Two most popular
Two names in meta tags are pretty consistently used across the sites:
You would find Content-Type meta tag heavily used on the web pages. For most sites, you can expect to find text/html; charset=utf-8 on most of the pages. This would be helpful to search engines / browsers, because they can immediately tell what type of content is there on the site. Unlike the keywords meta tag, a web developer would have no benefit in cheating the search engine with the Content-Type meta tag (page won’t display properly).
The Description tag would be useful for search engines if they choose to use this for summarizing the pages. Most of the web pages will have lot of surrounding material (menus, header, footer, etc.) and it is not easy to say automatically where the actual content of a page begins. This Description tag would be of great help.
Two more popular names
You would see these two names in the meta tags as well:
In the old days, keywords meta tag would be stuffed with keywords that are nothing to do with the content of the current web page. However, you still see a heavy usage of Keywords meta tag on a lot of popular sites.
And the meta tag Author typically contains the name of the site. In the old days of static HTML, this would have identified who the author of a given page was. But now, on a dynamically generated HTML page, only a small portion of a given page can be attributed to a particular author. All the surrounding content/material comes from different people.
Several sites use a large set of custom meta tags in their pages. These are of little use to general purpose search engines. However, they could be of use for the internal development purposes; and for, perhaps, custom search engines and utilities.
No standard list of values has been defined for the name attribute in the meta element in the HTML standard (<meta name=”no-standard-list” content=”no-standard-content”>). And hence, you will see a wide variety of meta tags.
Following are some examples of these custom meta tags:
The sections below contain a discussion of meta tags on various sites.
Meta Tags from the Search Engine Sites
Meta Tags on Google
Google does not make much use of Meta tags. You would typically see the content-type. And you would NOT see the keywords meta tag (YouTube uses the Keywords meta tag consistently, the google.com sites don’t).
Following are the meta tags on some Google sites:
Figure 1. Meta tags on the main Google page
The main Google page has no Keywords or Description or Author Meta tags – just content-type. This makes sense because Google does not look at the keywords used in the meta tag, anyway. In this case, no Description is really necessary (or makes sense) for the main Google page.
Figure 2. Meta Tags on the Google News main page
The Google News site needs to make sure that the browser gets the new content all the time. For that you see two settings use no-cache (for Cache-Control and pragma). Also, the Expires is set to a long past date.
Code Listing 1. Usage of HTTP-EQUIV in the meta tag
<meta HTTP-EQUIV="content-type" CONTENT="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
<meta HTTP-EQUIV="refresh" CONTENT="900">
<META http-equiv=Cache-Control content=no-cache>
<META http-equiv=Pragma content=no-cache>
<META name="Expires" content="Fri, 01 Jan 1990 00:00:00 GMT">
<META name="DateInSecsSinceEpoch" content="1214331293">
As you can see in the code above, not all the meta tags use name / content attribute pairs. In this case HTTP-EQUIV is used for content-type, refresh, Cache-Control and Pragma.
Figure 3. Meta Tags on Google Finance
For any site, Description is probably the most useful of meta tags. Some search engines (and spiders) use this as the Description for the entire page. For the search engines this could be a bit more reliable for finding out what exactly is the page about, as opposed to an enormous list of misleading keywords.
The page listed above gets the current stock quote information of goog (Google’s stock quote). With the meta tag robots / noindex, Google is asking the search engines not to index this page, because this information changes on a continual basis.
Meta Tags on Yahoo
Unlike Google, Yahoo uses keywords in the Meta tags. Overall usage of Meta tags on main Yahoo pages is pretty minimal (Description and keywords are used pretty consistently).
Figure 4. Meta Tags on Yahoo Finance site
As shown in the code listing below, content-type, description, and keywords are probably the three most useful meta tags. The description here actually reflects that this stock quote is for Yahoo Inc.
Code Listing 2. Meta Tags on Yahoo Finance
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
<meta name="description" content="Get detailed information on YAHOO INC (YHOO) including quote performance, Real-Time ECN, technical chart analysis, key stats, insider transactions, and the latest company headlines.">
<meta name="keywords" content=" quote result, quote, quote summary, real-time, chart, technical chart, price history, headlines, message board, key statistics, annual income, EPS,market cap, P/E, analyst rating, insider transactions, income statement,balance sheet, cash flow">
Meta Tags on MSN
MSN uses lot of meta tags; and the description matches the story. Several story related meta tags are used.
Figure 5. Meta Tags on MSN
As you can see from the code below, lot of custom tags like Search.Byline, Search.Source, etc. are used.
