The Beginner's Guide to SEO and Meta Tags
All marketers know the importance of SEO. It’s what lets you climb the results pages of Google, and helps you rank for the key words and phrases significant to your business. A good quality SEO strategy can make your business known to potential customers that are looking for your products or services - and a great SEO strategy can mean those potential customers becoming loyal long-term customers, and even brand advocates.
It’s imperative that you know how to incorporate meta tags into your web pages if you want to succeed in your SEO strategy. This means you need to understand how meta tags work. Meta tags help search engines identify and categorize your pages within the search rankings. Getting your meta tags right will ensure higher search engine rankings, and better exposure to your target audience.
So let’s take a look at meta tags, cover the most important meta tags you need to learn about, and the steps you can take to start incorporating meta tags into your webpages.
What are meta tags?
To put it simply, meta tags are the text snippets that tell search engines what a web page is all about. They don't appear in the body of a page, but rather within the code itself. Meta tags are useful for SEO because they help search engines categorize your web page's content more easily. Here are some examples of types of meta tags:
If you have different webpages with very similar content (e.g. a mobile and desktop version of the same webpage), or if you have a single page with multiple URLs search engines will consider these duplicates.
Let’s take https:// pages for example. You know that "[www.[website].com" and "https://[website].com" are pointing to the same page – that is, if you go to either URL, you will land on the same homepage.
Google, however, sees "www" and "https://" as duplicates of the same page. This means that if you don't specify which of the pages you want to be the "main" or "original" source, then Google chooses which source it thinks is the original, and will crawl the other pages less often.
Now, this could result in Google consistently crawling the desktop version of your homepage, but rarely checking the mobile version.
This is why it’s important that you include a canonical tag - this tells Google that if it finds this same content elsewhere then it should disregard it, and that this is the source it should be seeing and therefore is the version that should appear in its results pages.
This is particularly important for key pages, like your homepage. To insert a canonical tag, all you need to do is paste this code in your HTML:
<link rel="canonical" href="http://[YOUR URL]" />
Meta content type
The meta content type lets you choose the media type (i.e. "text/html") and character set for your webpages. You'll probably want to include this on every webpage. This information makes sure your pages are correctly displayed on all browsers.
Here's an example of the code you would use for meta content type:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" />
Robot meta tags
Not specifying a robot meta tag will result in search engines obeying the default index,follow command. But there could be reasons you might want to change the robot meta tag to influence the behavior of search engine crawling and indexing.
Here are a few examples of popular robot meta tags:
noindex – Stops the page from being indexed.
nosnippet -- Prevents a text snippet or video preview from being shown in the search results. For video, a static image could be shown instead.
nofollow -- Prevents Googlebot from following links to this page.
noarchive – Stops Google from showing the Cached link for a page.
unavailable_after:[date] – Lets you specify the exact time and date you want Google to stop crawling and indexing this page.
There are lots of reasons why you might use a robots meta tag. You might input the "nofollow" command, for example, if your web page has a comment section. Because you cannot control the links that are posted by users in the comments section (which could be unrelated to your page's content or leading to malicious sites), it’s a good idea to tell search engines not to follow those links.
Conversely, "noindex" is a popular tag for multiple reasons. Let's say, for example, you're planning to launch a redesigned website, but want to test the redesign on a development server that exists on a subdomain of your website. You'll want to use the "noindex" tag to ensure Google won't release the site in search before it's ready.
You may also use "noindex" if you have gated content on offer that you don't want users to be able to find on search engines (because you want them to fill out a form to gain access).
Lastly, you might use "noindex" if your website creates unique web pages whenever someone does a site search. Search engines might think those pages are part of your website, which will hurt your SEO. It's best if you incorporate "noindex" to ensure site search results aren't displayed on the SERP's.
To incorporate a robots meta directive, input this code into your HTML:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex, nofollow">
Title tags help readers understand, at a glance, what your content is about. It’s also a key factor in helping search engines understand your content's subject matter. A title tag can also ensure consistency, since the title tag will show up on your web page, on the web browser, and in social networks.
If you don't include a <title> tag, Google will create one for the SERP's for you -- which can bring your ranking down. Ultimately, you want to create a compelling, click-worthy title that will intrigue readers while accurately portraying what your page is about.
Include a title tag on each of your web page's by pasting this code into your HTML:
It's important to note, alt text is technically not a tag, it's an attribute. You’ve probably heard the term "alt tag", which might make you think alt text is part of the meta tag family.
Regardless of its categorization, alt text is crucially important for your overall SEO strategy, especially since Google places much more value on visual search now than it has done previously. When a search engine crawls your page, it's going to look for the alt text of an image as an identifier for what your web page is about, so it's important to correctly title your alt text.
Here's a code example for alt text to incorporate in your HTML: <img src="metatag.jpg" alt="Meta tag picture">.
Meta tags vs. meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are one example of a meta tag. The meta description is a maximum of 160 characters snippet of text that users can read on a search engine results page. It tells the user what they'll find when they click through to your content. If you do this well, it can greatly increase click-through rates.
The tag doesn't influence ranking directly, but it's still an important ingredient of a good SEO strategy; the right meta description can compel readers to click on your article, and if the meta description does a good job of describing your content, the user is more likely to stay on the page. And click-through rates do influence search engine ranking, so meta descriptions are very important for SEO.
Here's an example of the code you'd use to manually input a meta description into your web page's HTML:
<meta name="description" content="This is an example of my meta description.">
While meta descriptions are a subcategory of meta tags, there’s a big difference between the two: their purpose. Meta tags help search engines figure out the content of your site, but meta descriptions are used to help the user decide if the content is useful to them.
So that’s basically it for our meta tags and SEO whistle-stop tour. Of course we could go into much more detail, but we hope this has been useful as a beginner’s guide. Remember, we’re always on hand to help with SEO – just drop us an email or give us a call.