Meta Tags and SEO

There is one question that we are asked more than any other, and we get it even to this very day. The thing is, it’s the same question I asked 6 years ago. We’ve seen trends come and go since then, and still there is one question that still, somehow has merit.

How do meta tags impact SEO?

In my opinion, this is the single most interesting question in our industry. Not because of the answer (that’s simple enough and we’ll certainly cover it); but because it’s a question that I don’t think will ever die out.

Think about it. This is one of the very first topics one would cover when being introduced to SEO. There are thousands/millions of articles talking about that very thing. And every day, someone new comes to this world we’ve created, and they are ripe with new questions; the answers to which we have stored away just waiting for the moment to showcase our knowledge.

So today, I’m going to go over the most common meta tags we talk about in SEO, and how they affect your rankings (here’s a quick hint; they barely do anymore). The Keywords Meta Tag Ahh the keywords meta tag. This is a tag that would hold…well…your keywords. I think. I don’t really know for sure because their use in Google went away before I got into SEO myself, and they meant something different to Yahoo! (RIP) back then.

Some say it’s where you would put your keywords so the search engines would know what your site was all about, and they were used to determine your rankings. Others say that they were meant to house the keywords that were not mentioned on your page, but still related.

What I do know is this. At some point Google got really tired of people using the keywords meta tag to spam their search results, and they all but eradicated its use. There was a time even rather recently (comparatively speaking) that they had an impact in Yahoo!, but those days are gone as well; what with Yahoo! being powered by Bing now.

There are still some programs/applications that make use of the keywords meta tags on your site, usually for internal site searching, but that doesn’t help you on the SEO front that much.

No, I’m afraid that meta tag has little to do with SEO these days. Save for one use.

We actually use the keywords meta tag quite a bit. Not for rankings, mind you. Rather, we use them in one of 2 ways.

First, for smaller, quick projects we use the keywords tag to catalog the targeted terms for each page. This way, we know what links to build for each page, it helps with our internal linking and it helps when we are writing content. It just somehow fell into a process of ours one day and really worked out. Remember, this is for smaller projects in which we have a lot of confidence regarding our success. Usually local SEO clients.

Then there’s the way we use them for bigger projects (not necessarily bigger clients). These are sites for which we are trying to rank in a very competitive niche. We can usually tell which competitors have hired SEO help and which haven’t. We noticed that when the landscape involved other SEO firms, then we could make a change on our site’s focus, and it was soon after mimicked on a competitor’s site.

So, we started putting useless/junk keywords in the keywords meta tag. Every once in a while, we actually see those keywords pop into a competitor’s site. Sometimes, this SEO stuff is really fun.

Creating a Keywords Meta Tag

For the sake of comprehension, this is how one would create a keywords meta tag.

Between the opening and closing section of your site’s page you want to add the following:

Within the double quotes after “content” you’ll add your keywords. Usually, you’ll want 2-5 keywords in there separated by commas. Oh, and the term “keyword” is a little loose. We actually mean key terms. So a keywords meta tag would look like:

That’s it. If you decide to use the keywords meta tag, then please don’t spam it with a bunch of one-word search terms or over-stuff it with every keyword you can cram in there. The search engines are a bit smarter than that, and you’ll look like a spammer. The Description Meta Tag Now the description tag, there’s a tag I can get behind. Though not as important in the strictest “SEO” sense, the description tag actually plays a very important role in your overall Internet marketing success with regard to Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

If you search in Google, you’ll get the results, right? And you know how to click on a link to get to a page, yeah? You see that little chunk of text right under that link? Well, that’s your description tag, usually.

So, the description tag is one of the first opportunities your site has to grab a potential visitor’s attention. Notice anything interesting about that screen-shot? Take a look at the example search I used: “searching in Google.” Now, look at those description tags. Check out the words that are bolded.

So you see, if you’re targeting a search term, and you rank for that term, it would be a good idea to make sure it’s in your meta description as well. This is just one more thing that makes your site relevant to a search in a visitor’s eyes.

Creating a Description Meta Tag

The description meta tag actually looks rather similar to the keywords meta tag:

Again, you would place your description in the double quotes associated with “content.” And again, this whole thing goes in the section of your page.

When writing the description, remember to keep it short and simple. Last time I counted, Google only shows around 150 – 160 characters. If your description is too long, Google will actually concatenate it to show the words they can bold.

That’s pretty much the gist of the description tag. Much more important than the keywords tag, and something people will actually see. The Title Tag Technically, the title tag isn’t a “meta” tag. Ok, technically, it is; but not in HTML, and because HTML comes before SEO both alphabetically and chronologically, we will say it isn’t a meta tag. Rather, its a tag in and of itself.

By far the single most important tag in this post, the title tag is not only visible in a SERP, but it also has a pretty major impact on your rankings.

Let’s look at the same picture from our description example. This time, see where the red arrows are?

That’s the title tag. Again, search terms are bolded; and again, it’s one of the first thing someone will see. This time, we don’t get as much room to play with. Usually, the title tag is somewhere around 60-75 characters. All the more reason to be as concise as possible.

Let’s get creating the tag out of the way before we talk about a few guidelines.

Creating the Title Tag

In that same section of your page, you’ll write the title tag like so:

That’s it. Your title will go right between those little tags.

Effective Title Tags

So, you know it needs to be short in order to fully show in Google, requiring that we are keeping the title simple and to the point. And you know it’s really important to your rankings and a potential visitor, so we need to be appealing and use our keywords. How do we do that?

Don’t Spam the Title Tag

If you try to fit 8 variations of the word “shoe” in your title, you’ll get lower clicks to your site. We’ve tested it many times, and it’s the same story every single time.

Remove the Fluff

On the other hand, proper grammar isn’t the point with these tags. Superfluous words have no business in this tag (there are exceptions, but these are the basics here).

Unique Titles for all Pages

This actually holds true for all your meta tags, but none so important as the title. They have to be unique to every single page.

A Few Tips

Everybody has a way they like to write titles, but they really boil down to 2 methods. Here at SEO Factor, we like to write them with just a little messaging. You can see that one of our very own titles reads

I don’t think the words “in” or “a” are going to hurt our rankings, and it’s just a little easier to read.

The other common method is to state the keywords on the page. For example, we could have written that title like this:

There’s nothing “wrong” with that title, and I’ve even heard Matt Cutts give it the ‘okay.’ I’ve just never liked it much myself.

Also, we’ve found it effective to capitalize the first letter of every major word. Some people call this “camel case” or “camel caps.” It’s just makes the text a little easier to read. Wrap It Up So that’s it. Those are meta tags (plus the title) and how they affect SEO. People have written novels on each of these, so there’s always a little more to it. But this should at least get you on the right path and answer some basic questions. If not, please feel free to comment below or contact us.

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