META Tags and SEO

meta-tags-seo

Used almost exclusively in the ranking algorithms at the beginning of the ’90s, some META tags can still influence rankings and click through rates even nowadays. And with good CTR on results pages, comes a bit of improved rankings too.

Probably meta tags optimization is one of the first things SEO beginners learn to do. But the purpose of this article is to go beyond the basics and explain which ones are good, bad or ugly. The article is structured into 3 parts: The Good meta tags (the ones which you should use if appropriate), The Bad (the ones you should avoid) and The Ugly (the ones that don’t have any influence and can be removed).

Before I start, I need to say something. If the only thing you do for your clients is to optimize META tags and TITLE tags, please stop saying that you’re providing SEO services (or Internet marketing services). SEO is way, way more than that.

The meta tag is accompanied by the name attribute. There are many values that can be used under the name (or http-equiv) attribute of the META element, but not all of them can influence search engine decisions. Without getting into details about every attribute (one could write entire articles for each meta tag) let’s start with a simple one:

The Good Meta Tags

KEYWORDS

Most of the SEO expert will cry out loud: “you’re darn stupid” to consider the keywords tag useful. Don’t judge judge me for putting it in the list of the good meta tags until you read below, about how you could use this tag and spin it in something useful for searchers and search engines. Sure, this one doesn’t deserve the head of the list in terms of importance, but there’s been lot’s of debate around it and I wanted to get over it fast. But, there are  a couple of things that you need to know about it:

1. Major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, and Bing) don’t use the content of the keywords meta tag to rank pages.

2. Small search engines and vertical engines might still use it.

My advice is to still have unique keywords meta tags for each page of your website; they won’t hurt you. Just don’t spend too much time on generating them. Keep the tag below 15 keywords and make sure that the keywords you list inside are actually present in the main body text of the page.

Here’s a very nice spin for this tag: repeat keywords from this tag into page tags clouds; duplicate your keywords from the keywords meta tag somewhere on the page into tags. Your tags can be related searches performed on your internal site search.

DESCRIPTION

This is probably the single most important piece of meta data you can provide to a search engine. It’s bots’ food. If the content is wisely crafted and relevant to the page content search engines will display its content as the snippet below the blue page title:

description tag shows up as snippets

The blue border highlights the snippet as seen in Google search results.

If a search query and a web page are a positive match within search engines’ database, AND the searched words are NOT present within the DESCRITPION meta tag, search engines will use the description tag to create the snippet, but instead they will replace the snippet with some content on the page, or the description from DMOZ or Yahoo! Directory.

Very briefly, here’s something that you need to know about the DESCRIPTION meta tag:

  • Place the targeted keyword as close as possible to the beginning (keyword prominence)
  • Keep the # of chars below 150 and above 25, including spaces
  • Don’t start the tag with your brand name
  • Write unique descriptions for each page
  • Don’t repeat the page title inside this tag
  • Don’t use any of the following special characters in description text: ‘ ” < > { } [ ] ( )

CONTENT-LANGUAGE

This one is still important especially for multi language websites. Use it in the head of the page to help search engines correctly identify the language the page’s content is written in. To identify the language a web page is written in, search engines don’t rely solely on the existence of this tag. But it’s always a good idea to provide additional clues.

CONTENT-TYPE

This one can be used to specify the language and character encoding of the document. content-type tag does not impact your search engine rankings and if you do not include it, the users browser will fall back to its default charset. Use it on multi language/charset web sites.

AUTHOR

This one seems to become more and more important. Google is now supporting the rel=”author” attribute on LINK tags.

If you want to make sure you’re credited as the original author of a piece of content use this meta data within your META tags too.

The Ugly Meta Tags

These tags are neutral; they don’t have either positive or negative effects. In a single word, they’re just useless.

GEO

While some other search engines might still used it, from Google’s point of view the debate is over – you don’t need to use it to specify the targeted countries. Instead use Google/Bing/Yahoo! Webmaster account to specify the targeted country.

SOURCE

This meta tag is mainly used for Google News, to correctly identify the source of the article. However, as with any other meta data, search engines don not rely solely on the information provided by webmasters. Most engines will have their own original source algorithms (i.e. the website where they cached the content on for the first time, the first reference/link to that content and so on).

Google is using this tag along with the canonical attribute and this article might be useful for content aggregators.

ROBOTS

Having a robots meta tag to tell engines to index and follow your pages/links is useless.

However, the robots tag becomes useful if you want to tell search engines which pages you don’t want indexed, cached or links followed. It can be useful to address duplicate content issues.

Long before the Search Engine Exclusion Protocol was invented, this tag was used by programmers to block search engines. Now you should rely on both, the robots meta tag and robots.txt. I suggest reading www.robotstxt.org and understand how it works.

Possible values under the content attribute for this tag are noindex, nofollow, noarchive, all, index, or follow.

REVISIT AFTER

You may use this tag to tell search engines to revisit your page after 1 minute, but are they going to do that? No, they don’t follow this directive.

The Bad Meta Tags

REFRESH

Used mainly to redirect visitors to another page (and hijacking PR :)), this tag is the wrong way of implementing redirects. If you have access to the .htaccess file to redirect from, the proper way to deal with redirects is with server side redirects. Using .htaccess file you’ll pass link juice to the redirected page.

The W3C recommends that this tag not be used.

CACHE CONTROL

This tells browsers where to serve the web document from: browser cache or request it again from the server. And again, this is not the best way to implement it. If you have access to your server setting, probably HTTP headers are better at doing this properly.

Pitstop Media offers ROI focused SEO services. If you need a SEO company to help you rank #1 please contact us for a free, no obligation quote. We’ve helped companies rank first on Google in short periods of time, for highly competitive terms.

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About 

Traian is Founder and Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+

 

7 Responses to “META Tags and SEO”

  1. Pune said:

    Jul 27, 11 at 3:24 am

    Thanks for the article, however I have a problem with the H1 tag. If I use it to highlight my content heading, the font becomes too big. Do you know why?

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  2. TraiaN said:

    Jul 27, 11 at 10:11 am

    Pune, you can alter the visual appearance of H1 using CSS to make it look the way you want it.

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  3. Comida para Adelgazar said:

    Aug 19, 11 at 9:37 am

    Thanks! Althought you don’t speak about last modified meta:

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  4. TraiaN said:

    Aug 19, 11 at 9:48 am

    The reason I left it out is that last modified should be better addressed with header tags. But, I might update the post to include this one too. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. Dorsey Deschenes said:

    Jun 05, 12 at 6:32 am

    really delighted to locate out similarly info i ended up becoming hunting for a very lengthy time.This certain created very delighted! Anyway

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  6. Riyad Arefin said:

    Aug 30, 12 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for share lots of on-page SEO factor to get good rank on Search Engine.
    Google panda is now focus on-page(specially content)factor.

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  7. What You Will Not Find in the Google SEO Guide | Big Marketing For Small Business said:

    Jan 25, 13 at 4:16 pm

    [...] may have heard of the usefulness of placing Meta tags that Google’s crawlers can index at the head of your web pages. The Google SEO guide, however, [...]