Meta elements provide information about a given webpage, most often to help search engines categorize them correctly. They are inserted into the HTML document, but are often not directly visible to a user visiting the site.
They have been the focus of a field of marketing research known as search engine optimization (SEO), where different methods are explored to provide a user’s site with a higher ranking on search engines. In the mid to late 1990s, search engines were reliant on meta data to correctly classify a web page and webmasters quickly learned the commercial significance of having the right meta element, as it frequently led to a high ranking in the search engines — and thus, high traffic to the web site.
As search engine traffic achieved greater significance in online marketing plans, consultants were brought in who were well versed in how search engines perceive a web site. These consultants used a variety of techniques (legitimate and otherwise) to improve ranking for their clients.
Meta elements have significantly less effect on search engine results pages today than they did in the 1990s and their utility has decreased dramatically as search engine robots have become more sophisticated. This is due in part to the nearly infinite re-occurrence (keyword stuffing) of meta elements and/or to attempts by unscrupulous website placement consultants to manipulate (spamdexing) or otherwise circumvent search engine ranking algorithms.
While search engine optimization can improve search engine ranking, consumers of such services should be careful to employ only reputable providers. Given the extraordinary competition and technological craftsmanship required for top search engine placement, the implication of the term “search engine optimization” has deteriorated over the last decade. Where it once implied bringing a website to the top of a search engine’s results page, for the average consumer it now implies a relationship with keyword spamming or optimizing a site’s internal search engine for improved performance.
Major search engine robots are more likely to quantify such extant factors as the volume of incoming links from related websites, quantity and quality of content, technical precision of source code, spelling, functional v. broken hyperlinks, volume and consistency of searches and/or viewer traffic, time within website, page views, revisits, click-throughs, technical user-features, uniqueness, redundancy, relevance, advertising revenue yield, freshness, geography, language and other intrinsic characteristics.
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