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What Are Meta Tags And What Role Do They Play In SEO?

For some, the terms meta tags, meta title and meta descriptions are mumble jumble technical words used by website geeks. It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed when confronted with such terms but you shouldn’t feel that way. In this blog we break down what the most important tags are and how they can benefit your SEO efforts.

What is a meta tag?

Meta tags are little snippets of text that describe a page’s content; you can’t see the meta tags on the page itself, but they’re there in the page’s source code as an index behind the scenes to help the Google algorithm sort through the pages and return relevant, useful results to the searcher. Meta tags are a type of metadata – data about the data on your site – and exist only in HTML script.

What are they used for?

Meta tags are used in SEO as a short-form way for Google to understand each of the billions of pages on the internet. Think of it as a brief synopsis for each page on your website. It helps to easily narrow down any given search early on by categorising pages, before crawling the on-site content.

What are the different types of meta tags?

There are many different meta tags, each with their own purpose and benefit to your site; however, the six most important to SEO are the Title tag, the Meta description, the Header tag, the Canonical tag, Alt Text and the Robots Meta tag.

Title Tag

Title tags are the most important of all of the meta tags discussed here. These tags have a real impact on search rankings and, perhaps just as importantly, are the only one of the tags we’ll discuss here that are visible to the average user. You’ll find them at the top of your browser (for organic search pages or for PPC landing pages):

 Your title should include your top keywords to ensure the search engines pick your site up for the right types of search queries.

Best Practices For A Good Title Tag

1) Always describe the page’s content accurately. Choose a title that reads naturally and effectively communicate the topic of the page’s content.

2) Create unique titles for each page. This helps Google know how the page is distinct from the others on your site.

3) Use brief, but descriptive titles. Titles should be both short and informative. If it is too long or less relevant, Google may only show a portion of it or one that’s automatically generated in the Google search result.

4) The most crucial step is to make sure you carry out through keyword research to ensure you use high-value keywords in your title tag

Meta Description

The purpose of a meta description for your page is simple: to get someone searching on Google to click your link. In other words, meta descriptions are a short sentence or two about the content on your page and are there to generate click-throughs from search engines.

Search engines say there is no direct ranking benefit from the meta description – they don’t use it in their ranking algorithm. But there is an indirect benefit: Google uses click-through-rate (CTR) as a way of working out whether you’re a good result. If more people click on your result, Google considers you to be a good result and will – based on your position – move you up the ranks. This is why optimizing the meta description is so important, as is optimizing your titles.

Meta descriptions can be any length, but Google generally truncates snippets to ~155–160 characters. It’s best to keep meta descriptions long enough that they’re sufficiently descriptive, so it is recommended that descriptions are between 50–160 characters, your primary goal however should be to provide value and drive clicks.

Meta descriptions can be visible to searchers but not on your site itself. If you don’t add a meta description to your page, the search engine may dynamically lift the first couple of lines of text from your page and use it as the description instead. Otherwise, a snippet of text containing the searched keywords will appear in place of a description.

Best Practices For A Good Meta Description Length

1) Accurately summarize the page content. While there’s no minimal or maximal meta title length for the text in the description, Google recommends making sure that it’s long enough to be fully shown in Google results (note that users may see different sized snippets depending on how and where they search).

2) Use unique descriptions for each page. Having a different description of meta tag for each page helps both users and Google, especially in searches where users may bring up multiple pages on your domain.

3) Make sure to keep the ideal length of your meta description no more than 160 characters, including spaces.

4) Include your primary keyword naturally

Header tag (h1, h2, h3, etc.)

Header tags are part of your content; in short, they are the headings that you use to structure your page.

As well as improving user experience and ease of reading, header tags can also help search engines in understanding what your content is about.

The order of your header tags (from h1 to h6) highlights the importance of each section. A h1 tag typically denotes the page title or article headline, while h2 and below serve as subheadings to break up your content.

As important as header tags are, you shouldn’t overuse them – think quality, not quantity. Having five different types of heading on your page won’t help your SEO. Instead, use them tactically to break up your content and introduce the main point of each section.

Alt Text

Image optimization has become a very important element of modern SEO, as it offers an additional opportunity to rank in the search results, this time with your visual content.

Your images should be accessible to both search engines and people. Alt text can ensure both of these things: it provides a text alternative to images which will be displayed if the image doesn’t load, or will be read out by a screenreader; it also tells search engines what that image is meant to represent.

You can include keywords in your image alt text, but only if it makes sense to do so – don’t keyword-stuff this tag, as it will only end up harming the user experience for your visitors with accessibility needs.

Canonical tag

If you have pages on your site that are almost identical, then you may need to inform search engines which one to prioritize. Or you might have syndicated content on your site which was republished elsewhere. You can do both of these things without incurring a duplicate content penalty – as long as you use a canonical tag.

Instead of confusing Google and missing your ranking on the SERPs, you are guiding the crawlers as to which URL counts as the “main” one. This places the emphasis on the right URL and prevents the others from cannibalizing your SEO.

 Robots meta tag

The robots meta tag informs search engines which pages on your site should be indexed. This meta tag serves a similar purpose to robots.txt; it is generally used to prevent a search engine from indexing individual pages, while robots.txt will prevent it from indexing a whole site or section of a site.

If you don’t add a robots meta tag, the default for crawlers is to index and follow your page. 

Why would you need to use this meta tag? It might be that you have some pages on your site which are necessary, but quite thin content-wise. You don’t necessarily want them to be indexed in search, but they’re still important to the site, so you can use a noindex tag to prevent them from appearing in the SERPs.

Google also requires links to be nofollowed under certain circumstances. For example, in 2016, it issued a directive to bloggers to nofollow any links that they included as part of a product review, as “these links don’t come about organically”. If you want to nofollow an individual link, you can achieve this by adding rel=”nofollow” to the link HTML.

However, if you wanted to simply nofollow all links on a particular page, you can achieve this with the robots meta tag.

How to optimize your meta tags: A checklist

Meta tags can help both search engines and searchers. They can help you improve the user experience and the display of your business information.

This can contribute to an improved authority, an enhanced search presence and thus, a higher ranking.

If you’re ready to check your performance with meta tags, here’s a quick checklist to start with:

  • Check whether all your pages and your content have title tags and meta descriptions
  • Start paying more attention to your headings and how you structure your content
  • Use alt text in your images to describe your visual content. This is a great opportunity to improve your SEO while helping both search engines and people to learn more about your images.
  • Manage the pages that search engine crawlers access on your site by guiding them through the robots meta tag. Use the robots meta tag to ensure that search crawlers process each page the way you want them to.
  •  Use canonical tags to avoid having problems with duplicate content that may affect your rankings.
  • Create a checklist of the steps that you need to repeat when you create new content, and turn meta tags into a part of your routine.

Although you can’t see them, meta tags are an integral element to optimise when trying to climb the search engine ranks and understanding their function is the first step towards effective use. If you already have an SEO strategy in place, ask your Account Manager to show you your meta data and explain how it’s been optimised. If you don’t already have an SEO campaign and you’d like to learn more, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Digital Strategists at Diamond SEO via email or give us a call!