What are meta tags?
Meta tags are bits of text associated with aspects of your webpages. They explain what the page is about to search engines and their users, and display in search engines. They affect search engine rankings and clickthrough rates.
Types of meta tags
There are several different meta tags. Here, we're going to talk about the three that are highly relevant to SEO: title tags, meta descriptions, and keywords tags. Lastly, image alt tags technically aren't meta tags, but they accomplish similar tasks.
Title tags (50-60 characters)
Title tags are vastly important to SEO. They show up in 2 places.
1. In browser tabs - meta tags display in your tab or window. Bookmarked pages automatically save the title tag as the name for the book mark as well.
2. In search engine results - this is the vastly important part. Let's say it again, shall we? Title tags display in search engine results.
This means a couple of things. Number one, the words in your title tag tell Google and friends what your page is about. If your page is about wonderful types of trail mix, you absolutely need to have the words "trail mix" in the title.
Number two, the title tag is the first thing a user sees when browsing search engine results pages (SERPs). Write a compelling title tag! It could encourage more people to click!
Title tags should contain keywords that 1) relate to the page's content, and 2) attract users to click.
Most websites have already written back-end code so you can enter title tags without coding.
<title>Title Tag Goes Here</title>
Meta descriptions (150-160 characters)
Meta descriptions also display in search engines, but they do not directly affect rankings. They may, however, affect clickthrough rates. Meta tags over 160 characters will likely be truncated.
Although, in our opinion, their weight is significantly less than that of title tags, they shouldn't be ignored.
A few things to note:
- Search engines sometimes create their own meta descriptions. If Google doesn't like your meta description, they may automatically generate their own. They also may change depending on the search. If your page contains relevant information, for example, in the body of the page, Google may display a chunk of text they deem relevant as the meta description.
- Meta tags that contain searched keywords display in bold. in the ESPN search result above, "ESPN" is bold because I searched Google for "espn".
- People scanning search engine results pages for very specific information often use these descriptions to determine which result is best for their needs.
Most websites have already written back-end code so you can enter meta descriptions without coding.
<meta name="description" content="Meta description tag goes here.">
Meta keywords are outdated, and are not used by most search engines.
In the "olden" days (really just 10ish years back), search engines used meta keywords to determine what your content is about. But the internet has changed dramatically since then: bots are better at crawling and deciphering page information and quality. So today, content speaks for itself, and meta keywords are largely ignored.
Some SEOs recommend deleting them if you already have them. In our opinion, don't waste your time creating them. If you currently have them, and they contain spammy amounts, delete them. If not, don't worry about it.
Some websites have already written back-end code so you can enter meta keywords without coding. Many don't bother because meta keywords are largely ignored by search engines.
<meta name="keywords" content="keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, etc.">
The meta robots tags are simple; they tell search engines whether or not to "index" a page and whether or not to "follow" the page.
- Index - By default, webpages tell search engines to "index" the page. This means search engines can find the page and put it in their search results. For pages you want hidden from search engines, use "noindex"
- Follow - Be default, webpages tell search engines to "follow" the page. This means search engines will scan for links within the page and begin crawling those linked pages. For pages you don't want to be followed, use "nofollow"
Recommendation: Let search engines index and follow all of your pages, unless you have specific reasons not to. For example, you may have a pay-per-click landing page you don't want to appear in search results. In most cases, give yourself the best chance to rank, and let search engines index and follow your pages.
Some websites have already written back-end code so you can "noindex" or "nofollow" without coding.
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow">
Image alt tags
While alt tags technically aren't meta tags, they serve a similar purpose. Similar to how title tags tell search engines what your page is about, image alt tags tell search engines the contents of your images. Quality images with descriptive alt tags that contain the right keywords may display in image search results.
An "espn website" Google Image search yielded the following image.
Create alt tags that contain keywords related to your page. If they display in search engine results, searchers may click your image, click your page, and get to your website.
Many websites have already written back-end code so you can enter image alt tags without coding.
<img src="image-file.jpg" alt="Image alt tag description.">
Meta tags: the SEO difference-maker
Great content will get lost if meta tags are't given the attention they deserve. Meta tags — particularly title tags — are the first thing displayed in search engines. They are the first thing your potential customer sees when they are searching for your product or service. Not only that, they tell Google and friends what your content is about.
If you sell Crayons, and you create a beautiful blog post about how your Crayons create beautiful art and provide fun for kids, you better have a strong title tag or your great content will unfortunately go to waste in organic search.