I recently rediscovered a June 2005 article entitled Optimising Metadata to Make High-Value Content more Accessible to Google Users by Alan Dawson and Val Hamilton.
The article details a study that revealed that the constructing a web page title tag from the content of four metadata fields (title, type, author, date) is the most important step in Google optimization. While HTML has a "meta" tag which is often (painstakingly) used by libraries, its value is currently negligible in a Google dominated search engine world due to misuse.
According to the authors, even if web page includes meta tags for a description and other data they are not used by the public Google engine. (Google appliances do index meta tags). Instead of using the meta tags the public Google extracts "snippets" (the official term) from the full text of documents to serve as page summaries. The value of Google snippets as descriptions and in indexing is highly variable.
Google rankings can be improved by including the content that one would place in the meta fields as visible text - not HTML embedded tags - near the start of the page. They suggest placing the text beneath the title and author name. This increases the odds that when a search term matches a word in the Google snippet will include the term in the description, or at least at the start of it.
While the top of each web page may begin to look like the start of a catalog record, this approach not only makes the metadata visible to searchers it increases the odds that it is actually being used.
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