Search Engine Optimization

What are Meta Tags and How Do They Help SEO?

what are meta tags

Updated on July 18, 2019

So, you want to optimize your web pages to perform well in search engines and you’ve heard meta tags are an important part. But, what are meta tags? And how do they help SEO?

Meta tags are snippets of HTML code that provide information about the contents of the page. They are located in the <head> section of a web page. They are not displayed to the user, but instead appear in code for search engine spiders.

Adding meta tags to your web pages makes it easier for search engines to understand what the page is about. This won’t impact your search rankings but it can affect the text displayed in the search engine results.

Making sure the text displayed in search results is relevant and persuasive can increase click-through rate and decrease bounce rate. Improving those metrics can in turn increase your search rankings.

Now, let’s go over some of the most important type of meta tags.

Types of Meta Tags

Meta Description

The meta description is arguably the most important meta tag for SEO purposes. It does not impact search ranking but it is commonly used as the description that appears on the search results page.

Search engines do not always use the meta description but they do for most cases.

The search engine can display any text on your web page as the description in the search results. If you don’t have a meta description on your web page most often the search engine displays the first text that appears on the page.

The first text on the page is very rarely an appropriate description of the page. Often times it includes the text in your menu and tagline. So, it’s in your best interest (and the user’s best interest) to include a meta description to help clarify what the page is about.

To add a meta description place the following tag in your <head> section:

<meta name="description" content="Put your meta description here.">

If you’re using WordPress with the Yoast SEO plugin you can add your meta description by following these steps:

  1. Scroll down to the Yoast SEO Content optimization panel
  2. Click Edit snippet under the Snippet Preview
  3. Edit text in the Meta description field

Ideally you want your meta description to be around (but not over) 156 characters. Keep it at a minimum of 100 characters but try not to go over 156 or it may get truncated on Google.

Though the meta description doesn’t directly impact search rankings it can help. If your meta description is persuasive it can help increase click-through rate. And, if the meta description is relevant and an accurate description of the page then it should help reduce bounce rate as well by providing realistic expectations to users.

Both high click-through rate and low bounce rate can help increase your search rankings.

So, keep your meta description concise, relevant, and make it persuasive by including a call-to-action. Also, keep these unique. Each page should have its own unique description.

Meta Keywords

This meta tag lists out the keywords you are targeting on the page. This tag is no longer used for search rankings.

These days, the search engine spiders are smart enough to figure out what the page is about. You no longer need to add the keywords.

Adding the keywords in a meta tag only benefits your competitors since it makes it easy to reverse engineer your search marketing strategy.

Meta Robots

The meta robots tag allows you to instruct search engine spiders what they should do with the data they find on the page.

A meta robots tag looks like this:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow">

In the content attribute you can include:

  • index or noindex
    • index tells the search engine spiders to include this page in the search engine results page; noindex tells them to not include it.
  • follow or nofollow
    • follow tells the search engine spiders to follow the links found on this page; nofollow tells them to not follow the links.

If a meta robots tag is not included, by default the search engine spiders will index the page and follow the links.

If you add a noindex attribute to the meta robots tag on a page do not disallow it in your robots.txt file. If the page is being blocked by search engine spiders in robots.txt then it will never see your meta tag with the noindex assignment.

Title Tag

The title tag is not technically a meta tag but it is often talked about during the meta tag conversation. Like meta tags it is in the <head> section. And, like meta tags it helps search engines understand the contents of the page.

This is what a title tag looks like:

<title>Your Title Here</title>

The title tag is displayed as the heading in the search engine results.

It’s best practice to keep your title tag under 60 characters. Google has a fixed width of 600 pixels for the headline so the character limit varies depending on the width.

If you have enough characters, it’s common practice to include a separator such as a bar (|) and your brand name after your page title.

Include the keyword you are targeting in your title. Try and keep your title enticing to encourage users to click. And, like the meta description, you should have a unique title for each page.

Even More Meta Tags

There are many other meta tags. But, these four (description, keywords, robots, and title tag) are the most common and impactful for SEO.

The other meta tags, such as the viewport meta tag, are technical and should be handled automatically by your content management system or website theme.

Make sure each page on your website includes a unique title tag and meta description. That will be enough for the search engines to provide a clear description to users. Don’t stress about the other meta tags.

Have you added meta tags to your web pages? Do you have an important tip you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Jennifer Rogina has been a digital marketing specialist since 2008. During those years she has focused on Pay Per Click Advertising, Search Engine Optimization, and Conversion Rate Optimization.

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