Meta tags are the old way for search engines. Now they're smart and ignore meta tags, getting the real content from the page. People started cheating with meta tags, and the search engines now don't trust them.
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Overall, that's a true statement. And it's certainly true for Google. However, other search engines (namely Yahoo and MSN) still rely on meta tags within the context of their ranking schema. So, they can't be 100% forgotten as yet.
Originally Posted by djr33
Google still looks at certain meta elements though -- description, robots, refresh, content-type are some. There is also a "google" meta tag to prevent translation of your site via Google Translation services.