Meta Description, Meta Keywords, RDFa tags, Rich Snippets, now we’ve got Facebook Instant Articles and AMP settings to worry about. The list continues to grow, should you be interested ?
How many times have we heard this before. ‘I can guarantee getting you to the top of Google’ (i’d like to point out the only company that can in any way ‘Guarantee’ this is Google themselves!). Just add the right meta descriptions and your website will spontaneously rise to the top, right? Errr… Survey says NO! But that does not mean we should ignore this important aspect of SEO.
Meta tags might be one piece in a large algorithmic puzzle that major search engines look at when deciding which results are relevant to show users who have typed in a search query but they also have other uses and hep with conversion so should not be overlooked.
Their younger cousins’ Schema tagging and rich data snippets are in my opinion the most important (and somewhat quietly announced) change to how your site interacts with the search engines and the search spiders in years, but I’ll save that for another blog post.
While there is some debate about which meta tags remain useful these days and which are important to search engines, meta tags definitely aren’t a magic solution to gaining rankings in Google, Yahoo, Bing, or anywhere else for that matter. So let’s kill that idea before we get started.
Meta data has a purpose. Simply put it helps tell search engines and users what your site is about and if we include some of the new kids on the block like ‘Rich Snippets’ and ‘RDFa Tags’ you can include information such as Authorship, Prices of Products, page descriptions or even when an event is taking place. However any budding webmaster should be aware when meta tags are implemented badly, the negative impact can be substantial and heartbreaking.
First we’re going to look at what meta tags are, what meta tags matter, and how to avoid mistakes when implementing meta tags on your website.
What Are Meta Tags?
The official definition : HTML meta tags are page data tags that lie between the open and closing head tags in the HTML code of a document.
The text in these tags is not displayed, but parsable and tells the browsers (or other web services) specific information about the page. Simply, it “explains” the page so a browser can understand it.
Here’s a code example of meta tags:
<head> <title>My website’s page title </title> <meta name=”description” content=“Here is where you would put your metta description”> <meta http-equiv=”content-type” content=”text/html;charset=UTF-6″> </head>
Is The Title Tag Meta Data ?
Although the title tag appears in the head block of the page, it isn’t actually a meta tag.
What’s the difference? The title tag is a required page “element” and is used by Some social medai sharing options, as well as appearing for example along the tab bar of Google Chrome. Meta tags on the other hand are optional page descriptors.
The Description Meta Tag
This is what the description tag looks like:
<meta name=”description” content=“Metta Description lives here“>
Ideally, your description should be no longer than 155 characters (including spaces). However, check the search engine results page (SERP) of choice to confirm this. Some are longer and some are shorter. This is only a rule of thumb, not a definite “best practice” anymore.
The “description” meta tag is useful in several ways :
Meta Description Tags tell search engines what your page or site is all about: For the search engine to understand what your page is about, you need to write a good description. When Google’s algorithm decides a description is badly written or inaccurate, it will replace that description with its own version of what is on the page.
Wouldn’t you prefer to describe your site to potential customers or visitors using your own words rather than leaving it to Google to snip out a piece of text from the page? If you loo at the example below, is that really the best 2 lines of text to describe your business to potential customers?
Meta Description Tags help with click through rates to your site: Writing a good description means Google is less likely to ’rewrite it’ and therefore you can choose the message to encourage more people to click through to your site. A well-written description not only tells users what is on your page, but also entices them to visit your site. A description is what shows up here in the search engine results. It is like good merchandising in a shop window.
Sites with poor descriptions will get less click throughs and the search engines will demote your site in preferences to other sites.
There seems to be a common misconception that the biggest, most complicated sites will always retain the top spot on Google but from experience this is absolute rubbish. Of course traffic volume helps but what Google actually wants is a well indexed, easily readable site that follows the guidelines they have laid out to webmasters. If you do all the basics well, in my experience, your half way there because many other webmasters miss the school boy stuff.
Meta Description Tags helps with site rankings: The common belief (based on what Google said in 2009) is that nothing in the description will help you get rankings. However, I have seen evidence to the contrary. Is it heavily weighted? No, but if you want to create some value on a secondary keyword (say an –ing –ed or –s), use it here.
