Would you like top search rankings? If you’re like most site owners, you may think all you need to do is add some meta tags and watch it soar to the top, right? Unfortunately, if you believe this your site will end up stranded in search engine oblivion. The truth is, meta tags are simply a single piece in a much larger algorithmic puzzle used by search engines to decide which results are the most relevant for users who have entered a search query.
While a debate still remains regarding which meta tags are still important and useful to the search engines, they certainly aren’t a pushbutton solution to getting ranked in Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines, so that myth should be done away with from the outset. With that being said, meta tags are helpful in telling users and the search engines what your site is all about. More importantly, when meta tags are not optimized or are improperly implemented, the negative impact can be quite substantial and overwhelming.
Therefore, let’s take a look at meta tags, examine which one’s matter, and learn how to avoid mistakes when optimizing meta tags on your site.
What are Meta Tags?
Meta tags are offcicially HTML page data tags existing between the closing and opening head tags in a document’s HTML code. The text within these tags is not shown. Instead, it merely tells Web browsers and search engines specific information pertaining to the webpage. It simply explains what the page is about so browsers and search engines can understand it.
A title tag may appear in the head block of a webpage, but it technically isn’t a meta tag. According to the W3C, title tags are required page elements. Meta tags, on the other hand, are simply optional page descriptors.
Description Meta Tags
A description tag, such as <meta name=”description” content=”This site is Awesome”>, plays three important roles:
- 1. It tells the search engines what your website or page is all about. In order for the search engines to comprehend the content of your page, you must write a good description of it. When a description is deemed inaccurate or badly written by Google’s algorithm, the description is replaced with Google’s own version of what the page is about. It is much better to personally describe your site to potential visitors and customers than it is to have a description written by Google’s artificial hand.
- 2. A good description will result in higher click through rates to your website as well. In addition to keeping Google from rewriting your description, a good description will also help increase the number of people that are clicking through to your site. A good description should not only describe your website to potential visitors, but it should also entice and persuade them to visit your site. Since descriptions show up in the search results, they often make the difference between people visiting a site and moving their cursor right on by.
- 3. The description also helps with rankings as well. It is commonly believed that descriptions cannot be used to help with rankings. However, there has been plenty of evidence to the contrary. While the description may not be heavily weighted, it can provide some value.
As a final note on description tags, they can be empty. When description tags are empty, Bing and Google will automatically fill it in for you. If you own a blog, you may actually prefer their version over yours, but most prefer to use their own descriptions.
Keyword Meta Tags
Many years ago in a bygone era, keyword meta tags were a critical element for the original search engines. However, today the tag is nothing more than a relic from the early formations of search engine land. Microsoft’s Bing is the only search engine that still looks at keywords, but it only uses them to help detect spam. It is best to avoid using this tag in order to avoid hurting your site.
However, if that seems like too radical of an idea, just ensure you avoid stuffing in hundreds of keywords in an attempt to gain higher search rankings, because it won’t work. If your site already has keyword meta tags, just leave them be for a while as long as they aren’t spammy. There’s no reason to take them all down at once in a hurried rush, but just make sure to take them out when you’re able in order to reduce load times and page weight.
Robots Meta Tags
The robots tag is perhaps one of the most important meta tags. The robots meta tag allows webmasters and site owners to specify whether or not a specific page should be indexed by the search engines, or if they want to allow links on the page to be followed. Interestingly, it is still quite common for sites to be de-indexed due to someone mistakenly adding a “no index” tag to an entire site. Therefore, it’s vital to have a solid understanding of this tag.
Here are four commonly used robots meta tags and what each does:
- • <meta name=”ROBOTS” content=”NOINDEX, NOFOLLOW”>
This tag is used to tell search engines not to index or follow links on a page. If you use this tag, your page will be de-indexed by the search engines and the links on the page will not be followed. The tag essentially breaks the link path from your page to other pages.
Most people only use the tag during site development. Typically, a developer or webmaster will no index/no follow the site’s pages to keep them from being prematurely indexed by the search engines. Unfortunately, many forget to remove the tag when they launch the site. It’s always best to double check if you’re not sure if the tag has been removed from your site.
- • <meta name=”ROBOTS” content=”INDEX, NOFOLLOW”>
This tag is used to tell the search engines to index your page and not follow the links on your page. While your site will be indexed, the link path from the page to other pages will be broken.
- • <meta name=”ROBOTS” content=”NOINDEX, FOLLOW”>
If this robots tag is used, your page will drop out of the search engines but your links will be followed to other pages. Thus, the link path from your page to others will not be broken.
- • <meta name=”ROBOTS” content=”INDEX, FOLLOW”>
This last robots tag simply means your page will be indexed and links on the page will be followed. The link path will remain unbroken as well.
While robots meta tags can play a critical role in indexing your site, they may also be ignored by less thorough Web spiders.
The Charset Tag
This final meta tag often goes unmentioned, but every site must validate charset, which in the U.S. is the UTF-8 tag. If your page is delivering HTML with English characters, just double check to make sure the following tag is present on your page:
- • <meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″>
While meta tags certainly aren’t a full-scale solution to having an optimized and ranking website, they still play a vital role in indexing your site and helping it get found in the search engines. By following these tips, you’ll ensure the important meta tags on your page are optimized and ready to provide some link juice.