Making a true definition of Meta Tags is a lot simpler than explaining their functioning and by exactly which search engines. The only reason to this is simply because very few engines clearly explain with any amount of precision what they do look or don't look at and just how much importance they will actually give to any such and such parameters. Let's begin with the easy part: Meta Tags are snippets of HTML code concealed into the pages of a website that are used by the major search engines in an attempt to store data about that website. Such meta tags contain descriptions, keywords and key phrases, important site title information, etc. Such meta data is part of the many things search engines are seeking when trying to properly index a website.
To be sure, meta tags are not truly necessary when a webmaster writes or creates new web pages, or makes any kind of modifications to them. There are a few observers in the search engine optimization industry who claim that meta tags are completely useless. Such strong statements can be a bit misleading. Of course, you are still free to believe them if you like, but that may not be such a good idea. While not technically mandatory, Meta Tags can, in certain cases, help the rankings of a given website, provided certain other essential rules of SEO are maintained.
At the other end of the scale, there are other search engines like Exact Seek that are "pure-vanilla" Meta Tag search engines which will spell out that: "Your site will not be added if it does not have Title and Meta Description tags." Inktomi also makes an extensive use of the keywords tag. Naturally, as can be expected, not all search engines work the same way nor do they have to. Certain search engines will place their importance on the actual content of the site. Most major search engines have in excess of 125 individual elements and parameters they actually analyze when trying to rank and index any given website. Some of these important elements deal specifically with the way the pages were structured.
They will also take a note of websites that have omitted basic steps such as non-existent Meta Tags. For such search engines that have significantly decreased if not eliminated the importance of Meta Tags, there could be specific situations where the mere presence of Meta Tags could gain much more in importance. A good example to this could be websites making heavy use of rich graphics, or Flash content, but very poor or non-existent textual content anywhere on the site. In the world of search engines, it is unfortunate to think that a picture is worth about 1000 words to most people, but mean absolutely nothing to search engines. Search engines are totally blind when it comes to reading a picture or graphic of any kind.
When a website offers poor or non-existent textual content, the engines have to be more dependent on meta tags to properly index it and add it to their database. With the most carefully written and designed websites, even if all the proper steps were taken to make certain the right Meta Tags are carefully edited and put in all the right places, unfortunately, some search engines will still completely ignore them. As helpful as some Meta Tags can be in certain search engines, good content in the site is still imperative. Nothing can beat good, targeted & relevant content, filled with keyword-rich text spread evenly and categorized in all the carefully-defined sections of the site. As stated above, in such cases where the engine visiting your site depends on that content, it may be the only thing that will effectively work for your website.
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