When you walk into a restaurant, you see an expensively decorated space, comfortable tables and chairs lined with spotless cloth, smiling waiters and a very charming maître. But if you walked into their kitchen, it’s a whole different world. As it turns out, putting a meal on the table in front of you is a lot of work, and not very pleasant. This is exactly the case of websites too.
When you visit a website, the graphics, text, pages and images you see is the seating area, behind which is a whole circus of operations happening, that you are completely oblivious of. This circus is what helps the website work, and is called the source code. It is usually created in HTML or CSS (computer languages) and contains all the information that the website needs to function.
Metadata is part of this source code, usually written in HTML. Meta tags form a part of metadata, which, essentially, is data about the data on your site. For instance, if you had a file full of loan papers, the title and number of the file and its location in your cupboard would form part of the metadata. In the same way, an .mp3 file on your computer would have data like name, artist, album, track number, genre and bit rate all of which form part of the metadata.
Webpages too have similar metadata. Meta tags form a part of the metadata. They are usually one line descriptions (called meta description tags) of your webpage or keywords related to your site (called meta keyword tags). Meta tags cannot be seen by the viewer on the webpage itself (just like you can’t see the restaurants oven) but browsers today make it possible for a viewer to view the source code, thus viewing the meta data too.
For the longest of time, meta tags were considered very important from the point of view of search engine optimization, since web crawlers used metatags to index and categorize sites. However, of late most search engines have dropped the practice, and now lay more emphasis on links & content when it comes to ranking websites.
However, metadata does prove to be of significance with some search engines, since they often display meta description tags along with search results. For instance, a Google results page will give you a description of the page along with page title and website name. This description is the meta description tag. Viewers often refer to the meta description to determine whether the content on the site is relevant to what they need.
Since meta tags are part of the source code, and written in HTML, you will need to know HTML. An HTML editor can be used to edit meta tags, but not without good knowledge of HTML to begin with.