META Tags Abuse and Misuse



Metadata Structuring and Standards

The SEO Consultants Directory Administrator and Directory Editors have recently (2003-08-16) been involved in a discussion via email where our interpretation of the Metadata standards are being challenged. In this particular situation an esteemed member of our directory was removed due to a violation of our Submission Guidelines, particularly item #10 which discusses the use of HTML Comments Tags (which are treated as HTML markup) for keyword stuffing.

Item #10 (<!-- HTML Comments Tags -->) is a recent addition to the SEO Consultants Directory Submission Guidelines based on our reviews of over 600 search engine marketing companies since our 2002-06-01 launch date.

The below snippets of correspondence have been modified (specifics removed) to protect both the directory and the member who was removed.

Here is the initial email sent informing the member that they were removed...

Good day ***. After a recent restructuring of our guidelines and ongoing reviews of members in our directory, we've had to remove your listing as of this date (2003-08-16) due to the structuring of your metadata as shown below. I don't believe this garbage was there at the time of our initial review. This is totally unprofessional and we're a little disappointed.

<title>17 words, 131 characters with spaces</title>
<meta name="keywords" content="57 words, 450 characters with spaces" />
<meta name="description" content="43 words, 223 characters with spaces" />
<meta name="Abstract" content="57 words, 450 characters with spaces" />
<!-- 57 words, 450 characters with spaces -->
<!-- 19 words, 133 characters with spaces -->

Again, we've removed the specifics for obvious reasons. We can tell you that the keywords tag, abstract tag and first instance of the comments tag were exact duplicates. They were formatted in all lower case, comma separated with extreme repetition of keyword phrases, there was an average repetition rate of 5-7 times, in one instance 12 times. We had no major issues with the Keywords META Tag or Description META Tag although we would have recommended that they be formatted differently for maximum visibility. The Page Title Element is an issue with 17 words and 131 characters and extreme repetition of keyword phrases.

Here is the first response that was received from the member removed...

Good Afternoon Edward

It's nice that you let me know that you removed my listing without question.

Now, let me explain what you seemingly do not know, not beleaguering your knowledge. Each of the elements you have concern with are allowed.

First, Abstract is not limited to the amount of data it includes and can be based upon either the keywords or the description.

Obviously a direct quote from ***'s site since they were the ones that developed that meta tag.

<meta name="Description" content="The *** corporate home page, entry point to information about *** products and services"/>
<meta name="Abstract" content="The *** corporate home page, entry point to information about *** products and services"/>

Second, Subject is one of the handful of miscellaneous META NAMES that can be used. Reference: http://www.vancouver-webpages.com/META/. The Subject is keyword based and has been since it was developed in Word 97.

Therefore, each and every element I use has value and is used correctly.

Your arbitrary misunderstanding of what I helped develop concerns me. It also concerns me that I was going to ask you to come on my show (yes I have a radio show) and discuss from a third party view some of the things business owners need to know about concerning SEO and SEM companies.

So, based upon your email you have concerns with the various tags I use. As noted, each tag is valid and acceptable. The search engines do not typically base their responses upon keywords and descriptions. Therefore, using those only limits the founding of your arguments. However, the search engines do utilize the other elements found in the pages making them viable options.

I could even go as far as using the RDF and Dublin Core standards, but I don't use those at this time. And they are established standards.

Let's nitpick your site a bit here. Admin Note: To keep this article short, we've removed the review of the SEO Consultants Directory provided by this member. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this review, please contact us and we'll be happy to send it to you. Most of it pertained to accessibility issues that we are currently studying. In summary, it had to do with our <table summary>, use of the title attribute for visual clues, 17 broken links on 16 pages, 7 broken anchors on 3 pages, 680 pages with warnings of various types inclusive of 35 pages with outright errors. Let's continue...

Sure, your page passes the W3C validator for HTML 4.01 Strict, but that is only one of the many checks I use. I don't stop with that service and actually have $2,000 in software I use to check pages and entire sites. That still does not limit me to checking the codes and ensuring that the codes meet the other various requirements established by the W3C which I help establish.

Now, based upon what I found I'm disappointed that you would even consider me a disappointment. A little history, in case you didn't read it on my site. I started on the ******* in 1984 for the ****. I've been working in various aspects of the WWW and have earned numerous awards from the ********** and the ****. Recently I was appointed to a task force in ******** to help establish laws regarding web sites in ********. With all of my "above the call" awards and appointments, I can only say that there are people out there that consider me an expert while many of those that "call" themselves experts are only self proclaimed experts. There's a big difference between myself and them.

Therefore, I ask you to reconsider your views and reinstate my listing. Not that it brings me a great deal of traffic, maybe one or two per month. I'm sorry if you feel that you're above me and my 19 years of experience and positions. Perhaps you'll find it reasonable and let things handle themselves.

