The meta tags have passed trough many changes in the last years, and their roles and SEO impact may have became a bit missunderstanded. Some of them lost impostance, while others are still important for search engine result pages (SERP) to display the preview snippet of a page (see the image bellow).
So let's dive in and see how to maximize the meta tags for SEO:
What are Meta Tags?
Meta Tags are HTML data tags that feed the search engines information about a web page. They lie between the <head> tags of the HTML code and the meta tags are not displayed on the page. Only the search engine sees them, not the reader.
Here's an example:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
<title>Required Page Title here</title>
<meta name="author" content="name of author of this page" />
<meta name="description" content="Required page description here" />
<meta name="keywords" content="NOT REQUIRED, Keywords here" />
<meta name="robots" content="index, follow" />
<link href="/css/stylesheet.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
As you can see there are other tags in the header, and you can see a lot more than the example above.
Also, the number of characters for some of the meta tags are set by Google and for the best results, make sure your main information is written between those numbers:
- Title Tag: max 70 characters
- Meta Description tag: max 160 characters
- Keywords meta tag: around 10 keyword phrases
Relevant Meta Tags for SEO Campaign
Let's take a look at the meta tags that will make a difference in an SEO campaign and see how to maximize their "SEO power".
Page Title tag
This tag, <title>Page title here</title>, is very important as it will show in every search result as the first, bold, purple line of the display snippet. See the image bellow for a clear example:
To get in details about how to create the best title tags for SEO, we wrote a full article about that: 10 Title Tag Optimization SEO Tips.
Also, as you can see the full link is another element that appears in the display snippet, so it is also important to optimize it for search. Read our internal link optimization post to find out more about internal link building for SEO.
Meta Description tag
The Meta Description meta tag is the one that Google displays in the snippet preview for a short description of the page shown in search. It is not really important for search rankings, but it is what the readers see first in a search result. Google might choose to display a part of the content in the snippet, and not the meta tag, if it finds that that part of the content is more relevant to the user search query than the meta tag. But in general, it uses the meta tag to display it in the snippet.
So the meta description text should attract the reader, it should convince him to click on the link. Don't think keywords when you write the meta description, think about human reading. For that reason, the meta description needs to be:
- Relevant to the page content
- Compelling to the reader
- Unique for every page
- Punchy, to attract click action
- Not longer than 160 characters
- Include keywords, but don't stuff them in the tag (natural reading)
Even though it doesn't do much for the SEO, the user will see the keywords he used in search displayed in bold characters in the description, so a compelling description will definitely help with then click trough rate CTR of the page. Having more readers on your page will convince the search engine your content is relevant to the search query (keywords) and will display that page more often. So, indirectly, the page will earn relevance and ranking.
You can also get away without using a meta description, as Google will use the most relevant part of the content for a description, but you will miss the opportunity to compel the reader (prospect) to visit your page.
Meta Robots tag
This tag can stop the search engine bots from indexing or crawling the page. The most usual values it gets are:
<meta name="robots" content="index, follow" />
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow" />
As you can imagine, the first is telling the search engine to index and crawl the page, the other to not. if you have an unfinished page or a page that doesn't count for SEO, like a "thank you" page you can tell the bots not to crawl it. if it is a regular page that needs to be indexed, you can miss this meta tag as its default value is "index, follow".
So this meta tag is more important for its negative action letting you to control which pages the search engine should index and which it shouldn't. With this tag you can prevent duplicate content, confidential, thank you pages or unfinished parts of your website from being indexed.
Also, keep in mind we can use the robots.text file in the root of the website, where we can do the same thing, at a wider scale, for the entire website.
Meta Keywords tag
As I said earlier, the meta keywords tags lost its SEO importance almost completely, and many developers don't use it at all anymore. If you choose to use it, make sure you use it the right way:
- Use no more than 10-15 keyword phrases
- Don't over stuff it with keywords
- Make sure you can find those keywords throughout the page content
As a general rule, have the most important keywords in the title, meta description, h1, first sentence of the first and last paragraph. For more info on keywords, read our post on how to create the right keywords campaign.
The most important meta tags are the title, meta description and the robots meta tag, the others being unimportant for the SEO campaign. The meta description meta tag it's more important as a click creator than for the SEO, so make it attractive.
And again, don't overstuff the meta tags with keywords, as it may be more harmful than helpful. As we explained in our SEO trends for 2013 post, lately, the old practices became less helpful for the Search Engine Optimization campaign, and it's based more on earning a rank than using technical methods to gain high ranking.
Feel free to ask for help if you get stuck trying to find a best meta tag for your website page. Just leave a comment about it and I'll gladly help!