What are meta tags?

Meta tags are snippets of text that add additional information about your website and pages for search engines to understand. Meta tags do not appear on webpages, however, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t visible to users. In this guide, we will explore the important meta tags, how to structure these for the best results and which tags can be ignored.

 

How do I add meta tags to my website?

Meta tags are at the top of every page, in the <head> section of a website, so they are the first thing seen by search engines. It is important then that you don’t add meta tags for the sake of adding them. If they are not necessary, then don’t include them on your website. This will just take up more code space, where less is better.

You can either add meta tags directly to your website in the <head></head> section or most CMS platforms have their own method to add meta tags through settings or plugins. At 90, we use Yoast SEO on WordPress – you can read our guide on how to use Yoast SEO for WordPress if you’re new to this plugin.

 

How to check for meta tags on a site?

If you want to take a look at the meta tags on a website, just right click and go to ‘View Page Source’. You will see the code for the whole page and you will find the meta tags in the head section.

You can also analyse meta tags using tools like Screaming Frog, SEMrush, Ahrefs and most other site analysis tools.

 

Are meta tags important for SEO?

Meta tags are still important for SEO in 2019, for example, title tags alone can affect rankings. However, not all tags are created equal. Throughout this guide, I hope to make it clear which meta tags you should focus on and which ones can simply be ignored.

 

The most important meta tags in 2019

 

Title Tag

The title tag is one of the most important meta tags in that it is the first thing a user sees in search results and one of the first things search engines see when they crawl the site. It should tell users and search engines what the webpage is about and so it should include relevant keywords to present this. If Google deems your title irrelevant, a different title may be shown on SERPs instead.

Although the title tag doesn’t directly affect rankings, it can definitely help. Well written and optimised title tags will certainly carry more weight for relevance in rankings, which should entice users to click through to the site – the higher CTR (click-through rate) and clear relevance of the page content from the descriptive title help rankings overall.

The title tag is visible in three key locations browser tabs, SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), and social media platforms.

Title Tag Browser Screenshot

Meta Description SERP Screenshot

Title Tag Best Practices

  • Try to keep your title tags under 50-60 characters. 90% of titles under 60 characters should be displayed correctly, but this can differ due to the varying pixel width of different letters. The max pixel width for a title is currently 600 pixels for Google.
  • Do not stuff your title with keywords, put important keywords near the beginning, and take full advantage of your brand.
  • The optimal format for a title tag is:
    • Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
  • Every page needs to have a unique page title.
  • Write for your users. Although title tags help search engines understand your pages, the title tag is very important for CTR and so you need to appeal to users. Titles should be clear, natural, and descriptive.

 

Meta Description

The meta description is a follow on from the title tag and should describe what the page is about in more detail. The meta description is not a direct ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. However, it does affect CTR and the higher the CTR, the more relevant your page will be, which could increase rankings. This, of course, is also affected by time on page, bounce rates and pogo sticking, which may indicate that you are great at enticing users to click through to your page, but the actual content is not what they were looking for. Therefore, meta descriptions can be an indirect ranking factor and still carry a lot of importance. Because of this, it’s important to write meta descriptions for users and not for search engines.

 

Meta Description Best Practices

  • Ideally, your meta description will be between 50 and 160 characters. Any longer and they will usually get truncated in SERPs.
  • Use power words to help attract users to your page.
  • Don’t duplicate your meta descriptions or your SERPs results will all look the same, leading to lower CTR, lower relevance and a potential drop in rankings over time.

 

Meta Content Type

The meta content type tag is required on your website to state the character set and is necessary to ensure your page loads correctly. Your web designers should know the best option to include for your site, or this tag is included as standard if you’re using a platform like WordPress.

 

Viewport Tag

The viewport tag is necessary for a mobile-first experience. By specifying the viewport you are configuring how the page should be scaled on different devices, so the user experience is not impaired when your site is displayed on a smaller screen. This tag has nothing to do with SEO, but by taking the time to set the viewport tag, you will improve the overall experience for mobile users, which will have a knock-on effect for other ranking factors.

 

Robots meta tag

The robots meta tag is specifically for crawl bots to tell them what to do with your webpages. By default, all pages will be indexable and all links will be dofollow – you do not need to include this tag if you are happy with the default. You only need to include a robots meta tag if you do not want a page to be indexed or a link to be followed. This would include adding ‘noindex’ to the page or ‘nofollow’. If you need more help with this, Moz has a guide on Robots Meta Directives.

 

Social Media Meta Tags (Open Graph and Twitter Cards)

Social Media Meta Tags are not required for a website but can improve how your links look on social platforms as it helps these networks to pull more information about your page. Open Graph was initially introduced by Facebook but is now also recognised by LinkedIn and Google+. Twitter Cards are a similar approach, but exclusive to Twitter.

Within these meta tags, you can include images, titles and descriptions to amend how they look on different social platforms.

 

What about the keywords tag?

You may have heard a lot about meta keywords in the past, but Google has not used the meta keywords tag since September 2009. This tag got abused by people stuffing it with irrelevant keywords and it quickly became an unreliable metric to use for rankings.

 

Conclusion

There are many more meta tags out there, but these are the ones you should focus on – and even then, only the first four are absolutely necessary. Although many of the meta tags are not direct ranking factors, it is clear that by taking the time to set these up correctly can greatly improve the user experience and so in the long run, they can affect rankings, along with many other metrics along the way.

If you need help with setting up any of your meta tags or you need support to optimise what you already have, we’re happy to have a chat with you.

Kayleigh Stubbs

Kayleigh Stubbs

With over eight years experience in media and communications and a love of writing, design and technology, Kayleigh looks after analytics and conversion rate optimisation for our clients.