Search engine optimization is like a puzzle. While there are proven ways to boost your ranking, many facets of SEO rely on trial and error. Different puzzle pieces are involved and their importance fluctuates all the time. Marketers can agree on the importance of some tools and tricks, but there is still a lot of debate regarding others—which are most important? Which don’t really work? Which are worth your time? And what are meta tags?
Some of the most important SEO elements to be aware of for on-site optimization are meta tags. Most marketers can agree on that. While they can’t help you magically climb to the top of the search rankings, using meta tags correctly can greatly benefit your site (and using them incorrectly can cause substantial setbacks). But what are meta tags?
What Are Meta Tags?
A meta tag is an HTML tag (in more basic terms, it is a command used in HyperText Markup Language, which is a language used to create websites). Unlike most HTML tags, however, meta tags do not control how a webpage is displayed. Their duties are behind-the-scenes; they provide information like who created the page, how often the page is updated, what the page is about, and what the page’s keywords are.
But if they’re behind-the-scenes, you might be asking, why are they important? Since most of us don’t see them when we visit websites, what’s the point of making these commands?
Well, when many search engines are building their ranking pages, their spiders use information from meta tags to build and categorize the indices. So by spending some time answering the question “what are meta tags?”, you can increase your page’s ranking on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines.
Meta tags are located between the opening and closing head tags in the HTML code of a webpage. As you may know already, the head section of HTML is not displayed on the webpage but does contain important information about the page that browsers can see. Meta tags are optional, but can be incredibly useful.
Meta Tags for SEO
The meta title tag is, arguably, the most important meta tag for SEO. When attempting to answer “what are meta tags?”, start here. What you write within this tag is what will show up as the title of the page in a browser window. Working a keyword or two into the title tag can improve search engine rankings for that keyword, but it’s important not to add a keyword that is not relevant to the page. It is also important to not stuff more than 1 or 2 keywords into a title tag. Instead, work to blend a relevant keyword or two with the name of your brand.
The meta description tag is also an important meta tags for SEO, but more for actual conversion (meaning a search engine impression leading to an actual customer) purposes. What you write within the tag shows up beneath your title when your website appears on a search engine. Within the guts of the page’s HTML, it looks something like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”Brief but awesome description of the webpage”>
Your space is limited; ideally, the description should be about 155 characters or less and that includes both characters and spaces. Utilizing keywords where appropriate, the description should quickly explain the webpage’s contents and entice viewers so that they’ll want to click the link.
If you don’t add description meta tags for SEO, search engines will create descriptions for you by using text from the webpage. Although this manufactured description is sometimes accurate and well-written, you could usually write a better description yourself. A great description not only tells viewers what to expect from your webpage, it acts as an advertisement and draws people in. Great descriptions can greatly impact your click-through rates.
Another important tag is the robots meta tag, which communicates to web crawlers that you do not want a page to be indexed. You can also use it to specify whether you want links on a page to be followed or not.
If you don’t want a page to be indexed (if the site is still in development, for example), use this tag:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>
You can change the second part depending on whether you do or do not want the page to indexed and the links to be followed. If, for example, you don’t want it indexed but you do want the link paths to be followed, you would use this tag:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>
The keywords meta tag used to be similarly important, but its value has waned. The only search engine that looks at this tag currently is Bing, and it only uses it to detect and eliminate spam. You don’t need to use it and in fact, you shouldn’t if you want to avoid a spider labeling your website spam. If you simply must add it in or if you already have it, limit your keywords to avoid looking like spam.
Meta tags are easy to implement and they can have a great effect on your website’s search engine rankings. Always try to use a description tag, but avoid loading up a keywords meta tag. If you came here wondering “what are meta tags?” and you’ve had your questions answered, keep following the 417 Marketing blog for more SEO 101 lessons.