is, this is not the way to do it. Until recently, there was no good way to tell the search engines who the author is.

Do this instead: Now, however, you can use rel=author to designate the author, though it may not show up for you. If you are installing it on WordPress, use Joost’s fantastic resource that I have used myself for my site.

REPLY TO

Don’t use this:

<meta http-equiv=”reply-to” content=”(email address)”>

Here’s why: This meta tag has often been used by email scrapers and harvesters to gather email addresses quickly.

Do this instead: Use a contact page! Website owners can use various ways to hide their email addresses. Some still use the mailto:(email) code. I personally prefer to highlight your email address, but to put it in such a way that scrapers cannot get it easily. Most people will use something along the lines of email AT domain DOT com.

Rating

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”rating” content=””>

Apparently the acceptable values are:

Safe For Kids
14 Years
General
Mature
Restricted

Here’s why: I was actually curious if this was a valid tag, so I did a bit of research into it. Apparently, this is a tag that at one time may have been used by 3rd party software to filter out adult content. According to the moderators on this old thread, it is not used by the search engines.

Do this instead: So how DO you connote that website content is in fact adult material? Even from all my searching, I have not found much information about this, but I did find this post by Kate Morris over on her personal site talking about it. Apparently there is a meta tag that can be used, but you must specify it for the different filters. Here it is:

<meta http-equiv="pics-label" content='(PICS-1.1 entries)' />
<title> Your Page Title Goes Here <title>
</head>

It is also worth having a read over this resource and reading what Google has to say about it (thanks Gael) before implementing anything. And according to Shah Menz, the RTA has guidelines about it too (not personally vetted).

Also, my friend Caroline pointed this out to me. Sorry Matt “Porn Cookie Guy” Cutts, I had to. That’s too good.

Distribution

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”distribution” content=”global” />

Here’s why: One can only assume that this tag is supposed to tell search engines that the content should be displayed across the Internet to all countries. Even if this tag was used by the search engines (and it is not), much better ways exist to distribute your content internationally.

Do this instead: Here are some of my favorite resources:

Hannah Smith’s International SEO presentation from Mozcon

International SEO: Where to Host and How to Target – Whiteboard Friday

GeoLocation and International SEO FAQs

Classification

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”classification” content=”Category: Subcategory, Category: subcategory” />

Here’s why: I have nothing to base this on, as there is very little information about this dummy meta tag, but from the looks of it I think these classifications are supposed to be for the old DMOZ directory classification (which you had to submit to anyway). This supposed “classification” meta tag is nothing more than another meta keywords tag, which we all know is worthless (link) and according to a recent post from Bing and Danny Sullivan may even hurt your site.

Do this instead: Create good site architecturetarget just one keyword with each page, and focus your site around one niche.

Category

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”category” content=”” />

Here’s why: This tag is very similar to “Classification”. According to this old article, it was used back in the early days of the Internet (maybe when the Internet was still just for academic purposes? That’s all conjecture).

Do this instead: Learn how to keyword target your pages. If there is any way that Google classifies your pages, it is via an algorithm. I’ll have to refer you to the SEOmoz Ranking Factors for how a search engine probably figures out how to rank your pages.

PageRank

Don’t do this:

<meta name=”pagerank™” content=”10″ />

I can’t make this stuff up folks. I really can’t. Just don’t do this. I do have to give a shout-out to seoconsultants.com for this brilliant line: “Be sure to include the ™ symbol or Google will ignore the tag completely. PageRank™ is a Google trademarked term.”

Conclusion

Meta tags can be wonderfully useful. We all know that we should use title and description meta tags (that’s HTML 101), and many others exist that are helpful or ambiguous, as Kate Morris pointed out in her post last November detailing even more meta tags.

Once again, I must stress that any content above that is not within a “Do this instead:” section should not put onto your site.

I hope you’ve learned something here, or at least been entertained. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

7 responses to Meta Descriptions that will NOT help SEO

  1. Nice collection John! I’ve sometimes seen these weird tags myself and wondered if I had missed something. And oddly, I still see to this day (even on big corporate sites) stuffed keywords tags (like 30+ terms)… which I still scratch my head at! I know its not a meta “name”, but nonetheless, throwing that out there again to reiterate, no stuffing keywords tags!

    - Dan :)

  2. Wow, I’ve never even heard of some of these. Amazes me someone would use a pagerank or alexa meta tag. What are people smoking?

  3. really good list, never heard of some metas. But I mean..the alexa one is already one of my favorites. Really, people should read more and spend less time on that site. Thanks for sharing!

  4. It’s a shame really. So much work was done to establish, document and codify the use of Meta Tags – and so much of it is outright IGNORED by the SE’s.

    Particularly for Geo Targeting intended audiences – or specifying the precise GPS coordinates of a brick and mortar business – these could have real value and OUGHT to be respected.

  5. I used to use Alexa meta tag in my blogger blog..But later I removed it, because I didn’t find any changes in my blog’s popularity..

  6. One that I didn’t see on your list that I just came across. Meta name=”revisit-after” content=”5 days”. I’ve never seen it done in a meta tag, but we commonly use a similar command within a sitemap.xml file.

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