What are meta tags?
HTML meta tags are commonly used to specify additional information about a specific page. This data will not be displayed on page and is only visible in the source code of the page.
The metadata is usually used by browsers (being indications about how to display certain content or to reload page after a time interval), search engines (keywords, description, content author), or other web services (Google Webmaster, Bing, Alexa to validate website ownership by adding a meta tag).
The most used meta tags are description, keywords and author. These are also the most important meta tags for SEO, because will be used by search engines to display information about your website in SERP (search engine results page).
Nowadays, these tags are no longer a determining factor for SERP, but it is still highly recommended to use some of them.
HTML Title Tag
Although the title tag shows up in the head of the page, it isn’t really a meta tag. The title tag is a required page “element” according to W3C.
This isn’t only a required HTML element, but is also the most important SEO factor. A inappropriate title tag usage is one of the most common SEO mistakes. Many beginners leave this field empty, use too long titles or very irrelevant titles in relation to the page content.
The title of each page should have a meaning and should not be just a sequence of keywords for which you want to appear in search engine results page.
Each page of your website should have a unique title and must contain the keywords / phrase for which you want the page to be found in search engines. The title should be also found in the page content at least one time. Also, it’s good to be found at least once in meta description.
Length: Do not use very long page titles! Search engines will crop them. A recommended length of page title is between 40 and 70 characters (including spaces).
Keyword Order: Your most important keywords need to be placed at the beginning of the title. The less important keywords should be placed at the end of the title.
Stop Words: Some of the SEO experts will advise you to remove the connection words such: as, and, if, but, then, at, etc. These are called “stop words” and are considered to be ignored by search engines. Yet, in some situations, usage of these words can increase page CTR (click through rate), due to a more natural look in search engine results.
Phrases / Keywords Separators: If you are using multiple keywords / phrases in title, I advise you to separate them using “|” symbol (no underscores, dashes, commas, unless the keyword is written that way). If you want people to see that the results are offered by a specific brand, you can add your brand name in title (at the end), separated by pipe symbol from the rest of the title.
Do not repeat same keywords / phrases multiple times in title (max. one instance if you are focusing on a phrase, max. two instances for a short keyword).
It is also important that a page does not have a title optimized only for search engines, but also a title that would make users to click on your website in SERP. A page with a high click through rate (CTR) will rank better than a page with a low CTR. Page CTR is calculated using next formula:
CTR = Clicks / Impressions * 100
Description Meta Tag
Meta description is the most important meta tag for SEO (because title is not a meta tag, but a required HTML element). This tag must contain a brief description of the content of a particular page.
Search engines often use the text contained by this meta tag as a short description for your website on search results page. If this is not set, the search engines will automatically try to summarize the page content and will display a automatically generated description. In some cases, if the page is inaccessible for some reasons for Google bots, Google can even use the site description from Dmoz.org directory if the website is indexed there. Dmoz.org (known as The Open Directory) is a web directory owned by Google which accepts only valuable websites.
If this meta tag provides a not very relevant description of a page, the search engines can choose to ignore it and therefore will generate another, more relevant page description.
Although no longer as important as in the past for search engines (no longer a Google ranking factor), meta description can certainly influence the number of clicks received from search engines results. A manual description, made by man, it is more appealing than a automatically generated description by crawlers.
A higher CTR will also help your website to be displayed in a better position in the search results.
Length: Optimal length of meta description is about 150-160 characters (including spaces). A longer description will be automatically cut in search results.
Content: A good, SEO optimized meta description is a text snippet that you consider to be most relevant to that page. In short, we can consider meta description as a very short summary of the content of a given page.
Tips: Meta description should contain all keywords for which you want that page to be optimized for, but in the same time, should be a cursive phrase, a description meant to encourage potential visitors to click on your website.
Never use a list of keywords as a page description. Search engines will consider this spam and a desperate attempt to rank better in SERP. This action will only attract penalties for your website. I recommend you to use a keyword in meta description for 1 or 2 times (depending of the length of the chosen keyword). If it’s a long keyword, use it only once. If it’s a short one, you can use it twice.
Use action-oriented verbs at the beginning of the meta description to increase CTR. Good examples are usage of: “learn”, “discover”, “download”, “grab”, ”find out” or any other words that encourages visitors to take action.
Don’t use fake descriptions only in hope that your website will gain more clicks! This will only make your website to rank poor in SERP and even if you’ll cheat few visitors to click your page, they won’t stay long there. This will lead to an increased bounce rate (will talk later about this) and automatically to a worse position in search results.
Just like in the case of titles, it is very important to specify a unique description for each page of your website.
Also meta description is grabbed by some of the social networks when someone shares your link to display a short description of your page. This can increase the chance for someone to access your link.
Meta keywords tag was a very important meta tag in the past for SEO. Fortunately, today, this meta tag has no longer any value for the major search engines.
Some small search engines still recommending use of this meta tag, but it’s up to you if you want to include this tag or not.
This meta tag consists in a list of your chosen keywords for which you want your website to be displayed in search engine results.
There aren’t many aspects to mention about it. Just specify several keywords that are found in the content, separated by commas. Don’t use more than 10 keywords.
This keywords should be also found in the page title and meta description and should be relevant to respective page content.
This tag has been around for some time, but not many website owners know how to use it correctly. This meta tag contains indications for web robots, allowing them to index/not index or follow/not follow that page or links on that page (it’s quite similar to robots.txt). However, besides these common values of robots meta tag, there ar also few additional values, like: none, noimageindex , noarchive, nocache, nosnippet, noodp and noydir.
By default, search engines bots will index a page and will follow the links on it. So there’s no need to add robots meta tag to pages with content values of INDEX or FOLLOW.
If you want to specify the same rule for all robots, set the name attribute to ROBOTS. If you want to limit the robots access of a particular search engine, you can set the name attribute to GOOGLEBOT (for Google), BINGBOT (for Bing), SLURP (for Yahoo), TEOMA (for Ask).
A typical example:
<META NAME=”ROBOTS” CONTENT=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”>
Let’s explain each possible value for CONTENT attribute:
Allow the respective page to be included in the search index.
Prevents the respective page from being included in the search index.
Disallow search engines from indexing images on that page.
It’s a short form of NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW.
Allow search engines to follow the links on the page.
Prevents robots from following any links on the page.
Prevents the search engines from displaying a cached copy of that page.
Prevents a description from being displayed below the page in the search results. Also, will prevent caching of the page. This value is not supported by Yahoo search.
Same as Noarchive, but only used by MSN/Live.
Blocks the Dmoz (Open Directory Project) description of the respective page from being used as the page snippet in the search results.
Only supported by Yahoo. Blocks Yahoo search from using the description for this page in the Yahoo directory as the description for your page in the search results.
Language Meta Tag
The purpose of this meta tag is to indicate the language in which your website is in for web crawlers. This will help some search engines to display better results for each language, but I do not know how much will really help SEO adding this meta tag. Search engines have become smart enough to recognize by its own the language of a specific page. Perhaps in the past, this meta tag had greater value than today.
If you want, you may add these language meta tags to all of website pages, so not only for the home page.
An example of the structure of this meta tag is:
<meta name=”language” content=”en-us” />
That’s all for meta tags for now. There are also few other meta tags, but I don’t think you should charge your memory with them. Those tags doesn’t have a significant value for SEO. For now, you need to keep in mind “title” tags and “meta description“. Use them properly and your website will have only to win in terms of SEO.