Meta tags are an important part of your website’s identity, telling search engines and web crawlers what your pages are about and heavily influencing your rank in search engine results. While there are many types of meta tags, the most important ones are meta titles and meta descriptions, which are used by Google and other search engines to determine ranking order and relevance to readers. Meta titles and descriptions can be the first thing a user sees on the search engine results pages, and are a major influencing factor on whether or not a user will click through to your website. Consequently, they’re one of the most powerful weapons at the disposal of search engine optimization (SEO) copywriters.
Too often, meta tags are either outright ignored by those who are inexperienced or ignorant of SEO best practices, or they’re flat out misused as a way to cram a few relevant keywords in nonsensical ways. In order for your website to achieve consistently high rankings, it’s crucial that you avoid common meta tag issues and mistakes, and focus instead on following best practices whenever possible.
What are the meta tags still in use by search engines?
Meta tags are a collection of HTML tags that are placed in the header, or “top” portion of the code of a web page.
There are a number of meta tags that could be used for either coding purposes or to signal what the page is about to search engines. We will concern ourselves only with the latter, as they are the “big ones” to ensure are correct content-wise for SEO. There are three: meta keywords, meta descriptions, and meta titles.
The meta keywords tag has not been in use for some time, being deprecated by Google a number of years ago. Google’s web crawlers now scan the actual content on a page instead. The reason for this is that business owners and even some SEO experts were stuffing the keywords tag with irrelevant keywords, which returned spam in search engine results.
It is still necessary to research keywords and ensure they are used in the body content and in the remaining meta tags, but using the keywords tag won’t get you anywhere. There isn’t really even a justification for using it “just in case” since Google has become so good at assessing on-page content; it is unlikely it will go back to using this tag at all given both Google’s increased capacities and the past misuse of this tag.
The meta title tag is a shorter tag which is, as its name suggests, the title of a page. The meta description is a short description of the content that the page contains. The meta title is almost always displayed in search engine results, while the description is sometimes used in place of on-page content. As such, you want to make sure both are properly written as they may be the first look a customer has at your business in search engine results.
Best practices for meta titles and meta descriptions
Generally, effective meta titles are under 60 characters, and meta descriptions are between 50 and 160 characters. Anything longer than this runs the risk of being cut off in the search results. To maximize website optimization, every page should ideally have its own distinct meta title and meta description. Repeating meta titles and descriptions across pages of your website is an unfortunately common practice that will not provide any noticeable lift for your SEO.
When crafting effective SEO meta tags, it’s critical that you write unique titles and descriptions for each and every page. Focus on brief, descriptive copy which includes researched key phrases in a natural way. Avoid being too generic or vague in your descriptions and titles, as it could be a turnoff to users. While you should avoid being generic, you need to also keep in mind that accuracy and relevancy to what is on the page are important. Avoid clickbait-style titles and descriptions, and focus instead on telling users exactly what it is they’ll find on your page.
Common issues that can sink your SEO
Hands down, the biggest meta tag issue is that they’re simply non-existent. By not having meta tags, your website’s search engine results will be content scraped from the page by Google, and you will lose an opportunity to use key phrases in these important tags. The solution isn’t to just cram meta tags into your webpages without any thought or effort – doing it right is far more effective. Only by inserting carefully crafted titles and descriptions that accurately describe your page, business, and services will you be able to increase your search rankings and improve traffic to your website.
Another of the most common issues with meta tags is that they’re often too long or too short. This is largely because Google has historically played fast and loose with meta title and description character limitations. Writing too much will see your meta description or the title cut off in order to fit the width of the device being used, and writing too little will be far too vague for audiences to connect with.
Some websites also use multiple meta descriptions on the same page, which can counteract their effectiveness by confusing search engines. This is usually the result of a plugin or website tool which is overriding your carefully written tags, and it’s worth having a developer look into your site to ensure that this isn’t happening.
Finally, duplicate tags are a major issue that many websites have. Google states that each and every meta description and title on your website should be differentiated – without taking care to ensure that each and every tag is unique and accurate, your website may be penalized by Google’s algorithm. It won’t be blacklisted, but it counts as a strike against you.
OK, but how important are meta tags really?
If you use an SEO tool such as Moz, SEMRush, or AHREFS to analyze your website, one of the most egregious errors the tools will return are non-existent or duplicate meta tags. This is because these tools are designed to prioritize SEO-related site errors by the weight that Google’s algorithm gives to each error, and many use a traffic-light system, such as red, yellow, and green, to rank errors. Meta tag issues are always red.
Google itself will never tell you exactly how its algorithm works; it will make suggestions if you use Google Search Console, but that is all. SEO tools are carefully designed by industry experts who are very good at decoding Google’s search algorithms to weight site issues in the order they believe Google sees them. The fact that they assign the highest priority to meta tags is a signal that they are heavily weighted in Google’s algorithm.
Meta tags need to be done right to reap the rewards
While meta titles and descriptions are generally a small job for an SEO copywriter, they can reap massive rewards for your website’s SEO. When done correctly, meta tags can ensure that your website is seen before your competitors and that users are compelled to visit your website to engage with your brand, view your products and services, and continue reading about everything you have to offer.
This is exactly why you may want to consider hiring a professional SEO copywriter to handle them for you – you’ll make sure that they’re written with best practices in mind, that they’re accurate and engaging, contain important keywords, and most importantly, avoid common meta tag mistakes that too often plague websites.
ion8 is an all-in-one business consultancy with a full team of experienced digital marketing experts ready to optimize your website’s SEO through professionally crafted meta title tags and meta descriptions. To find out more about everything that ion8 can do to transform the way you do business, contact us today.