Meta Tags: Title Tags, Meta Descriptions And Others
Meta tags are text snippets in the code of a web page. Invisible to site visitors, if handled skilfully they can have a huge effect on SEO.
What meta tags mean for SEO
Site users cannot always see meta tags and heading tags. But these invisible pieces of code have a huge effect on the way a page looks, on whether users choose to visit a page, and, crucially, on how a page performs in search engines.
Anyone serious about SEO needs a good grasp of what they do, and how to best harness them to improve page rankings. SEO agencies can do this with the help of analytical software and skilled writers. The key to using these tags effectively is to keep in mind the way they impact an optimised web page’s two audiences: the user and the search engine.
Meta tags are contained in the header of a web page’s source code, so they are not visible to site users. (Unless, of course, the users decide to view the source code.) As Moz explain in their meta tag overview, there are at least 20 different kinds of meta tags. Some of them are crucial to any good SEO campaign, but not all of them are worth your time. The most well-known of meta tags are keyword tags, meta descriptions, meta content type tags and title tags.
In the mid-2000s, keyword tags were seen as very important, and some developers would simply stuff their code with keyword tags relevant to their industry. As a result, Google and other search engines began to ignore keyword tags altogether, and give penalties to those who continued to overuse them. They now have no effect at all on SEO rankings.
Other meta tags like author, generator, cache control, and refresh will have equally little impact on your site’s performance for visitors or search engines alike, any good SEO agency will safely ignore them and move on to the important ones: meta content type, meta description, and title tag.
A meta description is a short paragraph of information, normally about 160 characters, that describes the contents of a web page. A page’s position in search engine results is not affected by its meta description, but that doesn’t mean it is not important to SEO. Google is constantly experimenting, and the length and importance of a meta description has changed over time.
Google sometimes displays meta descriptions as the snippets underneath the page title and url in search results, but this is not always the case.
On other occasions, Google takes a short extract from a page that is most relevant to the user’s search query and displays that snippet instead. To have the maximum control over what searchers will see, an SEO agency will optimise your meta description with relevant keywords, but don’t keyword stuff!
As Google’s Matt Cutts explains, these descriptions are important to any conversion-focused approach to SEO, as they give web users a chance to decide if they want to visit the page or not, and if they have found what they were searching for.
With this in mind, it is important to make meta descriptions as compelling as possible, and to have them act as mini advertisements for a page. SEO agencies can help write attention-grabbing copy with relevant keywords for maximum appeal for site visitors and search engines alike.
According to Moz, duplicate meta descriptions can harm your rankings, so each one has to be original.
Meta content type
Web pages like this one are packed full of text. But a browser (like Chrome or Edge) would not know how to display this information without a meta content type tag.
The content type tag tells browsers which character set to use, which changes the way text will look on the screen. Think of it like a song. The text of a web page is like the sheet music, and the content type tag tells the browser which instrument to perform it on.
Title tags do not begin with the word ‘meta’ in the code, but they are still generally considered meta tags. Whichever way you choose to categorise them, title tags are very important to search engines and users as they tell both what the page is called, and appear in search engine results no matter what.
For search engine rankings, title tags are one of the most important on-page attributes, second only to actual page content. When search engine spiders crawl web pages they look for relevant keywords in title tags. This is then a major factor in determining a page’s position.
Because search engines place so much emphasis on the title tags, mal-usage is subject to severe penalties. Done correctly however, they are a quick and easy way to maximise on-page optimisation.
Many consider title tags to be the single most important place to utilise keywords. So each page should have a relevant, descriptive and unique title tag of its own.
- Uniqueness is key. Make sure that each page has a completely different title tag to avoid duplicate content issues.
- Short and sweet. Title tags should be under 70 characters.
- Best foot first. Place important keywords at the start of the title tag.
- For branding: Bigger brands should place the brand name at the start of the title tag, as it will help affect rankings for brand searches. Smaller brands should place the brand name at the end of the title tag.
SEO agencies will bear all these factors in mind in order to choose the perfect wording for a title tag.
Heading tags are similar to meta tags though they are always visible to site visitors. Writing them involves similar principles of using keyword without bordering on keyword-stuffing. Find out more on our heading tags page.
Meta tags reading list
The following pages may be helpful if you would like to learn more about meta tags and their role in SEO: