We all know that creating Meta Tags is a truly important part of search engine optimization. So, in this article, I will show you the basics. I will try to be as brief as possible but still give you my best tips and outline everything you need to know.
Some of you may know what meta tags are but may not put much thought into using them. If you’re asking “what is a meta tag?”, you’ve come to the right place to learn exactly what they are and how they help your website.
Meta tags are the first things crawled by the search engines. After crawling, for search engine bots, meta tags are equivalent to a Web page title and description. I used this to my advantage when I was a new blogger many years ago. I was able to rank for a number of search queries in less than 30 days by using mind mapping tools and basic meta tags with Google’s Keyword Planner.
Basic Meta Tags For Seo
1. Title Tags
The title tag is your main and most important anchor.
The <title> element typically appears as a clickable headline in the SERPs and also shows up on social networks and in browsers.
For example, if you view the HTML for this article, you’ll see the title is:
<title>10 Most Important Meta Tags You Need to Know for SEO</title>
Title tags are placed in the <head> of your webpage and are meant to provide a clear and comprehensive idea of what the page is all about.
But do they have a major impact on rankings as they used to for many years?
Over the past few years, user behavior factors were being discussed a lot as logical proof of relevance and thus a ranking signal – even Google representatives admit its impact here and there.
The page’s title still is the first thing for a searcher to see in SERPs and decide if the page is likely to answer the search intent.
A well-written one may increase the number of clicks and traffic, which have at least some impact on rankings.
A simple experiment can also show that Google no longer needs your title tag to include an exact match keyword to know the topic the page covers.
For instance, a couple of years ago, a Google search for [how to build brand awareness] would bring up 2 out of the top 5 results with titles exactly matching your query.
Today, though, we see a different picture:
Not a single exact match.
And yet, not a single irrelevant result either: every single one of the pages given here explains how to build awareness, and the titles reflect that.
What search engines are looking at is the whole picture, and they tend to evaluate page’s content as a whole, but the cover of a book still matters – especially when it comes to interaction with searchers.
- Give each page a unique title that describes the page’s content concisely and accurately.
- Keep the titles up to 50-60 characters long (for them not to get truncated in the SERPs). Remember that long titles are shortened to about 600-700px on the SERP.
- Put important keywords first, but in a natural manner, as if you write titles for your visitors in the first place.
- Make use of your brand name in the title, even if it ends up not being shown on the SERPs, it’ll still make a difference for the search engine.
Tip: User Your Title to Attract Attention
The title tag is precious not only because it’s prime SERP real estate but also because it functions as a tab title in your web browser.
This can be used to attract a user’s attention. For example:
It’s the exact approach used by Facebook/LinkedIn to show you you have notifications and can be used to pretty good effect.
2. Meta Description Tags
Meta description also resides in the <head> of a webpage and is commonly (though definitely not always) displayed in a SERP snippet along with a title and page URL.
For example, this is the meta description for this article:
<meta name="description" content="Some tags are vital for SEO. Others have little or no impact on rankings. Here's every type of meta tag you need to know about.The purpose of a meta description is to reflect the essence of a page, but with more details and context."/>
And yes, meta description itself is not a ranking factor.
But for anybody trying to increase click-throughs and polish their brand SERPs, it’s a unique opportunity.
- The description occupies the largest part of a SERP snippet and invites searchers to click on your site by promising a clear and comprehensive solution to their query.
- The description impacts the number of clicks you get, and may also improve CTR and decrease bounce rates if the pages’ content indeed fulfills the promises. That’s why the description must be as realistic as it is inviting and distinctly reflect the content.
- If your description contains the keywords a searcher used in their search query, they will appear on the SERP in bold. This goes a very long way in helping you stand out and inform the searcher exactly what they’ll find on your page.
There is no way to put every keyword you want to rank for in the meta description, and there is no real need for that – instead, write a couple of cohesive sentences describing talking about the gist of your page, with some keywords included.
A good way to figure out what to write in your meta description, what works best for your particular topic right now, is to do some competition research.
Look up how your top-ranking competition fills out their own descriptions to get a feel for the best use cases in every particular case.
- Give each page a unique meta description that clearly reflects what value the page carries.
