Meta tags are the most fundamental part of SEO and making sure that your site’s pages have a good, solid foundation of optimization.
These are the tags that you add to your page’s header to describe the page using syntax that Google understands.
And when it comes to SEO, more often than not, best practices for meta tags are ignored while others take priority.
Sometimes, things like content and links may take priority over things like meta tags. That’s understandable, because content and links can be more important.
But making sure that you optimize these tags correctly can help significantly in terms of how Google understands your page.
For example, a quality meta description can mean the difference between poor website performance in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and better website performance, especially when it comes to a site’s click-through rate (CTR).
Making sure that you include important meta tags can still get results. It all depends on how you use them.
Meta tags provide information about the website in the HTML of the page.
Search engines use these pieces of code to help determine what the page is about, and how relevant it is to the keyword being searched.
While this data isn’t visible to visitors, it does play a role in determining where a site appears in search results.
One important meta tag you want to focus on includes the page title: the blue link that appears at the top of the snippet in the search results.
Another important tag you may want to focus on is the meta description, which is often used to show descriptions of pages in search results.
For example, suppose you’re searching for a product like a computer. In that case, the manufacturer’s description of that product (at least, the one it added to the page) might appear in the paragraph snippet below the page title in the search results.
Meta tags are one of the first things you’ll see in a site audit report. They appear in the header above the page content and provide important information about a page.
The first step in understanding what meta tags do is to know why you’d use them.
You might want to include certain words in the description of your product or service, such as price range, features, size, etc., and you could use the keywords meta tag to help describe that.
Or maybe you want to let people know where your site is located, like a city, state, or country. You could use the location meta tag.
If you’re writing a blog post, you might want to add a category meta tag to help others find it.
These are just a few examples of what meta tags can accomplish.
There are many different types of meta tags, including title, description, keyword, image alt text, robots, language, and even schema markup.
This article focuses on the most common ones; specifically, descriptions and keywords.
When it comes to SEO, meta tags are highly important. Maybe not quite as important as content or links, but still, they are very important to the overall optimization process.
Better title tags may mean the difference between the success or failure of your page.
Having blank meta tags (such as a blank title or meta description) may mean that Google will choose what it thinks are the best ones for your page. Its algorithm is not perfect and could potentially create less than what you might want to see.
This is why it’s important to ensure that you include at least a physical page title and description for your page. Otherwise, you leave it up to Google’s algorithm to choose it.
The page title tag is the main descriptive element of your page.
Your title tag is the one thing that everyone sees when they come across your site in the Google search results.
This is why it is crucial to ensure it accurately reflects the page’s content. If you’re writing a blog post, you want to ensure that the page title accurately reflects the post’s content.
You want people to know exactly where they are and what they’re looking at.
While some sites still rank very well despite having poor title tags, others don’t seem to care much about the title tag.
Why do some sites not spend as much effort on the title tag while others continue their usual optimizations? Well, it seems like it depends on the type of site. Some sites focus heavily on video, while others focus heavily on text. Some sites are focused on a specific topic, while others cover multiple topics.
There are many different reasons why a site might choose not to put any effort into its title tags. However, the truth is that having a quality title tag can be a great determining factor in how Google understands your page.
If you’re building a brand new site, you probably won’t need to worry too much about SEO efforts on your title tag. However, once your site starts getting traffic, you’ll want to track things like bounce and conversion rates.
By tracking those metrics, you’ll be able to determine whether the title tag is actually impacting your performance, and where to go from there in terms of how to better optimize it.
Google’s Search Essentials documentation explains the following about page title best practices and how to influence them in the search results correctly:
Aside from its Search Essentials, there are several things that Google has mentioned about page titles that should be observed.
Another meta tag that’s important to SEO is the meta description tag.
This is the very short snippet paragraph underneath the page title within the search results. As long as you utilize a more accurate description than what you can ascertain from the on-page content, Google will use it.
This meta tag is not much of something used for ranking. Instead, it’s something that’s used to entice and inform users about the page in general.
It creates a short and relevant summary of what that specific web page is actually about. In its simplest form, this is basically a sales pitch for your website. It’s meant to convince the user that your page is exactly what they are looking for.
Google explains that there is no limit to the length of the meta description and that it truncates the snippet on the SERPs as needed – and this is usually done on a device-width basis.
Despite the apparent lack of control when it comes to rankings, writing meta descriptions is still an important part of any SEO professional’s arsenal. This can mean the difference between significant CTR from the SERPs, as opposed to sub-standard CTRs.
This is why it makes sense to make both page titles and meta descriptions a focus of your own SEO efforts whenever you optimize a page.
Google’s Search Essentials explains what it looks for in meta descriptions.
Note that meta descriptions should be visible on the webpage. If they are not visible, Google will ignore them in 99% of cases.
Google explains that identical, and even similar, meta descriptions on multiple site pages are not helpful when these pages appear in the SERPs.
It recommends that SEO pros create meta descriptions that are unique and that accurately describe the specific page.
On the main home page (or aggregation pages), it also recommends that you utilize site-level descriptions and then use page-level descriptions on all other types of pages.
Google recommends including relevant information within the meta description that reflects the actual page.
For news and blog posts, it explains that these meta descriptions can list the author, the publication date, and byline information that would otherwise not be displayed.
In addition, product pages that have specific information scattered throughout the page that might be helpful for users could be included here, too.
Google adds that any great meta description can provide all the relevant information a user might need to decide to visit that particular page.
It’s possible to generate your web page’s meta descriptions programmatically. (Not only possible, but Google actively encourages doing so in its Search Essentials documentation.)
This is especially true for larger sites with thousands of pages.
Google doesn’t expect the average user to be able to handwrite meta descriptions on larger sites. It still recommends ensuring that these meta descriptions are varied and human-readable.
For example, don’t go in assuming you can programmatically create meta descriptions that are terrible quality and expect to have a good day from an SEO perspective.
It also recommends avoiding long strings of keywords in the meta descriptions – don’t do that here, either!
Google’s recommendations also highlight the quality of meta descriptions. It also wants to see significantly high quality here – and make sure that your meta descriptions really are descriptive.
The Google Search Essentials documentation is a good start, but they don’t contain all the information that Google might consider.
The following is a collection of what Google has said elsewhere on the web about meta descriptions:
The meta robots tag allows you to control indexing and crawling of your pages. In short, this allows you to take advantage of a more granular approach to controlling the indexation of individual pages.
It is important to note that this setting can be read and followed only when the page itself is crawlable and accessible to Google.
For example, don’t think disallowing a page and noindexing it will benefit you.
Although there are situations where Google might ignore the robots.txt file, you want to ensure that, in most cases, you are allowing the crawling and indexing of the page so Google can physically observe that particular rule.