You’ve heard of SEO and (hopefully) read our two previous posts on the topic, but if you’re thinking, “what in the world is a meta tag and how is it going to help optimize my Website?” You’re in luck!
Meta Tags Defined
According to Dictionary.com, a meta tag is a type of HTML code that gives information about a page. It does not in any way affect how a page will appear and it’s not something viewers will see (unless they’re directly looking at the page’s source code). However, it is vital in describing what a page is about, what the company does, or who made the page. In relation to SEO, a meta tag description is an ideal location for keywords. Meta tags are read by search engines when indexing the Web.
What Does It Do?
An effective meta tag should do three things, as proposed by SEOmoz:
- 1. Describe the page content accurately in a limited number of words.
- 2. Serve as the short text description underneath a link in search engine results.
- 3. Provide keywords to search engine users as a preview of a site’s content.
Although meta tags are a great SEO tool, there are some things that you should keep in mind when using them.
Tell It Like It is
Meta tags are written to inform searchers about the content on your page. Make sure you are giving them truthful descriptions. If your site shows up on a keyword search that has nothing to do with your brand, then something is wrong. A searcher will find your company less credible and will have less faith in what you actually offer.
Short and Sweet
Be mindful of character limits. When a search engine pulls up results, it provides searchers with a short description under the link. Some search engines have different limits on how long these meta tag descriptions can be. The search engine king, Google, limits descriptions to 160 characters. Keeping your tags informative and interesting within these restrictions may be difficult, but it is crucial to your SEO.
Keywords… Yet Again
Since meta tag descriptions are indexed by search engine spiders, this is an ideal place for keywords. However, remember that you shouldn’t be keyword cramming. Along the same lines, you shouldn’t be meta tag cramming either. Even though your audience can’t see the meta tags, except in the source code, that doesn’t mean that search engines can’t figure out what you’re trying to do.
Use the right keywords. When search engines display results, they usually put the search terms in bold and pull up the surrounding phrases. Make sure your meta tag description has those keywords in it, but that the surrounding sentence is also relevant. The sites that have the most bold terms will a better chance of catching a person’s attention.
Be a People Pleaser
Meta tags are a great tool in SEO, but they are also what your audience finds when conducting a search. Your description may be search engine and keyword friendly, but is it people friendly? Yes, the goal of SEO and meta tags is to get your page to the top of search results. But that won’t do any good if your description doesn’t make any sense to your audience. Keep their thoughts in mind before you try to please search engines.
Stay on One Track
Consistency is also something to pay attention to when using SEO tactics. Your target keywords are important, but you shouldn’t have hundreds of them. Narrow it down to just a handful. All of your tags should be consistent in keyword usage. Otherwise, search engines will have a hard time figuring out what your site is really about and your relevancy could decline.
Don’t Force It
Most importantly, meta tags should not be forced. Creating your own meta tag description is completely optional. It is nice to have control over what people will see when they search for you, but this may not be the case each time. Search engines can automatically search through your site to provide their own description on search results. It will find the keywords in your content and display them with the surrounding text. If your site is developed in a clear manner, the description provided by the search may not be too shabby.
Meta tags can be dangerous in your own hands. Don’t try too hard to squeeze in keywords or to fit a lot of information into those tiny 160 characters. If a description like that pops up, it will be obvious that your meta tag was designed to over-inform. In that case, it may be best to leave it up to the search engines.
This can also be helpful in increasing your search engine relevancy. When you create a meta tag description, you are limiting yourself to certain keywords. Letting a search engine extract its own description allows it to search your page for whatever word is typed into a search. If your site has a lot to offer and you can’t narrow it down to a succinct description, you can leave it up to the search engines.
Of course, that may be risky as well. So to ease your fears, you can do a test search. See for yourself what comes up when you search for your site. There are also meta tag description generators, which you can find online, that may be able to help you find the right words.
Once you get the hang of where to use meta tag descriptions and how to use them correctly, they will be beneficial in your SEO toolbox. Stay tuned for more SEO tactics.