Meta tags are little snippets of text which are primarily used to provide information about a webpage to the various search engines and its prospective visitors. The text is found in the head section of a webpage’s HTML, and although not visible on the page itself, is an essential component of any content-led Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy.
The good news is, getting to grips with meta tags isn’t rocket science. However, as with so many other simple but vital online marketing jobs, meta tags are often not given the respect they are due. It’s time to get more strategic about your use of meta tags.
Types of Meta Tags
There are many different types of meta tags, but for the purpose of SEO, the three most commonly discussed meta tags are the:
- Title tag
- Description tag
- Keywords tag
Taking the time to understand what each tag does will help you create better meta tags. These optimized meta tags will then work harder to improve your visibility on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and drive more positive and profitable engagement.
The Title Tag
Your title tag is essentially the SEO equivalent of a newspaper headline or an email subject line. It’s designed to grab attention on a busy Search Engine Results Page and encourage people to click through to your website.
Your title tag should accurately reflect the content of the page and be different from the titles of other pages on the website.
It’s considered best practice to include a primary keyword at the beginning of your title tags. For example, a web page dedicated to vacation rentals in Florida should start with the words “Florida Vacation Rentals”. This information should then be followed by a good Call-to-Action (CTA) which could be as simple as “Learn More” or “Book Now For Cheapest Rates”.
If you’ve got room in your title tag, you may wish to include your brand name at the end. This is more about branding than ranking for your brand terms, but will help if anyone searches for a specific (common) topic and your brand in the same search phrase.
While there is no limit to the length of a title tag, Google will truncate any title tags that are too long and potentially confuse your message. 50 and 70 characters is generally considered to be the optimum length.
The Description Tag
Taking the newspaper headline/email subject line analogy to the next stage, your description tag is the first paragraph of your news story or email campaign. It should tell the full story and be written to reinforce the details in the title tag.
Again, it’s important to use primary keywords in the meta description. This will help the search engines and users understand the relevance of the page and help to drive engagement. It may also be useful to include “actionable language” in the meta description such as “Register for our newsletter,” or “Book a discovery call,” to help potential visitors understand what they can do after landing on your webpage.
Like title tags, description tags can be cut short if they are too long. Best practice suggests that your description tags should be 160 characters or less.
The Keywords Tag
Historically, the keywords meta tag enabled marketers to add a little extra detail to their web pages. This approach helped them rank better on the major search engines.
For example, the aforementioned vacation rental company might have included keywords like: Miami, Orlando, Walt Disney World Resorts, Universal Studios, etc. on their webpage.
However, the major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing have all long stopped using the keyword tag to rank web pages. This was in response to black-hat SEO practices like keyword stuffing. In fact, most search engines will only use the keyword tag to identify websites trying to game the system.
This doesn’t mean that including keywords on your page will damage your search visibility. As long as your keywords are relevant to the content on the page, they will do you no harm. However, if you’ve been a bit fast and loose with your keyword strategy, your site may benefit from a bit of a clean-up.
This also doesn’t mean that keywords are dead. Instead, you’ll need to research your keywords to include organically in your title and description tags, as well as your body content.
Accessibility – A Right, Not a Privilege
Meta tags also play an important role in accessibility, helping people with visual impairments and other accessibility needs access your content.
We’ve covered the importance of accessibility in great depth on this blog. We’ve also highlighted that accessibility is a right and not a privilege. However, because the technology used to make websites more accessible looks a lot like the technology deployed by the major search engines to crawl the web, it just makes good business sense to ensure your meta tags, along with your equally important alt tags, describing image use, are all in place.
Noindex/Nofollow Meta Tags
While it might sound counterintuitive, the Noindex and Nofollow meta tags are also important considerations for your SEO strategy.
The Noindex meta tag prevents pages, such as “thank you” pages, paid for, and other gated content from being indexed and made directly available on a search engine.
Similarly, the Nofollow meta tag enables a search engine to index a page but not follow any of the links on that page. This feature is particularly useful when featuring guest content on your pages. Guest content often features multiple links which Google can view as problematic and may negatively impact your site’s reputation.
To learn more about how the SEO experts at emfluence can help you plan, implement and retrofit your website’s meta tag strategy to improve your search engine rankings and visibility, driving greater and more profitable engagement, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.