Like the rest of the thinking public, I’m extremely skeptical of quick hacks and shortcuts to get great results. But if I were to recommend one small action that could generate significant results for your firm’s search engine optimization (SEO), it would likely involve meta tags. Meta tags are snippets of HTML code that describe a web page and control how Google crawls it. Some of the most damaging, yet basic SEO mistakes, can involve meta tags so it’s worth getting them right.
Why are meta tags important?
Meta tags are non-visible pieces of HTML code that describe certain properties and characteristics of a webpage for the crawlers used by Google and other search engines. Many amateur SEO professionals will falsely claim that Google will rank a website with good meta tags higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). But Google stated years ago that it does not use keywords meta tags to rank a website—and their stance on this hasn’t changed.
This doesn’t mean meta tags are useless. Instead, you should use meta tags to describe your web pages so Google can easily understand each page’s topic and purpose. Doing this will make it more likely that Google will use each page’s information to create the ever-coveted knowledge panels and SERP features that are viewed by SEOs as the pinnacle of SEO results. Meta tags also allow you to control which pages of your website Google crawls, as well as how it crawls them.
The top 5 meta tags to optimize on your website
While writing this article, I reviewed roughly 41 meta tags. Don’t worry, though, I’m only going to go over the top five you’ll need to know about as a website owner. Chances are, you may have a developer or web designer optimize these tags for you. However, it’s best to know what to expect from them so you can assess their quality of work and avoid wasting your money.
1. Meta title tag
The meta title tag is one of the most visible meta tags. It shows up as the blue, hyperlinked title of each webpage in search results. Unlike many amateur SEOs, you should not try to stuff as many keywords as possible into the meta title. This will not improve your rank in search results—and may actually harm it. Instead, your goal should instead be to clearly describe the page and, if applicable, engage readers with a reason as to why they should visit the page.
Here are five tips for writing your meta title tag:
- Summarize the main topic of the page with the main keyword.
- Write unique, original, and appealing titles to attract the attention of users and increase the clickthrough rate (CTR) of the page in the SERPs.
- Be accurate and descriptive based on the content of the page.
- Do not exceed or repeat keywords.
- Include no more than 60 characters (maximum of 580 pixels).
2. Meta description tag
Beneath the title link of each Google result, you’ll find the meta description. As the name implies, the meta description serves to briefly describe the web page for people as they scan the list of search results. While writing your meta descriptions, be sure to:
- Summarize the content of the web page.
- Include the keyword at the beginning of the sentence in a natural way and without repeating it abundantly.
- Make them attractive and original.
- Keep it between 140 and 160 characters approximately (maximum 920 pixels).
3. Alternative (alt) image text
Alternative (alt) image text is used to describe images for visually impaired users with screen readers. Most content management systems and social media platforms let you add alt text to your images so your content is accessible to all users. Beyond accessibility, there are many SEO benefits gained by adding proper alt text to your images. For example, using alt text in our images on social media, website, and blog images allow MBS Accountancy to have good visibility in Google’s Image Search results for “Cassidy Jakovickas” and MBS Accountancy.
Here are four best practices to follow when adding alt text to images:
- Use keywords sparingly. Images aren’t a secret tunnel to cram more keywords into a page.
- Be specific and succinct, but don’t go overboard into unnecessary details.
- Only add alt text to images that serve a functional purpose.
- Do not start your alt text with “Image of,” since that is already assumed.
4. Robots meta tag
The robots meta tag is also called the meta directive because it directs search engine bots on how to crawl and index a page’s content. There are two types of robots meta tags, including the tag specified in the HTML code of a page and the meta tags that the server communicates directly. It’s important to note that meta directives are merely suggestions to bots on how to crawl and index your web pages; a bot may or may not follow the instructions you provide in the robots meta tag. There are many different meta directive parameters you can set for your website, but it’s usually only web developers and SEO professionals who fiddle with these settings. For now, it’s enough to simply know about the purpose of the robots meta tag.
5. Header meta tags
In the past, while writing website content for marketing agencies and their clients, I learned to do more than write words. I also learned to structure the content I produced for web designers so my word-perfect content would fit well on website mockups. A large part of this structuring and layout involved using header tags. Header tags are used to designate the importance and hierarchy on a page. There are technically six levels of header tags, but most webpages rarely go past a fourth-level header tag (h4). Here are some best practices for using header tags:
- Always use header tags in their sequential order (H1, H2, H3).
- Include your main keyword in your H1 header tag and in your H2 heads.
- Use only one H1 tag per page.
- Use H2 header tags like subheadings to break up content.
Tools to check your meta tags
When it’s time to check your website, you can use these three tools to check whether you’ve properly set up meta tags on your website:
- Hey Meta: This tool lets you enter your website URL address, and either check or generate your website’s meta tags.
- Meta Tags: In addition to your website’s meta title and meta description, this tool lets you check how your website’s meta image will appear on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and even Slack.
- Rank Watch: This handy tool is designed for SEOs, but you can use it to quickly check the length of your meta title tag, count the number of links on a page, and other key metrics.
Getting the details right
Like anything, getting the details right requires extra effort, but is well worth the time spent. Using meta tags properly will help Google and other search engines learn more about your website and, if your content provides the best possible information, rank you higher in search results. There are no quick paths to long-term SEO success. But optimizing your website’s meta tags is about as close as you can get.