- Google’s snippets typically max out around 150-160 characters (including spaces).
- Include your most significant keywords, so they could get highlighted on the actual SERP, but be careful to avoid keyword stuffing, don’t make your description just a combination of keywords you’re targeting.
- Optionally, use an eye-catchy call-to-action, a unique proposition you offer, or additional hints on what to expect – ‘Learn’, ‘Buy’ constructions, etc.
The meta description doesn’t have to be just a sentence or two.
As Google informs us, you should also add some information about the page that the search engine will scrape for a more colorful SERP.
- For an authored article, you can add the date of publication, name of the author, etc.
- For a product page, you can put in the item’s price and age in there.
3. Heading Tags (H1-H6)
Heading tags are HTML tags used to identify headings and subheadings within your content from other types of text (e.g., paragraph text).
The usage of heading tags these days is a source of some debate.
While H2-H6 tags are considered not as important to search engines, proper usage of H1 tag has been emphasized in many industry studies.
At the same time, Mueller keeps telling us that headings aren’t ranking factors at all, and definitely not in the sense of “hierarchy” – H1 tag is not more important than H2, which is not more important than H3, and so on.
What we should be thinking about instead is that headings are crucial for text and content organization, and we should take it seriously.
Utilizing the heading tags certainly adds up to the architecture of the content.
- For search engines, it’s easier to read and understand the well-organized content than to crawl through structural issues.
- For users, headings are like anchors in a wall of text, navigating them through the page and making it easier to digest.
Both these factors raise the importance of careful optimization, where small details add up to the big SEO- and user-friendly picture and can lead to ranking increases.
- Keep your headings relevant to the chunk of text they are describing. Just because they aren’t a ranking factor, doesn’t mean search engines don’t take them into account.
- Always have your headings reflect the sentiment of the text they are placed over. Avoid headings like “Chapter 1… Chapter 2… Chapter 3…”.
- Don’t overuse the tags and the keywords in them. Keep it readable for users.
Should Your Title Tag & H1 Match?
According to Google’s recommendations, you are encouraged to match your page’s title and H1, changing the order a little bit, switching it up here and there.
So if you are struggling to come up with the perfect H1, simply use your title again.
4. Image Alt Attributes
The image alt attribute is added to an image tag to describe its contents.
Alt attributes are important in terms of on-page optimization for two reasons:
- Alt text is displayed to visitors if any particular image cannot be loaded (or if the images are disabled).
- Alt attributes provide context because search engines can’t “see” images.
For ecommerce sites, images often have a crucial impact on how a visitor interacts with a page.
Google also says it outright: helping search engines understand what the images are about and how they go with the rest of the content may help them serve a page for suitable search queries.
A thought-out image alt description, according to Mueller, is also vital if you want to rank in Google Images.
Remember, though, the importance of relevance: it’s not just that the alt text, titles, and captions need to be relevant to the image, but the image itself should be placed in its proper relevant context, as well.
- Do your best to optimize the most prominent images (product images, infographics, or training images), images that are likely to be looked up in Google Images search.
- Add alt text on pages where there’s not too much content apart from the images.
- Keep the alt text clear and descriptive enough, use your keywords reasonably, and make sure they fit naturally into the whole canvas of page’s content.
5. Nofollow Attributes
External/outbound links are the links on your site pointing to other sites.
Naturally, these are used to refer to proven sources, point people towards other useful resources, or mention a relevant site for some other reason.
These links matter a lot for SEO: they can make your content look like a hand-crafted comprehensive piece backed up by reliable sources, or like a link dump with not so much valuable content.
Google’s well-known for its severe antipathy to any manipulative linking tactics, sticking to which can cause a penalty, and it doesn’t get any less smart at detecting those.
Apart from that, in the age of semantic search, Google may treat the sources you refer to as the context, to better understand the content on your page.
For both these reasons, it’s definitely worth paying attention to where you link, and how.
By default, all hyperlinks are followed, and when you place a link on your site, you basically “cast a vote of confidence” to the linked page.
When you add a nofollow attribute to a link, it instructs search engines’ bots not to follow the link (and not to pass any link equity).