What are meta tags and how do they impact my rankings?
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.”
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)
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).
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when writing an effective meta description:
- Include your search term – this will be bolded and will attract the user’s attention.
- Write it as a natural sentence. Don’t make it sound spammy!
- Include a call to action (CTA).
- Like title tags, ensure every page is unique.
- Try and keep under 160 characters, anything over this will be cut off (like in the Spidersnet example above).