Code Listing 3. Meta Tags from MSN
<meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
<meta http-equiv="pics-label" content="(pics-1.1 "http://www.icra.org/ratingsv02.html" l gen true for "http://www.msnbc.msn.com" r (nz 1vz 1lz 1oz 1cz 1) "http://www.rsac.org/ratingsv01.html" l gen true for "http://www.msnbc.msn.com" r (l 0n 0s 0v 0))">
<meta name="description" content="A new class of Super Rich Americans live virtually untouched by the current economic downturn, indulging in a parallel world of luxury. ">
<meta name="Search.Document" content="story"><meta name="Search.Title" content="CNBC Special Report: Who are the Super Rich?">
<meta name="Search.Image" content="/msnbc/Components/Video/080620/c_biznation_wealth_080620.jpg">
<meta name="Search.Byline" content="By Lori Gordon">
<meta name="Search.Source" content="CNBC">
<meta name="Search.Updated" content="Tue, 24 Jun 2008 18:31:14 GMT">
<meta name="Search.Expires" content="Fri, 31 Dec 9999 23:59:59 GMT">
<meta name="Search.Section" content="CNBC TV">
<meta name="Search.Author" content="Lori Gordon">
Meta Tags from the News Sites
Meta Tags on New York Times
The main page of New York Times contains several meta tags. There is a large listing of keywords here. However, this large listing might be of questionable value from the perspective of getting traffic from the search engines.
Figure 6. Meta Tags on New York Times
As you can see from the code listing below, both attribute pairs http-equiv / content and name / content are used in the meta HTML element. Since this is a news site, you would see the typical Expires, Pragma / no-cache, robots / noarchive in the meta element.
Code Listing 4. The Meta Tags on New York Times front page
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1"/>
<meta http-equiv="Expires" content="0"/>
<meta http-equiv="Pragma" content="no-cache"/>
<meta name="robots" content="noarchive"/>
<meta name="description" content="Find breaking news, multimedia, reviews & opinion on Washington, business, sports, movies, travel, books, jobs, education, real estate, cars & more."/>
<meta name="keywords" content="New York Times, international news, daily newspaper, national, politics, science, business, your money, AP breaking news, business technology, technology, Cybertimes, circuits, new york times, navigator, sports, weather, editorial, Op-Ed, arts and leisure, film, movie reviews, theater, stock quotes, arts, classified ads, automobiles, books, crossword puzzle, job market, help wanted, careers, real estate listings, travel, web glossary, new york region, Navigator, cybertimes, op-ed, job listings, forums, business connections, theatre reviews, auto classifieds, newspaper archives, travel forecasts, NY Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, boxing, pro football scores, major league baseball, college basketball, Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, college football, sports commentary, fashion and style, Hockey, tennis, major league soccer, global issues, associated press, regional news coverage, quick news, women’s health, obituaries, stock quotes, charts, market indexes, sports update, politics, science, political news, science times"/>
<meta name="CG" content="Homepage"/>
<meta name="SCG" content=""/>
<meta name="PT" content="Homepage"/>
<meta name="PST" content=""/>
<meta NAME="HOMEPAGE_TEMPLATE_VERSION" CONTENT="300"/>
Meta Tags on Wall Street Journal
Since Wall Street Journal is also a news site like New York Times, you would see some similarities in the meta tags. However, the custom meta tags are different.
Figure 7. Meta Tags for the public page of Wall Street Journal
Typical for a news site, a few meta tags are suggesting not to cache the information. Here, the GOOGLEBOT is specifically asked not to archive the page.
Code Listing 5. Usage of meta tags on Wall Street Journal site
<meta name="GOOGLEBOT" content="NOARCHIVE" />
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1" />
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="1200;URL=/public/us?refresh=on" />
<meta name="pagename" content="U.S. Home_0_0002_public" />
<meta name="section" content="Home" />
<meta name="subsection" content="Home Page Public" />
<meta name="csource" content="WSJ Online" />
<meta name="ctype" content="home page" />
<meta name="displayname" content="U.S. Home" />
<meta name="keywords" content="Business Financial News, Business News Online, Personal Finance News, Financial News, Business News, Finance news, Personal Finance, Personal Financial News, Busines Newspaper" />
<meta name="description" content="Business Financial News - The Wall Street Journal is the world’s leading business publication. At WSJ.com users can access business news online as well as personal finance news" />
<meta http-equiv="Cache-Control" content="no-cache" />
<meta http-equiv="expires" content="Wed, 26 Feb 1997 08:21:57 GMT" />
Meta Tags from the Tech Sites
Meta Tags on asp.net
Asp.net uses the standard set of meta tags and a X-UA-Compatible (eXtended-User Agent-Compatible) which says this site is compatible with IE7 (you see this on the Microsoft sites):
Figure 8: Meta Tags on ASP.NET
Lots of sites use author tag, but they simply use the name of the site or some variation of it. I guess this makes sense, because on any given page even if an article written by a single author exists, there would be a lot of content surrounding it that is not developed by that author. Also, it’s less work (programming-wise) generating the name of the author (for the dynamically generated HTML pages).
Articles on Meta Tags
Using meta tags in HTML
Use of Meta tags on popular sites
Adding Meta tags programmatically