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. Some of them are crucial to any good SEO campaign, but not all of them are worth your time. The most well-known meta tags are meta descriptions tags, meta content type tags and title tags.
In the mid-2000s, keyword tags were seen as very important, and were very prone to manipulation and keyword stuffing. As a result, Google began to ignore keyword tags altogether. They 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.
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!
It’s 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.
Google doesn’t think too highly about duplicate content, and duplicate description tags are no exception to this rule.
Meta content type
Web pages are often packed full of text. But a browser (like Chrome) wouldn’t be as effective at displaying 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.
Title tags are one of the most important on-page attributes for SEO, 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, misuse can result in Google penalties. Implemented correctly however, and they’re a potent tool in the SEO toolbox.
Each page should have a relevant, descriptive and unique title tag of its own, ideally containing your most important target keyword within it (so long, of course, as that keyword is relevant to that page).
- Uniqueness is key. Make sure that each page has a completely different title tag to avoid duplicate content and keyword cannibalisation issues.
- Short and sweet. Title tags should be 50-60 characters long
- 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.
Title tags are often considered to be one of the most important foundational elements of good SEO strategy, so make sure to get this one right!
Heading tags are similar to meta tags, but are visible to users, as they dictate the heading hierarchy of any given web page. Find out more on our heading tags page.