You can tell search engines exactly what your page is about so that if a visitor searches for that topic, there's a better chance they'll find your page.  The AltaVista search engine (among others) will index all words in your document (except for comments), and will use the first few words of the document as a brief index. Very often search engines will not reveal what means they use to categorize and index web sites.

However, you can use the meta tag to specify additional keywords to index, and a short description of your web site. Let's suppose your page contains:

<meta name =" description" content =" Our corporation sells and repairs all kinds of saddles.">
<meta name =" keywords" content =" saddles, riding, English, corporation, tooled, antique ">
AltaVista will then do two things:
It will index both fields as words, so a search on either saddles or corporatation will match. It will return the description with the URL. In other words, instead of showing the first couple of lines of the page, a match will look like this:
Saddles, Inc.
We sell and repair all kinds of saddles.
http://www.giddyup.com/index.htm size 2k - 25 Jun 99
AltaVista will index the description and keywords up about to 3 lines of text.

Using Meta Tags

The first thing that a server or browser looks for on an html file is the <html> tag. The second thing that a server or browser examines when an html file is opened is the <head> of the html page.

Meta tags are powerful.The <meta> tag is the only html tag, other than the <title> or Javascript or Stylesheet tags, that will go inside the <head> tag. All other html tags will appear in an html page between the <body> and </body> tags. As html continues to develop, we expect that there will be more and more uses for the meta tag.

This is a sample page using Meta tags.

<html>

<head>
<meta name="description" content="Famous Female Scientists.">
<meta name="keywords" content="female, scientists, chemistry, physics, computer science">
<title>
Famous Female Scientists
</title>
</head>

<body>

The body of your HTML page appears here.

</body>
</html>

A List of Currently Supported Meta Tags

<meta name ="description" content ="       ">

<meta name ="keywords" content ="       ">

<meta name ="author" content ="       ">

<meta name ="generator" content ="       ">

<meta name ="copyright" content ="       ">

<meta name ="robots" content ="      ">

If the content of your web site is for a selected audience, you probably do not want a search robot to find and index your site. In this case, add noindex after content="
If you do not want a robot to follow your links, then add nofollow after content ="
If you want to use both attributes, separate them by commas.
Just How Powerful Are These Meta Tags????
These pages were developed through GirlTECH, a teacher training program sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC), a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center.© July 1999.
Thanks to the RGK Foundation and EOT-PACI for its generous support of GirlTECH.