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Unloved, But Still Important: How To Leverage Meta Tags
I’ve put together a multipart series covering important aspects of SEO. If you are new to SEO, these tips will help you build a strong foundation for obtaining SEO traffic. For those of you who are more advanced in SEO, my hope is that you’ll pick up a tip or strategy that you aren’t currently employing in your own SEO campaign.
In the first part of the series I’ll take a look at important on-page HTML elements that can influence your SEO rankings.
Unloved, but very important META tags
The META tags are arguably among the most important on-page HTML elements when it comes to SEO. META tags consist of three tags that reside in the <head> of your HTML code and should be found at the very top of your page.
META title tag. Technically, the Title tag isn’t a meta tag. But it appears in the head area of your HTML code and so should be considered along with meta tags that reside there.
The title tag acts as, you guessed it—the title of the page in question. This tag helps the search spiders understand the theme of your page. For those that are unfamiliar with search spiders, spiders are essentially scripts of code that the search engines use to crawl and identify web pages that exist throughout the Internet. In the search engine results pages (SERPs), the title tag is the topmost hypertext link for each search result.
Notice how the spider was able to identify the presence of the keyword “macbook.” Having keywords present within your Title tag helps associate relevance between your page and the search query. Having strong keyword density in your Title tag will also boost your ability to rank for your targeted keywords. When writing your Title tags be sure to be concise and speak directly to the content contained within the page.
Keep your Title tag to around 65 characters. There’s no penalty if you go longer, so don’t worry! But Google will only show about the first 65 characters of your title. Anything beyond that typically won’t be visible to searchers. That also means to pay close attention to what is within those first 65 character.
The Title tag should be uniquely customized for every single page within your site.
Title tag code example:
<title>Apple - MacBook - The $999 notebook, completely redesigned.</title>
Be aware that in some cases, search engines might ignore your Title tag and create their own title for your pages, such as using how they are listed in the Yahoo Directory or the Open Directory. Our Meta Robots Tag 101: Blocking Spiders, Cached Pages & More explains more about how to prevent this.
META description tag. The Description tag also resides in the <head> tag of the HTML code. This tag surfaces in the results directly under the Title tag and offers you a space to elaborate on the page’s theme. Ideally, the Title and Description tags should follow each other thematically.
There is no official limit to how many the characters can be contained within the Description tag. However, Google will only display the first 150 to 155 character, so pay close attention to this portion of your description.
Using the meta Description tag does NOT guarantee that the search engines will use your description. To increase the odds, make sure the description includes key terms you hope the page will be found for. If your page ranks for a particular term — and that term is in the meta Description tag — that will improve the chances of the tag being used.
The Description tag should also be customized for every single page within your site. However, for larger sites you can opt to use a schema to strategically build out your Meta descriptions.
Description tag code example:
<meta name="Description" content="The MacBook laptop features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, amazing NVIDIA graphics, a large hard drive, and support for up to 4GB of memory for $999.">
META keywords tag. The meta Keywords tag was a method back in the 1990s that allowed site owners a way to suggest to search engines the most important terms they hoped to be found for. Because of spamming issues — some people would stuff their meta keywords tags with hundreds of terms, sometimes not even related to their page content — the meta description tag lost support over the years. Google never supported it at all.
Should you bother with it. That’s up to you. Currently, none of the major search engines say they support it. Yahoo pulled back from the tag in 2009, as our Yahoo Search No Longer Uses Meta Keywords Tag covers. However, despite Yahoo’s official stance, it still seems to continue supporting it. Our Sorry, Yahoo, You DO Index The Meta Keywords Tag article has more on that.
Even more meta tags!
That covers some of the most important meta tags that play an important role in your site’s success with SEO. But that’s not all. There’s also the meta robots tag, which offers different “flavors” to control how your page appears — or is even blocked entirely — from the search engines. See our Meta Robots Tag 101: Blocking Spiders, Cached Pages & More article for an in-depth look at those.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.