Google algorithm updates are always a concern for online marketers. In this article, we look at how Google meta tags affect SEO and how to improve your meta tags for better search engine ranking.
What Are Meta Tags?
Meta tags are snippets of text that describe the content of the page; Meta tags do not appear on the page itself, but only in the page's source code. Meta tags are basically small content descriptors that help tell search engines what a web page is about.
The only difference between tags you can see (on a blog post for example) and tags you can't is location: meta tags are only in HTML, usually in the 'header' of the page, so they're only visible to search engines (and people who know where to look) . 'meta' stands for 'metadata', which is the type of data these tags provide - data about the data on your page.
Do Meta Tags Help SEO?
Yes, they do, but not all of them and not all of the time. One goal of this page is to clarify meta tags that can help with SEO rankings that are no longer often used. (See Learn about descriptive tags below.)
Find keywords to make your meta tags useful with our free keyword tool. If you want to know if a particular page is using meta tags, just right-click anywhere on the page and select "View page source".
A new tab will open in Chrome (in Firefox it will be a popup). The part at the top, or "header" of the page, is where the meta tags will be.
The meta tags in HTML will look like this:
How to Know Your Meta Tags?
There are four main types of meta tags that are worth knowing about and we will talk about them all here. Some of them are not as useful as before. Others are worth using regularly, and they are very likely to increase your traffic by letting Google know who you are and what you have to offer. (There are more than four types of meta tags, but some are less common or irrelevant to online marketing.)
The four types that we will discuss here are:
- Meta Keywords Attribute
- Title Tag
- Meta Description Attribute
- Meta Robots Attribute
Meta Keywords Attribute
Meta Keywords Attribute - A string of keywords that you consider relevant to the respective page. Meta keywords are an example of a meta tag that doesn't make sense to use these days. Years ago, meta keyword tags might have been useful, but not anymore.
Remember back in kindergarten when your teacher gave you a stern look and said "If you can't stop using those crayons while I'm talking, I'll take them from you", you didn't listen and, to your shock, they were already taken? This is kind of what Google did with descriptive keywords.
Years ago, marketers and avid page viewers would insert keywords completely unrelated to their pages into their code in an attempt to hack traffic from the most popular pages, those that were actually about Lindsay Lohan, or anyone who was popular at the time. This was known as "keyword stuffing".
In the end, Google got wise about this and eventually decided to devalue the tool. These days, Google doesn't use meta keywords in their ranking algorithm at all, because it's very easy to misuse them.
The title tag is the text you will see on the search engine results page and at the top of your browser. Search engines display this text as the "title" of your page.
On the other hand, title tags are the most important meta tags discussed here. These tags have a real impact on search rankings, and perhaps just as importantly, they are the only tag we will discuss here that are visible to the average user. You will find them on the search results page.
And at the top of your browser (for organic search pages or for PPC landing pages).
This is especially useful if you want to give a canonical title to the user's first page but want to clarify or simplify this information for SEO purposes and for a user who is confusing multiple tabs on the desktop.
Meta Description Attribute
The meta description is a brief description of the page. It is a useful meta tag as, very simply, it explains to search engines and (sometimes) searchers themselves what your page is about. Let’s say you were googling the phrase “meta keywords” for example. You might encounter the following results:
It's important to note that the meta description tag won't always appear in Google search results (Google often picks a snippet of text from the page itself) but it's useful in other ways. Google also mentioned that keywords in meta descriptions won't affect your rankings.
However, a compelling meta description tag can entice searchers to click through the SERP to your site, especially if the description includes the keywords they were searching for. And a strong SERP CTR can indirectly improve your rankings.
Google’s reasons are somewhat mysterious, but their actions speak loudly: meta keywords don’t much matter anymore, but meta descriptions most certainly do.
Meta Robots Attribute
Meta robots attribute is a reference to search engine crawlers (bots or “bots”) as to what they should do with the page. With this attribute, you tell search engines what to do with your pages:
- Index / noindex - This tells engines whether or not your page will appear in search results.
- Follow / Nofollow - This tells the engines what to do with the links on your pages: whether or not they should trust and "follow" your links to the next page.
So what's next?
We've talked about the ways meta tags can have a very real impact on search engine marketing. In summary:
- Title tag alone can affect your search engine rankings.
- Meta tags may encourage users to visit your site.
- A meta description may act as 'Organic Ad Text'.
- Meta keywords are neglected by most search engines.
Using Meta Tags for SEO & Search Engine Marketing
It's not difficult to implement meta tags on your own - you don't really need a programmer, just some experience with HTML. WordStream can help you find the most effective keywords to use in your site's meta tags - try our free keyword tool.