What are Meta Tags and how do they affect SEO?
If you’ve had a website made or have any knowledge of website creation you’ve undoubtedly heard of “meta tags”. Well what are meta tags and what is their purpose?
There are multiple kinds of meta tags used for websites including meta keywords, meta descriptions, meta titles, meta author, and specialty meta tags used by various services like Facebook. This post will focus on the basic three meta tags and their relation to search engine optimization – meta keywords, meta descriptions, and meta titles.
Meta tags are, in essence, pieces of information associated with every unique webpage and are designed to help search engines classify and present the information contained in that page. So then, using that description, it becomes clear that meta titles are titles describing the page content in a few short words, meta descriptions are longer descriptions of the content contained in the page, and meta keywords are words or phrases that classify the content on the page.
Let’s look at each of these items individually to get a better understanding of their role on the internet and their usefulness for search engine optimization.
Meta titles are simply user created titles of a page. These titles are used in three places
- Search engine results pages (SERPs)
- Browser tab titles
- Links to a page such as on Facebook.
Let’s focus on how they show up and their affect on search engine results pages. When a search engine crawler (the program that searches and classifies for internet for search engines read our post what is SEO?) looks at a web page, one of the items the crawler will see and store is the title tag. This title tag will usually,but not always, be the title presented to searchers when your page is in the SERP. Of all the meta properties, it is widely believed that the title tag is the only one that can directly affect your search engine score.
Some advice on creating great title tags
- Make it descriptive and keyword rich
- Brand the title. For example at Black Tag Design our “web development” page has the title tag “Web Development – Black Tag Design”
- Keep it short, under 55 characters total. If you violate this rule the title will be truncated and an ellipses will be added.
Meta descriptions are a user assigned description of the content of a page. This will show up on SERPs and on links to the page such as from Facebook. The meta description is one of the most important things that can be assigned to a page for search engine performance. However, search engines give absolutely no weight to the content of a meta description (see what Google said about meta keywords and meta descriptions in 2009 ). Let me explain. Search engines completely ignore everything in the meta descriptions tag in terms of their ranking algorithm, it is strictly informational for search engine users. So why is it so important? Meta descriptions are often the second impression your website can make on a searcher after the title. The meta description is so critical for click through that ignoring it or creating poor descriptions can be devastating to search engine click through rates. Generally, pages in the search engine results with non descriptive, messy, or “shady” looking meta descriptions will not be clicked on by searchers.
Some tips for Meta Descriptions
- Make it descriptive to the content, in other words, match the meta description to the content. Forget about stuffing in keywords or your brand name. Mention your brand if you wish, but in an organic way. Remember that you are speaking directly to people, not search engine programs.
- Keep them between 150 and 160 characters. Anything over 160 is generally truncated, anything under 150 is considered short.
This section will by far be the shortest. Meta keywords are completely useless for search engine results. They are (as far as I know) never visible to search engine users (like the meta description is), and Google made a public announcement in 2009 that meta keywords were not a factor in their search engine ranking algorithm. Save your time and skip adding meta keywords.