The Internet Consultancy Group

What are HTML Meta Tags

Want to achieve the best search engine rankings and become top of Google? Just by adding these so called ‘meta tags’ to your website and you will magically rise to the top? Unfortunately this is not the case, those days have long gone. The search engine algorithm has changed and become even more advanced. Meta tags are one piece in a large algorithmic puzzle that the search engines look at when deciding which results are relevant to show users who have typed in a search query.

Meta tags definitely aren’t a magic solution to gaining rankings in Google, Bing, Yahoo, or elsewhere – so let’s forget that myth right from the start. However, meta tags will help tell the search engines and your users what your website is about, and when meta tags are implemented incorrectly, the negative impact can be substantial and heartbreaking. There have been many fake websites adding meta tags with incorrect data. The search engine algorithm has caught onto this and these fake pages have lost the google juice dramatically.

Let’s take a look at what meta tags are, why meta tags matter, and how to avoid mistakes when implementing meta tags on your website.

What Are Meta Tags?

The HTML meta tags are page data tags added to the of the HTML document.

The text or data in these tags are not displayed, but they tell the browsers (or other web services) specific information about the page. In simple terms they “explain” the page so a browser can understand it.

Here’s a code example of meta tags:

<head> <title>Not a Meta Tag, but required anyway</title> <meta name="description" content="Website Description Here"> <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html;charset=UTF-8"> </head>

The Title Tag

Although the <title> tag appears in the head block of the page, it isn’t really a meta tag as such. What is difference? The title tag is a required page “element” according to the W3C. Whereas meta tags are optional page descriptors.

The Description Meta Tag

The description tag looks like this:

<meta name="description" content="The meta description is a meta tag that describes your Web page.">

In an ideal world your description should be no longer than 155 characters (including spaces).

  • Google started cutting off descriptions after 155-160 characters.
  • MSN started cutting off descriptions after 175-180 characters.
  • Yahoo! started cutting off descriptions after 160-165 characters.

However, check the search engine results page (SERP) of choice to confirm this. Some are longer and some are shorter.

The “description” meta tag helps websites in three important ways:

  1. The “Description” tells the search engine what your page or website is about: For the search engines to understand what your web page is about, you must write a good description. When Google’s algorithm decides a description is badly written or inaccurate, it will replace that description with its own version of what is on the page. So instead of letting Google describe your page your better of giving the page the best description possible.
  2. A good “Description” will help with click through rates to your website: If you write a good description it will not only keep Google away from rewriting it, but it will also helps you get more people clicking through to your website. A well-written description not only tells users what is on your page, but also entices them to visit your site. A description is what shows up here in the search engine results. It is like good window dressing. Sites with poor descriptions will get less click throughs and the search engines will demote your site in favor of other sites.
  3. “Description” helps with site rankings: The common belief (based on what Google said in 2009) is that nothing in the description will help you get rankings. However, I have seen evidence to the contrary. Is it heavily weighted? No, but if you want some value on a secondary keyword (say an –ing –ed or –s), use it here.

The Keywords Meta Tag

Many many years ago the “keywords” meta tag was a critical page element for early search engines. The only search engine that looks at the keywords anymore is Microsoft’s Bing – and it is mainly used to help detect spam.

If you think that by adding 100’s of keywords in the hopes of higher search rankings. It won’t work. Sorry.

If you already have keyword meta tags on your website, but they aren’t spammy, there’s no reason to spend the next week hurriedly taking them out. It’s OK to leave them for now – just take them out as you’re able, to reduce page weight and load times.

Other Meta Tags

There are plenty of other meta tags, but nowadays none are really considered that useful. Many of the tags that we used did things like:

Told the spider when to come back
<meta name="revisit-after" content="30 days">
Told the browser the distribution
<meta name="distribution" content="web">
Told the page to refresh
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="30">
Told the page to redirect/refresh
<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="x_seconds; url=http://www.yourhost.com/pagetosendto.html">

These meta tags aren’t used anymore, either because there are better ways (such as schema tagging or server side methods) or because the engines they used to work on are no longer in existence or Google has explicitly told us they are not great ideas (such as redirects at the page level).

Robots Meta Tag

The robots tag is still one of the most important tags. Not so much for the proper implementation, but the improper.

The robots meta tag lets you specify that a particular page should not be indexed by a search engine or if you do or do not want links on the page followed.

Believe it or not, it is still common for a site to be deindexed because someone accidentally added a noindex tag to the entire site. Understanding this tag is vitally important.

The Charset Tag

Finally, all sites must validate charset. In the U.S., that is the UTF-8 tag. Just make sure this is on your page if you’re delivering HTML using English characters.

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">