Help My Meta Description Has Been Hijacked!

This is a real case study and has happened recently to one of our clients. We present it as a cautionary tale to anyone who has dropped significantly in Google search results.

We follow the organic placement for this customer on a monthly basis. This past month we saw that on many of his important keywords he had dropped totally off the radar screen on Google. Additionally in the Google Webmaster control panel in the brand new keyword section word were showing up for his account on casino, blackjack, and gaming.

I closely reviewed his website and any insertions of code and saw none. The client and I got with the web host to review any problems, there were none. Then when the client was reviewing Bing, he saw that his meta description for certain pages of his website mentioned gaming and casinos. This was serious.

I started doing research on the hijacking of meta tags and found on Webmaster World another person who was asking for help to resolve a similar situation but over a year ago. The savvy response was that there was code inserted and cloaking had been done to deliver a page for search engines that no one else could see.

The client got with Network Solutions and a security tech was able to identify that there were two files in the clients WordPress blog that had been altered. One was a 404.php file in the current theme template directory and the other was hidden in this directory: wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/spellchecker/classes/utils/utils.php.

If this ever happens to you make sure to check these two places first. The tech support person at Network Solutions said that using a script like this allows the perpetrator to deliver content just for a search engine on any page they desire of your website.

Man, was that a wakeup call! What a nasty situation! What was even stranger was only certain pages in the website had been targeted. The home page and then just some of the inside directory pages.

Now I don’t know if this client’s site was just randomly targeted or if a sneaky competitor in his highly competitive field was stealing his Google placement, but what I do know is that to me the attack was invisible. I tore up the site looking for code and there was none. I never thought to look in the blog as the blog we had confirmed was not affected with the malicious meta tag problem.

Needless to say we have enabled some serious security, changed all the passwords, and destroyed the code. This example can be a lesson to any person with a website who has experienced and unusual and significant drop in Google. But most telling of all is the brand new tool in the Google Webmaster control panel for popular keywords is an excellent heads up if you have a problem.


To Pipe Or Not To Pipe – That’s | In Meta Tags

Confused about using | in your meta tags?
Confused about using | in your meta tags?

What I am talking about here is whether you should use pipes or | to separate your keywords in your Meta title tag. Some SEO gurus swear by it and others blow it off. I have used pipes and not used pipes on websites and do not have a strong preference one way or the other but for my own website I do not pipe the Meta title tag.

That being said for mature sites where we have a narrow list of keywords I have used pipes and gotten excellent improvement in organic placement. The best tip I can offer is: if your site is new don’t pipe. If your site is mature and you have had good placement previously but have dropped lately, try pipes to get a boost that may help you organically.

The big key on whether to use pipes or not is the nature of your keywords. If you need a wildcard match or have a number of phrases and word combinations that you want to place on then I would stay away from pipes. You only have 80 characters or so in the title tag and so need to use every character well. If your phrases are only one to three words and you have only one or two try piping the title tag to see what happens.


Why Are Meta Tags Important?

First let’s review what exactly are meta tags. Meta tags are sentences arranged in a specific format that contain information that is crucial to search engines. This information provides specific criteria that search engine use to categorize your web pages.

Of all the Meta tags that can appear in the source code of a page the most important are the following:

  • Title Tag
  • Meta Description

We call these tags “hot property real estate” for your website. So what about the Meta Keyword tag? Is that one important? It used but is no longer used by any of the search engines.

The importance and use of Meta tags comes and goes. Several years ago, Google did not even use the Meta Description tag. Google instead either created it’s own from sentences grabbed from your page content or used the description found in the Open Directory Project. Now however Google uses the Meta Description tag that you embed in your source code.

Yahoo for many sites is not returning the Meta Title tag in their search results, they are instead supplying the first <h1> tag or header tag on the page in the content.

Personally I feel that the Title Tag and Meta Description Tag are some of the most important tags on your page. The first, Title Tag is typically crafted as a keyword dense string of keywords about 80 characters long. I never include the business name in this very small space as search engines will pick that up from the page content.

The Meta Description tag I usually craft as a keyword dense series of two or three sentences that are done with proper punctuation and grammar. I stick closely to the theme of the content on the page. Additionally I craft a different Meta Title and Meta Description for each page in the website when humanly possible.

I have seen sites move up in the search results based on changes in these two crucial areas alone, they are this important to organic placement on search engines.

You can review your own Meta tags very easily. First the Meta Title tag is visible at the very top of your browser screen just before the frame of your monitor starts and typically is just to the right of the IE icon above your browser buttons.

The Meta Description tag is visible by right clicking on your web page and by selecting view source. Your browser will most likely open the page’s code in Notepad. Scroll or use Find to locate this line <meta name=”description” content=” This is the lead in code syntax where your webmaster or web developer has placed your actual Meta Description. Some sites will not have this important Meta tag and we recommend correcting this for best search engine placement.

For more information on our search engine optimization services please visit our website.


SEO Firms Trawling for Business – Don’t Get Fooled

I have a number of clients who have been forwarding me emails from SEO firms saying that there are problems with their websites and these clients ask my advise. “Are these real problems?”

I have to say even with great organic placement on many of my keywords, I get these emails too! Don’t jump to a conclusion that you need help based on an email from a firm trawling for business hoping to scare you into action.

One email I saw said that if you did not have a robots.txt file it would impact your organic placement, another mentioned link references in the content with a complete URL versus a relative URL, and another mentioned that real estate in their content was killing their results (the site was an attorney’s site that specializes in real estate law).

You just cannot believe everything that someone sends you unsolicited. Yes there may be opportunities that should be addressed, but with the business economic climate the way that it is, you will see more and more of these type of emails as firms start looking harder for clients and try to scare some into action using questionable practices.

So watch out, ask a reputable firm their opinion before you react and buy so you don’t get fleeced without knowing what you are really paying for.