What Are Meta Tags and Why Are They Important for SEO?
Meta tags are important for ensuring your content is SEO-optimized. Here’s a full rundown on everything you need to know to optimize your meta tags, including examples and best practices.
What are meta tags?
Think of a meta tag as a short summary of your page. It can be used for both search engines and users to preview page content. Essentially, what is your page about? (In this case, you can judge a book by its cover.)
Meta is short for metadata, which is the kind of information these tags provide–data about the data on your page.
Meta tags don’t appear on your actual webpage but exist in the page HTML. It’s the preview text that the user sees on the search engine result page (SERP).
Why are meta tags so important to SEO?
Meta tags are the first impression someone has of your page on a SERP. A good meta description will attract users to click through and visit your site. They ensure that search engines know what your content is about, so they’ll be able to show the website in the appropriate results.
Think of it like this: You’re browsing a store shelf and you see one product with a label that’s outdated and generally unappealing. It leaves out important information, like what the product is made out of? You then see a label on another product that’s fresh and engaging, with a list of visible ingredients. You’re going to buy the product with the best label. It’s the same with meta tags, if your meta description is bad—no one will click on your content.
Meta descriptions are often the primary piece of information that determines which result users click on, so it’s crucial to use high-quality meta tags on your web pages.
If you found this article via a search engine, there’s a high chance you clicked on it because of effective meta tags.
We’re going to dive deeper into meta tags later on. But first, let’s cover the basics.
The two most important meta tags:
- Title tags: which specifies the title of a webpage. This is the page title that Google shows in the search results.
- Meta descriptions: which quite simply describe your page’s content. Search engines often use it for the snippet in search results.
Both of these are easy to implement and require no programming knowledge.
Where do title tags appear?
Now that we’ve covered what they are, let’s get into best practices. Your title tag will appear in three key places:
- Browser tab. Remind visitors about the content of your page by displaying a descriptive title in the browser tab view.
- Search engine results pages (SERP). Attract searchers to click on your result with a title tag of 60 characters or less to ensure it doesn’t appear clipped by search engines.
- External sites, such as Facebook or Twitter. Clearly describe the content of the page in a concise title that gets users attention.
What does a title tag look like?
A good headline grabs users’ attention and entices them to click or view your article.
In HTML, title tags are coded as the following:
<head> <title>Your Title Here</title> </head>
TIP: If you’re using the Chrome browser, you can find the source code of this page by pressing “Ctrl+U" on Windows.
How to optimize your title tags for enhanced SEO:
- Keep titles between 55-60 characters long.
- Use target keywords in titles. (More on this below).
- Use action words that answer questions of how, why, what, and where.
- Create unique titles to stand out from similar articles.
- Try breaking up your title tag with a colon, question, or bracket and your company name to improve readability and brand recognition.
Best practices for title tags
Don’t exceed the pixel limit. Google gives title tags a 600-pixel width limit. If you exceed that amount, Google will truncate it, or cut it off. This practice is known as Truncated Title Tags. So, you want to make sure both your title tag and meta descriptions are the right character and pixel length to avoid getting them clipped in search results and costing you clicks.
Avoid duplicate title tags. This can confuse search engines about which page they should rank, leading to a lower ranking for your page. To avoid this, make sure your tags are unique to each page and differ from your competitors.
Choose capitalization carefully. Don’t randomly select which letters are capitalized. You want your title to look clean. So consider either: capitalizing the first letter of the first word in the title) or capitalizing the first letter of most words by following a basic style guide (opens in a new tab).
Use only 1 <title> per page. To keep your code valid and earn the value in this HTML element, use only one <title> tag per page. Make sure it’s within the <head> section of the code.
Site branding goes last. Unless your company branding is a more searched-for term than the individual products or services you offer, always put your branding last in the title tag text following a vertical bar ( | ).
Avoid “stop” words. “Stop” words are words that carry little to no keyword value—like: of, a, and, the, etc. Instead, try including your keyword as close to the front of your URL as you can to help Google recognize the value of your content for that phrase.
Why are title tags important?
- First impressions count. Your title tag may be the first thing a potential visitor will see when performing a search.
- Brand leverage. Entice clicks and lead to more traffic.
Did you know?
Google can rewrite your title tags. Why? There may be a more suitable title tag for what users are searching for. To combat title tag rewriting, try these three strategies:
- Accurately describe the content on your page.
- Showcase the qualities people want to see. Remember: you’re the expert!
- Focus the title on enticing clicks to increase the CTR (click-through rate).
The next step is to create an effective meta description.
Best practices for meta descriptions
The length of your meta description depends on the search engine:
- Google: 150-158
- Bing & Yahoo!: Up to 168
- On mobile devices: 120
*TIP: Ideal length is 120-158 characters.
Search engines like Google use CTR as a ranking factor. So the more page visits you have, the higher your page will appear in the SERP, making meta descriptions a critical part of your on-page SEO needs.
What makes a good meta description?
Remember that sometimes less is more. Good meta tags will have an excerpt that gets right to the point, with the most targeted and important information within the first 120 characters. This will drive the highest CTR. Think of meta tags as an extension of your ad text, so make sure it’s catchy, inviting, and thoughtful while still being concise.
What does a meta description look like?
Meta descriptions appear directly below the title of your page in SERPs.
In HTML, meta descriptions are coded as the following:
<meta name="description" content="This is your meta description.”>
TIP: You can find the meta description for this page by pressing Ctrl + U to open the HTML source code.
A few more meta description best practices
- Be brief, but descriptive.
- Avoid generic titles, which can reduce click-through rates.
- Include your target keyword where it makes sense.
- TIP: The best keyword is a word or phrase that is searched frequently by your target audience, is relevant to the topic of your content, and is already within your site’s ranking power.
- You can highlight your main keywords by making them bold so that they stand out and draw viewers' attention, which can also help Google identify the phrases you’re targeting.
- Have unique meta descriptions for every page on your site. Having unique copy on every page is about more than just having original content and ideas, it’s also an SEO tool. Having unique descriptions allows your page to cast a wider net and incorporate various targeted keywords to drive clicks.
- The CTA in your meta description is very important. You want to make the action you want the user to take—clicking on your page—clear by stating what they will gain by doing so. Avoid sounding like sales spam. This will not only build distrust in your online presence and increase your bounce rate (opens in a new tab) but can get you punished by the search engine itself.
Now that we’ve covered title tags and meta descriptions, let’s do a refresh on meta tag best practices.
How to write a meta tag
When adding meta tags to your HTML, make sure you’re incorporating these 3 elements:
- Targeted Keywords: If your meta tags include frequently searched keywords, it’s more likely to boost both your visibility and your organic traffic. Google will even highlight matched keywords in the search result to show its relevance, lending credibility to your page.
- A Strong CTA: Since the end goal is to get page clicks, create a sense of urgency when providing a CTA. Make sure it’s specific to your page and doesn’t come off as false advertising.
- Unique Voice: Having unique descriptions on each page allows you to reach more people while using targeted keywords. Don’t duplicate a meta description. Instead, having unique descriptions on each page allows you to reach more people and apply various keywords.
Meta tags and meta descriptions are key in driving engagement and getting users to visit your website. Missing meta tags, title tags, or meta descriptions could be the only thing standing between your search result and a new website visitor!
Implement these learns with an enterprise SEO platform
Conductor’s enterprise content marketing platform provides actionable insights into all things SEO-related. Watch the 3-minute product tour (opens in a new tab) today to learn how Conductor can easily identify areas of opportunity within meta tags on your site and help you make those changes live on the page.