The short answer is very important, at least for some of them.
I get a log of clients who ask me about the “keywords” tag. What words should go in the keywords tag? How long should the keywords tag be? etc.
Although it is not to be ignored, the keywords tag has become somewhat atrophied by abuse. Back in the early days, search engines relied on the keywords meta tags to rank web sites when users searched for those words. So some web sites stuffed them with popular search terms, like TV stars’ names, to get more visibility on popular searches.
But nowadays, search engines rely on the content of the web page itself, and much less on the keywords in the meta tags. Google, for instance, puts very little weight on the words in the keywords meta tags when calculating page rank.
However, the “description” meta tag is very important when it comes to page rank. The description should be quite short and to the point. Each web page on your site should have a distinct description that describes the content of that web page (not the site). You will see your descriptions showing up in the text part of Google search results.
But there is another tag that is even more important. It’s not technically a “meta” tag, but the “title” tag is used more than any other element to determine page rank. In fact some will say that it is even more important than your page content. You will see the title as the heading on each Google search result.
Again, the title should be page-specific, not a general title for the whole site. Some web designers like to put the company name in the title, sometimes with page-specific info after the name. This is a mistake. Some web designers like to stuff as much as possible into the title. This is also a mistake.
The title should not be more than 90 characters and the most important words should come first, i.e. on the left. The title should be a title, just like a chapter title in a book. It should describe, as succinctly as possible, the content of that particular page.
If you then add your company name you are actually diluting the importance of the other words in the title.
Here are some examples:
Good title: Creed Perfume – eau de toilette 1.5 oz.
Bad title: Lotions, bath gel, towels, foot warmers, baby products, perfume, cologne – The Friendly Apothecary Online – FREE shipping over $50!!
There is one more tag that is often misused: the “robots” tag. It is used to instruct search engine robots where they are NOT allowed to go. If you use it to instruct the robots where they are allowed, i.e. with “index, follow”, it is redundant because leaving it out altogether would have the same effect.
There are a few more important meta tags and we will talk about them next.
SEO Guru Guy has been designing and developing web sites since 1994.
He is knowlegable in the art of Search Engine Optimization and has contributed to many forums on the subject.