Meta Tags for SEO
Meta tags have long been used, and misused, to help a website’s rankings. But what are they?
“Meta tags are a great way for webmasters to provide search engines with information about their sites. Meta tags can be used to provide information to all sorts of clients, and each system processes only the meta tags they understand and ignores the rest.”
(Google link: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/79812?hl=en)
In other words, meta tags are pointers to search engines to help them index and categorise your website.
Have a look at your website, whilst viewing the website right-click on some empty space and choose ‘view page source’ (using Google Chrome, ‘view source’ in internet explorer) you will see a lot of code, but toward the top, you will see something like this:
This meta tag is very important to tell your browser the type of document and the charset to use.
The content type has the following attribute values:
This is the standard form of this meta, it tells the browser that the document’s content is of a type, in this case, TEXT/HTML and the charset, here UTF-8 is defined, this is the standard western European character set, others include Latin A, Han for East and so on.
This version allows you to specify your preferred stylesheet, it must match the link to the stylesheet exactly.
It is important to use this version carefully. It will cause the page to fail W3C’s web content accessibility guidelines. This meta is used to refresh the page after a certain period of milliseconds. An example use would be to redirect the page to another.Here the browser will redirect the user to a different URL after 3 seconds.
This gives your page its title, you can usually see the output of this on the tabs in your browser or on the top bar of the browser.
You should ensure your keyword or phrase for your page is the first part of the title followed by any secondary keyword or phrase and finish with the brand.
Don’t cram the title with repetition, remember that you are writing your website for real people, not bots and machines. Make it easy to read and keep the length between 50-60 characters.
Google uses your title and description tags to build its listing for your website. Because of this, it is important to make it readable by real people.
The meta description tag provides a summary of what your web page, this should not be between 100-160 characters long. This ensures it is long enough to describe the page but doesn’t go beyond the 160-character limit.
In 2009 Google declared that it didn’t include the meta description as a factor in its ranking algorithm. So why is it important? Google don’t need the description to summarise the page for their bot, it garners that information from the entire page. The description is important to help humans, your customers, visitors, readers etc. So, again it is important to ensure the content is targeted at humans and not crammed with your keywords. You can/should include the keyword or phrase to help the visitors understand what your page is about.
With the title, the description meta make up your listing advert in Google search results (other search engines are available!). Write your title and description to be just that, an advert that provides a compelling copy for real people. It should encourage the viewer to visit your website, nothing more nothing less. Writing an attractive ad is your goal when writing your title and description.
These days the keyword meta isn’t really used for SEO. In fact, Google makes it very clear it doesn’t use the keyword meta within its ranking algorithm. In fact, most major search engines don’t use them at all. Some directories may use them but it is hard to find any that do.
One very important word of advice, if you choose to use the keyword meta, do not repeat your keywords over and over. Google will take this as a flag that your website is a spam site and remove your listing.
Unimportant Meta Tags
There are lots of other meta tags you could use such as; keywords, author, geo tags, open graph, Twitter data and so on. However, these don’t really have any bearing on your websites search engine optimisation. These tags, whilst helping the way your website or web page is shared aren’t included in the Google algorithm and are therefore unimportant to the actual SEO.
A lot of systems such as WordPress, Zen Cart, Magento etc. that add your meta tags automatically for you. Don’t rely on these, make sure you are in full control of your meta tags, that way you will know they are working to improve the overall visibility of the website. A good SEO campaign will start with the meta tags to ensure they are working for you and aren’t doing your website any harm. Some systems and, sadly, developers who ignore the meta tags altogether, this is a big mistake. In this case, Google will have a guess and take the title from the first heading and the description from your first paragraph, this can really harm the effectiveness of your website.
Not sure what meta tags you have on each page of your website? Check them now to make sure they are working for you. A good rule of thumb when it comes to SEO is one keyword for each page, there are exceptions to this, but this generally works well for most websites.