Meta tags are the most fundamental part of SEO and making sure that your site’s pages have a good, solid foundation of optimization.
These are the tags that you add to your page’s header to describe the page using syntax that Google understands.
And when it comes to SEO, more often than not, best practices for meta tags are ignored while others take priority.
Sometimes, things like content and links may take priority over things like meta tags. That’s understandable, because content and links can be more important.
But making sure that you optimize these tags correctly can help significantly in terms of how Google understands your page.
For example, a quality meta description can mean the difference between poor website performance in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and better website performance, especially when it comes to a site’s click-through rate (CTR).
Making sure that you include important meta tags can still get results. It all depends on how you use them.
What Are Meta Tags?
Meta tags provide information about the website in the HTML of the page.
Search engines use these pieces of code to help determine what the page is about, and how relevant it is to the keyword being searched.
While this data isn’t visible to visitors, it does play a role in determining where a site appears in search results.
One important meta tag you want to focus on includes the page title: the blue link that appears at the top of the snippet in the search results.
Another important tag you may want to focus on is the meta description, which is often used to show descriptions of pages in search results.
For example, suppose you’re searching for a product like a computer. In that case, the manufacturer’s description of that product (at least, the one it added to the page) might appear in the paragraph snippet below the page title in the search results.
Getting Started With Meta Tags
Meta tags are one of the first things you’ll see in a site audit report. They appear in the header above the page content and provide important information about a page.
The first step in understanding what meta tags do is to know why you’d use them.
You might want to include certain words in the description of your product or service, such as price range, features, size, etc., and you could use the keywords meta tag to help describe that.
Or maybe you want to let people know where your site is located, like a city, state, or country. You could use the location meta tag.
If you’re writing a blog post, you might want to add a category meta tag to help others find it.
These are just a few examples of what meta tags can accomplish.
There are many different types of meta tags, including title, description, keyword, image alt text, robots, language, and even schema markup.
This article focuses on the most common ones; specifically, descriptions and keywords.
Why Meta Tags Are Important For SEO
When it comes to SEO, meta tags are highly important. Maybe not quite as important as content or links, but still, they are very important to the overall optimization process.
Better title tags may mean the difference between the success or failure of your page.
Having blank meta tags (such as a blank title or meta description) may mean that Google will choose what it thinks are the best ones for your page. Its algorithm is not perfect and could potentially create less than what you might want to see.
This is why it’s important to ensure that you include at least a physical page title and description for your page. Otherwise, you leave it up to Google’s algorithm to choose it.
Page Title Tags
The page title tag is the main descriptive element of your page.
Your title tag is the one thing that everyone sees when they come across your site in the Google search results.
This is why it is crucial to ensure it accurately reflects the page’s content. If you’re writing a blog post, you want to ensure that the page title accurately reflects the post’s content.
You want people to know exactly where they are and what they’re looking at.
While some sites still rank very well despite having poor title tags, others don’t seem to care much about the title tag.
Why do some sites not spend as much effort on the title tag while others continue their usual optimizations? Well, it seems like it depends on the type of site. Some sites focus heavily on video, while others focus heavily on text. Some sites are focused on a specific topic, while others cover multiple topics.
There are many different reasons why a site might choose not to put any effort into its title tags. However, the truth is that having a quality title tag can be a great determining factor in how Google understands your page.
If you’re building a brand new site, you probably won’t need to worry too much about SEO efforts on your title tag. However, once your site starts getting traffic, you’ll want to track things like bounce and conversion rates.
By tracking those metrics, you’ll be able to determine whether the title tag is actually impacting your performance, and where to go from there in terms of how to better optimize it.
Google’s Search Essentials documentation explains the following about page title best practices and how to influence them in the search results correctly:
- You want to ensure that every single page of your site has a physical title tag with a page title actually specified.
- Descriptive and concise page titles are Google’s recommendation. It doesn’t want to see anything vague such as “Home” for the home page. Also, it does not want to see “profile” for a person’s profile. Google also recommends avoiding unnecessarily long and verbose text, as it is highly likely to be truncated in the search results.
- Be sure that you avoid boilerplate and redundant text in your page title. What happens here is that the boilerplate text causes confusion between pages for users as well as search engines. So, Google recommends distinct and descriptive text in your page titles. It also discourages utilizing long text that doesn’t change, with the exception of certain pieces of information. Don’t include text within your page title that’s not useful to users or that would be considered uninformative.
- Google also doesn’t like keyword stuffing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have descriptive terms in your page title. However, you don’t want to include the same words and phrases many times. Doing so could be similar to keyword stuffing, making your search results look spammy to Google and its users.
- Branding your page title is an acceptable practice for Google. You can either include it at the beginning of the page title or at the end, per Google’s guidelines. Make sure it’s separate and unique from the rest of the text. In order to accomplish this, you could use a delimiter symbol, which includes colons, pipes, or hyphens. This can help you avoid making your site’s branding look like a repetitive portion of the page title.
- Make it clear which part of the text is actually the main title. According to Google’s recommendations, it examines a variety of sources when it generates title links. These sources include things like the main visual title, prominent text in the body copy, and heading elements. Google also recommends varying the size of the main title on the page, for example.
- Google also recommends making sure that your page title matches what’s on the page. Google explains that if it thinks the title doesn’t match the page’s primary content, it might end up choosing different text as part of the page title link. It’s best to have the same page title in <h1> tag to reduce the probability of rewriting by titles on SERP.
What Else Has Google Said About Page Titles?
Aside from its Search Essentials, there are several things that Google has mentioned about page titles that should be observed.
“We do use it for ranking, but it’s not the most critical part of a page. So it’s not worthwhile filling it with keywords to hope that it works that way. In general, we try to recognise when a title tag is stuffed with keywords because that’s also a bad user experience for users in the search results. If they’re looking to understand what these pages are about and they just see a jumble of keywords, then that doesn’t really help.” – John Mueller, Google 2016