What are Meta Tags?

Meta tags are a great way for Webmasters to provide search engines with information about their sites. (They) can be used to provide information to all sorts of clients, and each system processes only the meta tags they understand and ignores the rest. (They) are added to the <head> section of your HTML page. (GOOGLE)

Meta tags are used to describe the content of the page. They usually specify a Meta description for the page, keywords that describe the content of the page, information about the author and the last time the document was modified. All Meta tags are not visible to the users when viewing the page but appear only in the source code of the page.

Probably from your own experience from the web, while being on blogs you have noticed that many bloggers use tags on each article to describe its content but also as a way to help users navigate to similar content tagged with the same keyword. Meta tags are used in a similar way to tell the search engines what the page is about with the difference that they are not visible to the users. These tags only exist in HTML usually at the “head” of the page. The “meta” stands for “metadata”, which is the kind of information that these tags provide about the page.  

Do Meta Tags help SEO?

There are several tags that are very important for SEO and other that they do not matter so much. On this guide we will try to explain which ones are the most important that can help you get the word out and which ones Google and other search engines do not attribute so much attention anymore.

If you would like to find out which Meta tags are being used by a page, just right click anywhere on the page and select “View Page Source”. This will open a new tab in your browser. The Meta tags will be located at the top part of the page, between the <head> <head> tags.

What Do Meta Tags Do in SEO?

Meta data are mainly used to describe the page’s content in a more machine-readable format but because of the long history they carry with spamming, it is more likely for the search engines to use them to detect any abuse in tags and demote a page rather than reward it. Furthermore, Google might use these Meta tags as way of classifying or displaying information about a page in SERPs. However, in the UK search results, when Meta Tags are used are mostly for Display purposes in my experience.

When you use Meta tags and in particular the Meta Description, avoid using duplicate boilerplate text as this is a sign of a low quality page. Google’s guidelines also suggest that you should NOT do it.

Each page on your web site should stand on its own. The Meta Description should also be unique across your web site and not copied or auto-generated using low-quality techniques. This is very important for purely informational pages. For product pages you could try using templates.

What Are The Most Important Meta Tags?

There are four important meta tags that are mostly worth using for the search engines(there are actually more than four but they are not very important for search engine optimisation). From these tags several are still very important and will help you increase your traffic from Google while others are not as useful as they used to be and you will probably use them less often.

The four types we’ll discuss here are:

Meta Keywords Attribute – This meta tag is responsible for telling the search engines what the web page is about and in placed in the HTML code of the page between the <Head> </Head> tags. Search engines do not pay attention to this tag anymore as it has been used by spammers in the past to manipulate the search engine results, so most search engines ignore it when it comes to ranking a page for a particular search phrase.

Example code:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”remodelling london, london remodelling company, house remodelling, home renovation company”>

Title tag – The title tag is one of the most important tags as it is part of the ranking algorithm of all major search engines. To this tag you must attribute particular attention and follow best practices as you can increase the traffic you receive from Google and other search engines.

Example code:

<title> London Home Remodelling & Renovation Company </title>

Meta Description Attribute – The Meta Description tag is a snippet of approximately 160 characters length that summarizes the page’s content. This tag is placed in the HTML code between the <head> </head> tags. Search engines use the Meta Description tag in the SERPs mostly when the user’s query is contained in the meta description. The optimisation of the meta description is an important part of on-page optimisation and should be done carefully as it can increase the traffic you receive from the search engines.

Example code:

<meta name=”description” content=”Buying or replacing a new roof usually involves a big investment! Find out more about new roofs & roof repairs prices in the UK and the best financial solution!“/>

Meta Robots attribute – The meta robots tag can be used to instruct the search engines several different things that affects the way search bots access and index your web site. This meta robots tag has been around for quite a while and not it is supported by all the major search engines.

Example code: 

<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”/>

Do Meta Tags Control My Search Snippet Listing in Google?

Sometimes the meta descriptions are displaying as they were originally created but not always. Usually Google will pick it own preferred search snippet based on the user’s query and elements on the page that can be used to create the SERP and what Google knows about the page.

Can I force My Meta Description To Be Used By Google?

“Google’s generation of page titles and descriptions (or “snippets”) is completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web. The goal of the snippet and title is to best represent and describe each result and explain how it relates to the user’s query. GOOGLE

In order to get the Meta Description to display for a keyword in the SERPs, you will need to have the keyword phrase in the meta description, which is an unnecessary duplication according to May 2015 Google Quality Update and other updates, when it duplicates the title.

It is important to pay close attention to what Google recommends as best practice, as based on these criteria, it chooses to rank your web site. Just because you can force Google to display the Meta Description the way you like, it does not necessarily mean that it is a good thing to do. This is what Google advices.

Google relies over the past years on the <title> tag to be used as the “title” and the meta description tag to be used often as a description of the page in the SERPs, when the keyword is present. This way the users can get a good understanding of what every page is about before they visit it, which saves the users a lot of time.

Google has made radical changes to the way it generates the page snippets over the last years, in order to improve the user experience and demonstrate how sophisticated its search algorithms are. Despite all these changes, there are still many things you can do to make your snippets stand out in the search engine results page by using clever call to actions. Avoid using any special characters to “draw attention” as Google does not like any ways of SERP manipulation.  If you would like to enhance your SERPs, you should try using Schema.org mark-up instead.

Trying to rank in 2016 by simply improving the meta tags on a page, is not going to be enough as Google takes into consideration over 200 factors and it is always relying on newer signals to both rank and display pages in SERPs.

How To Write Meta Tags

When using meta tags try to describe exactly what the the page is about. Of course, that should not stop you from being creative. The purpose of Meta Tags is to help Google serve the best possible result any given query. The more you help Google find the right information on the your page and short-cut to data, the more likely it is for Google to choose to display your page in the top SERPs. Here are some useful advice to use them to your benefit:

  • When used property Meta Description can help drive more traffic to your web site from the free advertisement you run in the SERPs.
  • Make your tags as accurate, descriptive and relevant as possible.
  • Do not think about “keywords” and “Meta Tags” until you have a clear understanding of what your “topic” and “concept” is about.
  • Focus on users needs and do not try to trick them into visiting your web site.

All major search engines recommend sensible use of the meta tags and if you follow their recommendations, it is highly unlikely to get penalised. However, even though search engines use meta information in some way to understand and classify a document in a better way and meta descriptions to describe the content of your page, it does not mean that they are also use it as a positive ranking signal.

Useful resources: 

Meta tags that Google Understands

Meta tags: How Google Mega tags influence SEO

Meta Description: Learn SEO

SEO Important Meta Tags – Keyword, Robot & Description Tag Best Practices

About the <Robots> meta tag