Meta elements or meta tags are text elements of any website that help search engines in identifying the content subject matter of a page. Meta elements are never visible to end users, as they’re hidden in the page’s code.
WordPress users might be familiar with the ‘tagging’ of content, a way to categorize content based on subject. Meta elements work in the same way, but they’re part of a web page’s underlying HTML. They’re usually placed in the ‘header’ part of a web page, and are usually the first to be seen by search engine crawlers.
Meta Elements – Why They Matter for SEO
In the realm of SEO, knowledge on how to effectively use meta elements is part of the most basic of trainings. Meta elements are not as important to a page’s SEO as they used to be, thanks to advanced search engine algorithms that can analyze and deduce what a page’s content is about.
To view a page’s meta tags, all you have to do is right-click anywhere on it and click on ‘View Page Source’:
There are several different meta tags available, but their usefulness varies quite a bit. In fact, there only a handful of meta tags that search engines such as Google understand.
Important Meta Elements for SEO
As mentioned above, Google understands a select number of meta tags. And perhaps the most important of these meta elements, which will have an impact on your site’s SEO are:
- Meta title tag – <title>Title of the page</title>: The contents of this tag are shown as the title in search results.
- Meta description tag – <meta name=”description” content=”some content” />: This tag provides a brief description of the page. A summary of a summary, as its length is very short.
- Meta robots tag – <meta name=”robots” content=”arg0, arg1”/>: This tag specifies what search engine crawlers should do with the page.
- Meta keywords tag – <meta name=”keywords” content=”kw0, kw1..”/>: This tag specifies a set (or array, specifically) of keywords that are relevant to the page.
Meta Title Tag
The meta title tag is perhaps the most important of all meta elements, because it’s going to be processed by search engines and then shown as-is to search users.
Whenever you make a search on Google, you’re presented with a set of search results. The main titles of those search results are actually the meta titles of those pages.
Meta title tags are also visible at the top of a browser:
The meta title tag is important because it is one of the few meta elements which is visible directly to web users. A badly worded meta title is going to drive away search users, thus severely affecting its click-through rate.
Meta Description Tag
The meta description tag is just as important as the meta title tag, as it can be seen by users in search results.
Usually, the meta description tag contains valuable and actionable information about a page’s content.
What most SEO specialists try to ‘fill’ a page’s meta description with highly-searched keywords so the page has better chances to come up in search results. This is a good practice, as long as you don’t go overboard with keywords.
Usually, Google will choose to display the first 155 characters of a meta description, so try keeping it brief and to the point, with well-chosen keywords.
Meta Robots Tag
The meta robots tags act as instructions for search crawlers on what they should do with your page. These tags are generic, and are used to control the behaviour of all search engines, not just Google.
The robots tag can be specified with different arguments based on what you want the search crawlers to do (default values are index and follow):
- noindex: Prevents the page from being indexed by search engines.
- Nofollow: Prevents search engines from following links on the page.
Meta Keywords Tag (Deprecated)
The meta keywords tag is not recognized by Google anymore, since it was notorious for being abused by search engine marketers to ‘steal’ traffic by using popular (but unrelated) keywords for web pages.
Optimizing Meta Elements for SEO
Meta elements still play a vital role in determining how well your page will be ranked by search engines. As such, it is important to come up with meta elements which are produced using SEO strategies such as keyword research.
There is no simple formula to help you come up with meta titles and descriptions that will be viewed more favorably by search engines. For titles, it is absolutely important that you include the core keyword once. For meta descriptions, many users make the mistake of ‘stuffing’ them with keywords. This has an adverse effect on readability, and thus reduces reader confidence and trust.