Are Meta tags important?

Was asked by a contact only today, “What is a meta tag and how does one get one on my blog.”

HTML code showing title and description

Simplified Page Code showing Title and Description

It’s easy to forget that there are new, inexperienced users, bloggers and website owners who are just starting to get to grips with the terms and often, jargon-laden, advice and information in our industry so… the following is a very brief outline of two of the most important meta tags.

Meta tags are information entered into the <head> section of an HTML document. They are not seen by visitors to your site and do not display in the browser window.

Meta tags give instructions to the browser and allow some degree of control over how your pages are indexed by search engines and are invisible to normal viewers and used to give the search engines additional information.

Some meta tags can also allow the voluntary rating of sites for the benefit of filtering software for adult content.

In simple terms meta tags describe the content of the document in which they appear and to some extent how it is to be treated by visiting search spiders.

Every search engine, however, has its own approach to handling documents and even their use of meta tags varies widely.

The most important meta tags

As explained above there are many meta tags that can be used for a variety of purposes but in the context of SEO the two main ones are the <title> and <description> tags.

Title Tag

Together with a well optimised page the Title tag is THE most important attribute in relation to search engine rankings.

The Title tag should contain an accurate description of the page content and should contain the keywords that describe and are located within the page content. A good title tag should be able to clearly indicate the webpage’s contents to the viewer.

In reality, the Title tag isn’t a meta tag.  But as it appears in the head area of the HTML code of your page can be considered along with meta tags that also appear there.

Technically, the title can be as long as you like but most search engines limit the number of characters displayed in results. In general up to 65 characters is a good target although it can vary depending on the search engine. Any longer and it gets truncated and cut short with the addition of ellipses (…) indicating missing text.

So, from both a searcher/visitor and search engine perspective ensure your most important keyword/phrase is in the first few words or close to the beginning as possible whilst maintaining readability.

Description Tag

The <description> tag  is similar to the title tag but can be longer and offers you the opportunity of giving a more detailed description of what the page contains.

Just as with the title there is no description character limit but again the displayed length is limited to approximately 155 characters so again it is important that the most relevant information is closer to the beginning of the text. The description tag is often similarly cut short with the addition of ellipses as an indication.

Although not used for search engine ranking the content of the description tag will often show up below the Title when displayed in search results.

The description tag should therefore be crafted for every single page of your site and include a well-written description of your page that again includes your main page keywords.

A well written and relevant page description, although not guaranteed to be used by a search engine when displaying search results, is far more likely to be considered and shown. If it is an interesting and accurate description it may well be the incentive the searcher needs to click through and visit your site.

In cases where your description is not considered either good or relevant enough then the search engine will often simply display fragments or snippets taken from various elements of the page content.

And, in many cases it does nothing for the understanding of the viewer. So, taking a little time to ensure your description is good enough, is time well spent.

It is important to remember that meta tags are not a magic bullet in making your website a raging success. The most valuable feature meta tags offer to website owners is the ability to control (to a certain degree) how their web pages are indexed by the search engines and in turn seen  and interacted with by interested searchers.

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