What are meta tags and how do they impact my rankings?

by | Jul 21, 2015

Here at Spidersnet, we have been working hard to ensure that our dealers are as equipped as possible to handle all aspects of online marketing. One such area is search engine optimisation – or SEO. So, here is a guide to meta tags, which are an important aspect of SEO.

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Search Engine Optimization can be categorized into two principles – on-site and off-site. Elements of both have been covered in previous blog entries. For example, from an off-site perspective we talked about the importance of links. Similarly, in terms of on-site we discussed content tips for your site. However, before we can even contemplate creating mind blowing content for our site, we must start at the beginning – meta tags. If you want a page on your site to rank for a keyword, you won’t get very far without optimised meta tags.

 

But what are meta tags?

 

“Meta tags are snippets of text that describe a page’s content; the meta tags don’t appear on the page itself, but only in the page’s code. The ‘meta’ stands for ‘metadata,’ which is the kind of data these tags provide – data about the data on your page.”

Wordstream 

 

Essentially, meta tags exist in the source code of a web page. Their primary function is to provide an insight to both users and search engines, as to what the content on that page is about. Still doesn’t make much sense? Any user of the web will encounter meta tags on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at some of the main ones in more detail.

 

Title tags (or page titles)

A title tag is the most crucial meta tag in regards to getting your page ranking for a particular keyword. Every page on your site should have a unique, optimized title tag that accurately describes the content of the page, both to Google and to the user.

From a SEO perspective, the title of your page should closely match the keyword you want that page to rank for. When a search engine spider crawls a web page, the title tag is the first element it encounters. It uses this to help decipher what the content of that page is about. It is therefore vital that you not only choose a title tag that accurately depicts what the page is about, but also that you choose a term that people are searching for. For example, if you are a used car dealer in Southampton, you would want your homepage title tag to be something along the lines of:

‘Used Car Dealer in Southampton’, or, ‘Cars for Sale in Southampton’

However, if you are primarily a Ford dealer, this would need to be reflected:

‘Ford Used Car Dealer in Southampton’ or, ‘Ford Cars for Sale in Southampton’

Title tags are arguably seen as one of the most important, if not basic, ranking factors.

 

As well as being vital in terms of SEO, they also act as the link that users click on in the search engine results pages. They therefore provide users with a useful insight into the content of the webpage, which will ultimately impact their decision to click (or not click) on your page vs your competitor. This is known as click-through rate (CTR).

Meta descriptions

We know that title tags provide users with a useful insight into the content of your web page, as well as having an important role in rankings. However, when your site is ranking for a search term, it is then the meta description that provides the greatest opportunity to attract a searcher to your site vs the 9 other organic results. Whilst they do not directly influence search engine rankings, these meta tags can be highly effective in generating more traffic to your site. So, as well as having the keyword in your title tag, you must also include the keyword in your meta description.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind when writing an effective meta description:

  1. Include your search term – this will be bolded and will attract the user’s attention.
  2. Write it as a natural sentence. Don’t make it sound spammy!
  3. Include a call to action (CTA).
  4. Like title tags, ensure every page is unique.
  5. Try and keep under 160 characters, anything over this will be cut off (like in the Spidersnet example above).

H1 tags

As well having a keyword in your title tag, you should also include it in the H1 tag on your webpage. This tag primarily provides further reference to search engines as to what keyword you are targeting, and thus what the content on the page is about. It also helps Google understand how the content on the page is ordered semantically. The H1 tag generally acts as a header to indicate where the main body of your content starts. In some cases, this would be followed by H2/H3 tags etc. The importance of having your keyword in the H1 tag of the page has declined in importance, however it is widely recommended that you still include it as a form of best practise. On the homepage of Spidersnet sites, the H1 tag will normally be found above your company description. See screenshot below, which shows it in relation to the title tag.

In conclusion

Whilst it is widely acknowledged within the SEO community that meta tags, as a primary ranking signal, are becoming less important in place of other factors such as backlinks and good quality content, they are still an essential form of on-page optimisation. By ensuring the keyword you want to target is present in your title tag, meta description and H1 tag, as well as naturally dropped into the on-page copy, you are well on the way to keyword ranking success.