I do agree that you need to ensure that you have quality control and assurance, but to slam someone because you don't know what the other person knows limits your credibility, at least in my eyes. Then you wanted a list of sites that pass validation which you were given and your site has more errors in it than should be allowable. That's totally confusing.

Just because it passes the W3C validator doesn't mean that it's totally correct. As my review of your site points out, a valid page can still result in major errors.

Being the professionals that "we claim to be", we took the members feedback to heart and decided to track down the relevant issues with our site. As of this date and time ( 2010-10-02T08:45:49-0700 ) we are investigating the above information. We have always been aware of two pages out of 700+ that do not validate due to a javascript error generated by FrontPage and a confirmation script. Since we do not have access to this script, we cannot make the necessary changes to validate it. Other than that, we are stumped on where the other errors are and will make every effort possible to correct those, if we can find them!

Here is our second response to the members first email...

Oh, I can see this will be challenging! ;)

Okay, please guide me to the authoritative resource for the Abstract Metadata. I've spent the last two years studying both the W3C and the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative and there is very little documentation on the Abstract tag. The only confirming documentation that I could find was with the Dublin Core and a DC.Description.Abstract specification. I need a professional answer as to why your abstract tag looks like this.

<meta name="Abstract" content="57 words, 450 characters with spaces. Formatted in all lower case, comma separated with extreme repetition of keyword phrases, there was an average repetition rate of 5-7 times, in one instance 12 times." />

I need for you to point to the specific area in the documentation that says the abstract tag can be used to stuff keyword phrases. Please, I truly respect your background and knowledge but, I totally disagree with your rebuttal in this case.

And if you read deep enough, you'll find a little piece of information at the W3 that states the abstract tag should be no more than 4-7 words and should be a summary of the meta description. Now mind you, the search engines (those that count), have never indexed this tag. There may be certain educational indexes that might use it for archiving but, you won't find any major SEs that support it.

Now, let's talk about this which there was no comment on...

<!-- 57 words, 450 characters with spaces -->
<!-- 19 words, 133 characters with spaces -->

Again, I need for you to provide a professional response as to what the above is. With your credentials, I'm sure you can give me a logical reason why you have a comments tag that repeats your abstract tag.

Let's not forget about the keywords tag...

<meta name="keywords" content="57 words, 450 characters with spaces" />

How 1998 is that? The keywords tag lost relevancy years ago. Today, most of us use it as a focus point for what the page is about. It too is an exact replica of your abstract and comments tags. In total, between the three tags you have...

181 words, 1,422 characters with spaces, 03 paragraphs, 21 lines

I'd say that there was no justification for the above other than not knowing that this is not search engine marketing. This is META Tags Abuse and Misuse from our perspective. This is what caused the search engines to stop indexing almost everything except the Page Title Element and META Description Tag. Inktomi has publicly stated that they still index the META Keywords Tag and I personally feel it is good design practice to utilize it. Not in the way you have but, much more effectively. I would also think that a person of your stature would know that targeting ******* ****** requires much more finesse than what you have above.

Now, in reference to errors on our site. We've validated 99% of the site with the W3C, WDG, (Section 508, WAI A, AA, AAA - Text Only Version) and a few others like cynthiasays. We don't claim to be experts but we do know a little bit about current industry trends and what the remaining indexing spiders (those that matter) are looking for. I don't think you'll find any blatant misinformation on our site (excluding members). Please refer to the disclaimer on our home page and you'll see that...

The SEO Consultants Directory does not endorse the practices, nor do we guarantee the services and/or products of members listed in our directory. These Internet marketing companies and/or consultants have been reviewed by our Editorial Staff as to their overall search engine optimization practices and search engine marketing strategies.

A little OT, you know, I would love to put *** in the spotlight concerning their metadata structure as it too has much room for improvement. Based on the information you've provided and what I've previously read, the abstract tag is proprietary to ***. I'd say their web developer needs a little more instruction on the use of their own tag...

<meta name="Description" content="The *** corporate home page, entry point to information about *** products and services"/>
<meta name="Abstract" content="The *** corporate home page, entry point to information about *** products and services"/>

It is also an exact duplicate of their meta description. Why? Is this what you state you wrote in the specification, that it be an exact replica of a keywords and comments tag as you've implemented it on your site? Please, try not confuse me any more than I sometimes think I am. ;) And, why would you use a proprietary meta data element from ***? What purpose would that serve you as a ******* ********.

Answer those questions above with authoritative backup and I'll be happy to provide rebuttal. I have links to almost everything in reference to this topic and if need be, I'll be happy to provide them for a fee. It's taken us a long time to develop and refine our methods, I'm surely not going to give that away without a fee. Don't you think that would be fair based on the above information? We do perform professional site reviews and have for quite some time. You are welcome to request one at any time. We feel what we've provided so far is more than adequate to justify our decision to remove you from the directory.

Here is the second response that was received from the member removed...

Page 2 - META Tags Testing - Abstract and Subject Metadata Test

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