2 other points on meta descriptions:
Empty Description Fields: Can a description be empty? Yes. When it is empty Google and Bing will fill it in for you. In fact, sometimes (for blogs) you may prefer Google’s or Bing’s version. I always fill it in whenever possible, preferring my version to theirs (if you have a small staff, this isn’t always practical.)
Quotation Marks: Don’t use full quotation marks (“”) in your description. It will likely cut off your description. Use single quotes (‘’)to avoid this issue.
The Keywords Meta Tag
In ages past, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and connecting to the internet took a telephone line, 20 minutes and some of the weirdest sounds imaginable, the ‘keywords’ meta tag was a critical element for early search engines. Much like the dinosaurs, this tag is a fossil from ancient search engine times.
The only search engine that looks at the keywords anymore is Microsoft’s Bing. 3 guesses what they use it for? – For spotting spam!
Typing a long list of keywords and competitor terms on each of your website pages is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. In my opinion to avoid hurting your site, your best option would be to never add meta keywords.
If that’s too radical for you to stomach and your still planning on stuffing 300 keywords in the hopes of higher search rankings. It won’t work. Sorry. Oh and just to make things worse SEO specialists are now crawling sites and using meta keywords to understand what competitor’s websites are focussing their online marketing around.
If you already have keyword meta tags on your website, but they aren’t spammy, I’m not suggesting you spend all night desperately deleting them from your site. It’s OK to leave them for now – just take them out as soon as you’re able, to reduce page weight and load times.
Other Meta Tags
There are many other meta tags, but none are really considered useful in 2014. Many of the tags that we used did things like:
Told the spider when to come back
<meta name=”revisit-after” content=”30 days”>
Told the browser the distribution
< meta name=”distribution” content=“web”>
Told the page to refresh
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=“30″>
Told the page to redirect/refresh
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”x_seconds; url=http://www.yourhost.com/pagetosendto.html”>
Most of these are not of any use anymore, either because there are better ways (such as schema tagging or server side methods) or because the engines they used to work on are no longer in existence, Google has explicitly stated that some of these tags are not a good idea (such as redirects at the page level).
Robots Meta Tag
The robots tag is still one of the most important tags. Not so much for the proper implementation, but the improper.
The robots meta tag lets you specify that a particular page should not be indexed by a search engine or if you do or do not want links on the page followed. It’s not full-proof you are requesting spiders not to crawl, not banning them from doing so, some choose to ignore this request – particularly less reputable crawler bots.
Believe it or not, it is still common for a site to be completely de-indexed and almost impossible to find on the internet because a rather green webmaster accidentally added a noindex tag to the entire site. Understanding this tag is vitally important.
Here are the 4 methods to implement Robots Meta Tag and what they mean.
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”>
This means: “Do not Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page.” Your page will drop OUT of the search index AND your links to other pages will not be followed. This will break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
This tag is most often used when a site is in development. A developer will noindex/nofollow the pages of the site to keep them from being picked up by the search engines, they then forget to remove the tag and a month later get a rather angry call from a website owner with no traffic. When launching your new website, do not trust it has been removed. DOUBLE CHECK! THEN TRIPLE CHECK!
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”INDEX, NOFOLLOW”>
This means: “Do Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page.” Your page WILL be in the index AND your links to other pages will not be followed. This will break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, FOLLOW”>
This means: “Do not Index this page. Do follow the links on the page.” Your page will drop OUT of the index BUT your links to other pages will be followed. This will NOT break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”INDEX, FOLLOW”>
This means: “Do Index this page. Do follow the links on the page.” This means your page WILL be in the index AND your links to other pages will be followed. This will NOT break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
As mentioned previously, robots tags may be ignored by less scrupulous spiders.
While meta tags aren’t the magical solution that you may have heard, even today they still play an important role in helping your site get found in search engines and perhaps more importantly help your conversions. Do I believe their importance will keep falling as Schema tags and data highlighting becomes more common – Yes.
Does that mean that you can afford to ignore them – No!