First Steps to SEO Success – Meta Tags [And What to Avoid]
It’s been a while since I added to this series. My plan was to finish the series and turn it into an eBook by the end of the year. I guess I better get moving a little.
What We Will Discuss:
- What Are Meta Tags
- What Meta Tags are Deprecated
- What Meta Tags are Important
- Other Meta Tags
So far we have covered:
Now we’re going to talk about one of the more misunderstood and often abused areas of SEO.
What Are Meta Tags?
Meta Tags are not visible when visiting a web page or blog post. They are inserted into the header code of a web page. They provide more information about what the web page or blog post is about. They also provide other information to search engines.
There are meta tags that are useful to search engines, and others that are no longer useful.
If you are using a WordPress site it is easy to add Meta Info. Most SEO plugins assist with providing meta information.
Yoast SEO plugin is my SEO plugin of choice on WordPress. It is the most widely used SEO plugin. Be sure to do your own research to determine what works best for you.
Most CMS or Website builders provide tools to add the appropriate meta information to your site.
If you are building a website with your own code, then you will have to manually add the appropriate code to your web page header section.
Meta Tags are short snippets of code that provide information about what your web page or blog post is about to search engines.
Why Are Some Meta Tags Useful and Others Not?
Let’s start with Meta Keywords.
Meta Keywords used to indicate to a search engine that a web page should be shown when a searcher queries for that keyword.
The problem was website owners and SEOs would stuff this meta tag with irrelevant keywords. This created a negative user experience for people looking for specific information.
Meta Keywords can still be added but it’s pointless as major search engines do not use this information anymore.
Meta Description is used to describe what a web page or blog post is about.
A meta description is a one or two sentence synopses of the web pages content.
Google and other search engines won’t display much more than this.
Meta Descriptions are still very useful. One thing to note is that Google does not always display the meta description in the search results. Many times, Google will opt to display content from the web page or blog post itself.
There is no clear explanation as to why Google might choose to display content from the web page versus using the meta description. It most likely depends on the search query being entered.
This is a typical Meta Description
<meta name=”description” content=”Meta Tags Are an Important Aspect of Search Engine Optimization. Learn what they are and which ones can help you rank on Google”>
Google has stated that using keywords in a meta description will not help your SEO.
Where meta descriptions will help is enticing searchers to click on the web page. Writing a compelling meta description, possibly with a call to action, is more likely to drive traffic than ignoring the meta description or using something generic, or keyword stuffing (which won’t help AT ALL).
If you read my blogs on a regular basis then you will know I talk about engagement all the time. Google uses engagement statistics (bounce rate, time spent on a page, shares, etc..) to determine a page’s relevancy.
If a page has a low bounce rate and good engagement statistics, then there’s a better chance it will rank higher.
If searchers are clicking through a search result because of a well-written meta description, and stay on the page, visit another page on the site, leave a comment or share the page then Google considers the page to be more relevant.
If a page is considered more relevant there’s a good chance the web page moves higher in the search rankings.
Meta descriptions should be 160 characters or less. Short meta descriptions will usually not have great results when shown.
Google has tested longer meta descriptions in the past. As of this writing, the meta descriptions are not parsed beyond 160 characters.
We talked about web page and blog titles and their importance in an earlier blog post.
Title Tags are the meta tag used to tell search engines what the title of the web page should be. This is an important meta tag as well. This might be the most important of the meta tags.
Google will not serve up other information for the title tag. The title of your page might make or break your clicks and visits.
<title>First Steps to SEO Success – Meta Tags [and What Not to Do]</title>
Title tags are probably the most important meta tag for your SEO. This is why I dedicated a separate section to title tags.
Let’s talk a little about what might make the above title successful.
The title describes what the blog post will be about. It also gives the searcher a reason to click through.
The searcher might ask if they are doing something wrong that could be hurting their SEO.
These meta tags are probably the most recognized but there are a lot more. Let’s explore.
Other Meta Tags
Meta Robots Attribute
This tells Google what it should do with your web page or blog post. There are two attributes that you can assign to this tag.
Index/NoIndex tells Google whether the webpage should be indexed on the search engine.
Follow/NoFollow tells Google whether the links on your web page should be trusted (Follow) or not trusted (NoFollow)
There are other meta tags that are specific to social media.
Open Graph was originally specific to Facebook. Open Graph meta tags pass information from your web page to Facebook. This is how Facebook can identify:
- The page title
- The description
- What image to use
- And more
Today Open Graph is used by Pinterest and Google Plus as well.
You can set up Rich Pins for Pinterest. This is an extra step that is done through the Pinterest platform.
Some of the more common open graph meta tags are:
<meta property=”og:title” content=”What Happens When You Stop Doing SEO? [It’s Not Pretty]”/>
<meta property=”og:description” content=”What happens when a business decides to stop doing SEO on their website? The results are pretty dramatic and can impact a business immensely.”/>
<meta property=”og:type” content=”article”/>
<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://www.scottgombar.com/what-happens-when-you-stop-doing-seo-its-not-pretty/”/>
Twitter also has meta tags to do the same. Twitter meta tags are often left out of blogs and web pages. This is a lost opportunity for many site owners.
What About Rich Snippets?
When I created my SEO Checklist several years ago rich snippets were not widely used yet. They still have not been implemented by most of the websites on the internet.
Rich Snippets or Microdata is like Meta Tags in that it provides microdata about a web page to search engines.
Since more is being said about Rich Snippets and their usage on Google’s Search Results Page I will add that to my next blog post in the First Steps to SEO Success Series.
While it has not been declared outright it is possible that one day Rich Snippets (Schema.org) will replace meta tags. Google is relying on the information from rich snippets more and more.
If I were implementing an SEO strategy today I would include both meta tags and rich snippets as part of my strategy.
Next up in this series is Rich Snippets and Schema.org