Does metadata actually matter when it comes to SEO? In this post, we take a look at using meta tags to improve your search engine results and customer engagement.
There is an ongoing debate on whether or not meta tags actually improve SEO. Some argue that websites are ranked based on an effective use of metadata, however others claim that Google ignores meta tags all together. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Let’s start by outlining the basics:
What is a meta tag?
A meta tag is a piece of HTML code that lies in the <head> section of the HTML page. A meta tag falls under what is called metadata, a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. In other words, meta tags provide information about the rest of the HTML document.
As important as meta tags are, the snippet of code will never be seen on the actual web page. Rather, these tags relay information to search engines and other web services. Here is a simple example of what meta tags for a generic web design firm might look like:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Web Design, Web Development”>
<meta name=”description” content=”Responsive web design service for small and large businesses”>
<title>Quality Responsive Web Design For Your Business – Web Design Co.</title>
Different kinds of meta tags
As you may notice in the above example, there are different kinds of meta tags. You can see that we included a description meta tag, a keyword meta tag and a title (although not technically metadata, we’ll still include a brief explanation). Different tags are used for different purposes, which we’ll be discussing throughout this post.
Keyword Meta Tag
The keyword meta tag has been deemed useless. In fact, Google has made it clear that it no longer uses keyword meta tags for search rankings. The reason behind this is that before, people would “stuff” keywords into the metadata, eventually reaching the point of spam. When someone searched for a commonly-used keyword, the results would be entirely unrelated and irrelevant due to spammers. The misuse reached a level at which Google had to do away with keywords in general search rankings in order to return more relevant results.
Bing and Yahoo have also confirmed that they do not generally support meta keyword tags. However on rare occasions, both search engines have acknowledged they may be used if no other ranking signal is present.
Is there any reason to include keywords anymore? For SEO purposes, no, not really. In fact, meta keywords can have a negative effect if you include too many. A long list of keywords can make your site look like spam. In addition to this, your competition can see the keywords you’re using by viewing your page source.
The general consensus is that if you decide to use keywords, use them sparingly and keep them relevant.
Description Meta Tag
The description meta tag doesn’t directly affect search engine rankings, but it is crucial for improving user click-throughs and increasing hits on your site. This unique meta tag provides you with an opportunity to write a snippet of copy that Google will display in its search results. If you type in WestHost into Google, you’ll see:
“WestHost is a professional web hosting company…”
This is exactly how it appears in the HTML code:
<meta name=”description” content=”WestHost is a professional web hosting company. We offer professional and affordable website hosting plans. Visit us now and host your site with WestHost today!” />
Popular search engines commonly leave this description up to the website owner. When writing this piece of copy, make sure to include words that a potential client could be searching for. Create content that a hopeful visitor will read and instantly know what your site offers.
Every HTML document is required to have a title tag. This tag defines the title of the document and provides information to both search engines and visitors to your site. The title is usually displayed in search engine results and provides a brief description of the page. In the above example, the title of WestHost reads: ‘WestHost: Professional Web Host & Website Hosting’.
The actual code reads:
<title>Professional Web Host & Website Hosting Company – WestHost</title>
As you can see, Google cuts off the last word in WestHost’s title in order to make it fit in the search results. For SEO purposes, it’s best to keep keywords towards the beginning of the title. For example, ‘Professional Web Host’ is right at the start.
Keep in mind the length of your title. As this will commonly happen, it’s good practice to keep titles short and to the point. Google has recently decreased the length it displays in results. The search engine displays 512 pixels in width, which generally equates to around 55-60 characters. Make sure your title is concise, yet informative enough to get potential customers to your site.
Each page of your website should have a unique title. This helps determine which page should be displayed in search results.
When including the brand name, insert it at the end (usually done with a hyphen). The only exception is if your brand is so well known, everyone is already seeking it out.
As we mentioned before, there are many more meta tags that you can explore. Take a closer look at other meta tags by using Google’s Webmaster Tools Help.
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