Meta tags provide information about a webpage that is found in the HTML (hyper-text markup language) of a document. The HTML tells a web browser how to display text, images, and other forms of media on a webpage, while the meta tag tells search engines and web crawlers what is on the page. Simply put, the meta tag is a short synopsis of what is on the page so the search engine can rank the page, display snippets in search results, or ignore the meta tag entirely.
Do I Need Meta Tags for SEO?
Meta tags can play an important role in SEO if used properly. When your title and meta description tags are well-written and unique for every page, they could entice a reader to click from the SERP to your site, which is the whole goal of a meta tag. Google is more interested in the user experience than ranking, so the skillful use of meta tags within your website can be very beneficial to driving organic SEO traffic, resulting in users.
Main Meta Tags for SEO
- Meta Title
- Meta Description
- Alt Text
Meta Title Tags are the First to be Seen
A meta title tag is the first element that identifies your web page for search engines and visitors. Each meta title should be original to that page and optimized with keywords in an easily understood and natural-sounding way. A well-written meta title is what users see in the SERPs and is a deciding factor in their clicking through to your site over another one.
For Google, your meta title is dynamic. If your title isn’t seen as relevant to the content the bot has crawled on your site, Google will change the title to match the search terms of the user more closely. There are several reasons Google might rewrite your meta title at its own discretion.
Reasons Google Will Change Your Meta Title:
- The page does not have a descriptive meta title or meta title tag
- One meta title is being shared across several pages
- The meta title is stuffed with keywords
- The meta title is too long and hard to read
Meta Descriptions are More Effective than Advertisements
A meta description is an original summary of your page in 160 characters or less that will entice a reader to click through to your page when it shows up on the SERPs. Studies show that consumers want fewer ads and agree that Google is improving search results by including snippets and other SERP features. Users rely on these meta descriptions more than advertisements to find the products and services they are searching for.
Google is searching for specific information in the meta description so it can return accurate search results to the user making a query. If the Google search engine can’t find the information in the meta description but can piece it together from the website content, Google may rewrite the meta description – and sometimes not in a way that you would want it rewritten!
Reasons Google Rewrites Meta Descriptions:
- Poor summary of the webpage in meta description
- To match the query more accurately with the web page
- To match the query more accurately with content, but it isn’t in the meta description
Organize Your Content with Heading Tags
Heading tags identify which parts of your content are important and show how the page is connected and organized. For example, the H1 tag is only used once for the heading of the page and then other elements are labeled H2, H3, H4, and so on, with H1 being the most important for the search engine to identify. This type of tag has minimal SEO influence, but it does have some.
Google considers heading tags very important. Headings on a page help the search engine to better understand the content on the page. Having a clear heading on a page gives the information needed to help a site rank because the search engine clearly knows if the site content matches a user’s query.
Effective Image Alt Text Gets Noticed
Alt text tags are used to identify images for search engines. Proper alternative text tags describe the images so the search engine can consider them. An image alt text tag should appropriately identify what is in the picture. If it includes any keywords for SEO, they should be used in connection with the surrounding text, not just to stuff a keyword into the description.
Images that focus on useful, information-rich text without keyword stuffing are likely to help a page to be well-understood by search engines and, therefore, rank high in SEO on SERPs. Image alt text is intended to improve the user experience of a vision-impaired individual. A negative user experience may cause your site to be seen as spam, so ensuring your image alt text fits within the surrounding content is important.
Avoid Duplicate Content with Canonical Tags
Canonical tags are the best way to resolve duplicate content. Within your website, you may have more than one way to link to a page. For example, if you have both a mobile and desktop version of a web page, Google will see this as a duplicated page. One URL will need to be tagged as “canonical” to tell the search engines that this is the original URL.
If a canonical tag is not used, Google might make the choice for you and, in so doing, make the wrong choice. Or Google might see both URLs as having an equal weight, which could lead to changes in the ranking of one, the other, or both. There are situations when Google chooses for you, even when the URL has been noted as canonical. For example, if a user is on a mobile device, the search result will point to the mobile version of the page even if the desktop page was given priority as canonical.
SEO Experience Matters
When it comes to writing effective meta tags, an experienced SEO marketing strategist is a great investment. You have worked hard to bring your online business this far; let a strategist be sure you are using all the meta tags to your best advantage. It is important your website is seen and ranks consistently high on the SERPs to drive the results you deserve.