Nowadays, SEO is a complicated business (that people often outsource). Each year brings new guidelines as to what does and doesn’t boost your website’s performance in search rankings. This means that simpler, more fundamental elements of SEO can be forgotten. One of these elements is meta tags. While meta tags have been around for a while, that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective when it comes to improving your search ranking. 

Did you know that 93 Ninety-three percent of online experiences begin with a search engine? When it comes to improving your SEO strategy, it’s essential to focus on the basics and ensure your site is being indexed correctly by Google. That’s ultimately what determines if you’re part of the majority of those online experiences or not. 

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into meta tags – why you should use them, where you should use them, and best practices for using them.  

Why You Should Use Meta Tags

One of the reasons that meta tags have been somewhat forgotten about in recent years is that they no longer directly impact Google SEO rankings. The Page Rank algorithm no longer pays any attention to meta tags when assessing your page’s authority. However, this does not mean that meta tags aren’t useful pieces of content. Far from it, in fact. 

First of all, it’s important to understand what meta tags were designed to do. Back before the advent of AI-driven search engines that intelligently read your pages’ content, indexing web pages was performed by looking at two things: the cookies a site placed on users’ browsers, and meta tags. 

They Play a Role In Indexing Your Site

Meta tags still affect the indexing of your site in several key ways. They allow Google to understand your pages’ content so that they will appear more frequently in searches for particular keywords. In addition, effective use of meta tags can boost your keywords ranking. This means that even if they don’t directly increase your performance on search engines, they can have a dramatic effect on how well you rank for certain keywords. This makes it crucial for you to implement effective keyword research so you can determine what keywords you want to be using in your content and meta tags. 

They Help Users Find Your Content

Meta tags aren’t all technical. There are more user-related reasons to use them, allowing people to find what they are looking for more easily. How? Well, the information included in meta tags is commonly read by a variety of other user-facing systems. In fact, many email marketing systems will display page previews based on meta-tag data, as will content syndication engines.

They Sharpen Your Skills 

Finally, learning how to use meta tags will simply give you more control over your site and arm you with a new skill. Digital skills training is recognized as highly important among marketing professionals, with 89 percent stating digital skills training would make them more successful in their role. Being able to deploy meta tags effectively is one element of this.

Where to Use Meta Tags

Most website owners will be aware of at least one type of meta tag – the one that goes at the top of each page and appears on SERPs. However, this is just one type of meta tag, and most eCommerce platforms will allow you to place meta tags in at least five different places on your site: 

  1. The most familiar type of meta tag is the title tag. This sits at the top of the HTML code for each of your pages and appears on the SERPs as a preview description of that page. Each of your pages should have a unique, descriptive, useful title meta tag.
  2. The meta description tag is an extension of the title tag. It acts as a more detailed description of the content on a particular page and is crucial in drawing visitors to your pages. Both of these tags are commonly used, and it’s likely that you’ve already deployed them on your website. 
  3. The canonical tag is a way of indicating that a particular page is unique. This is particularly useful if you have dozens of nearly identical product pages because if Google doesn’t have a canonical tag to read, it will assume they are all copies of each other and mark you down in the SERPs for duplicate content. 
  4. The alt tag is an image optimization tag that makes your images more easily accessible for search engines and human users alike. This tag is very under-utilized, but if your site has a lot of images, using it can have a dramatic impact on your SEO. This tag is particularly useful for photographers.
  5. Finally, the header tag is similar to the title tag but appears in-line on your pages rather than at the top of the page. This tag is designed to allow you to break up long pages into sections and to have a unique meta tag for each section. This helps Google to understand what a particular page contains, and therefore helps your search ranking.

Ideally, you should be using all of these types of tags. However, merely writing a description of each page, image, and section is not enough. In order for your meta tags to perform well, you’ll also need to write them up in a particular way. 

How To Use Meta Tags

There are a number of key principles when it comes to writing and using meta tags on your site. You are probably familiar with some of these – such as the character limit – from writing title tags. However, writing effective meta tags can be a complex art form. Here are some tips:

  1. Most importantly, keep it short. Google’s limit on meta description length is approximately 158 characters for desktop users, and 120 for mobile users. However, far less than this amount is actually displayed in page previews. Google typically displays only 55 to 61 characters. So make sure that all of the important information is in the first 60 characters.
  2. Choose one or (maximum) two target keywords, and use them naturally in your meta tags. Don’t crowd them in, or simply list them, because this will give a bad impression of your site to human users.
  3. Nowadays, you can include your logo, company name, and website URL in meta tags, and you definitely should. This helps users associate content with your brand, and in the long-term, helps with brand recognition more generally. This is particularly important if you are syndicating your content or writing guest posts, where you request that your branding goes into meta tags on the third-party site.
  4. Wherever possible, use efficient modifiers like “Best”, “Top”, “Buy”, “Easy”, “How To”, “Current”, “Review”, or “Find”. People use these terms very frequently in search requests (even if Google Page Rank doesn’t pay much attention to them anymore) and so they boost your pages’ performance dramatically.
  5. Google recommends that all title tags be 100 percent unique, and the company has hinted that replicated title tags result in a penalty on your pages’ rank. Therefore, you should try and make every tag across all the types we’ve mentioned above, totally unique. This might be difficult if you have hundreds (or thousands) of pages or images, but it is worth slowly working through all of them over the course of a few months.
  6. Don’t vary the keyword. Though getting the same keyword into each meta tag can be a trying process, this is absolutely necessary for your pages to perform well. For all its cleverness, the Google algorithm still doesn’t completely understand the relationship between similar phrases. If you are looking to use meta tags to boost your keyword performance, make sure that your keyword is the same in each page and tag.

Though SEO can sometimes feel like a huge, complex, daunting subject, there are some basics that it pays to get right. Meta tags are one of those. Not only can meta tags increase your SEO, but they also have another huge advantage over more complex techniques: adding them is totally free. They’re an effective way to maximize your results without adding costs to your marketing budget

Follow some of the techniques above, and see how far they get you. Sometimes, the simple approach is the best one, so make sure you’ve got your meta tags in place before you blow your marketing budget on expensive consultants!

Author Bio

Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.