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What is META? Well to be honest it is a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential. Did that answer your question? No? Oh, then you were asking about META tags! Well why didn’t you say so.
Meta tags are found in the html code of your website, more specifically, in the head tag of your site. All of the META information is hidden from users that visit your site, but it plays a big part in Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
From an SEO standpoint there are 4 META tags that we always look at, title, description, keywords and canonical. While there is much debate over the effectiveness of these tags, especially the keywords tag, these tags are still very useful. For one they tell the search engines what the web page is about, the title and the description are also what a user sees on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPS – what users see when searching on Google, Bing or any search engine). There are some key rules that most SEO’s follow to help surface a client’s site.
The first rule that we follow is in regards to the title tag. The best way to describe a title tag is think of it as the title of a chapter of a book, it tells people and the search engines what the page is all about. The title tag also plays a big part in whether a user visits you site. The title should be less than 70 characters long, including spaces, if it is longer than that it could be cut off and not show in the SERPs. The title should also include the most important keyword to the page, to let the search engines know this is your main focus. In the example below, you can see that it is telling you exactly what the web page is about, search engine optimization, and who the company or brand is, Lead to Conversion. As you can see you can effectively convey everything your title needs in 70 characters.
After you create an amazing title tag, most SEO’s move on to create a moving description. The description tag also has a character rule of 160, which gives you a little more room to describe the page, include your main keyword for the page entice users to click on it. The description tag is essentially your “ad” for your page, it is what shows up in SERPs and is your chance to get users to visit your site. Since each page of your site is unique (or it should be), each description should be just as unique. The head of Google’s Webspam Team, Matt Cutts just recently spoke about the importance of META description tag diversity. If you notice in the example below, the description tells you what we do AND asks you to contact us for a free consultation. As you can see, getting all of the information in 160 characters or less can be done, and done effectively.
Once you create your description the next tag is the keyword tag, but good news, there are no rules! Bad news, this is the most controversial of all the tags. There is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of this tag, however I still believe it is useful because the search engines do still crawl your page. The keywords tag is a brief, concise list of the most important themes of your page. While there is no rule about how many keywords to use, you should be selecting the most important 7-15 keywords or phrases. These keywords and phrases should also be placed in order of importance and separated by commas. While you may forget about the number of keywords or which order to put them in, you should NOT forget the commas. For example, if you saw a sentence “Let’s Eat, Brian”, now what if that comma is gone? That turns into “Let’s Eat Brian”, now you turned into a cannibal, just remember commas save lives.
The final tag we will discuss today are canonical tags, they tell the search engine crawlers which page is the primary and which page is the duplicate. These allow the crawler to only index or look at the main page and ignore the duplicates; essentially it is a hint of what page to use in SERP results. A good example of this would be if you have a website you may have www.mysite.com as well as mysite.com, you would use a rel=”canonical” to tell the search engines to use only one version of your site in the results. You should also make sure that you do not use canonical tags wrong, for example if you have all of the canonical tags on all of your pages pointing to www.mysite.com, you have just taken all of your other pages out of SERPs, and now no one will be able to find those other pages. The bottom line is if this tag is fantastic for making sure that your site gets indexed the correct way, but if it isn’t used the correct way you could lose quite a bit of traffic.
There are many more types of META tags that SEO’s and developers use when building a website, check out the full list yourself!
How do you like to use META tags? Any tips or tricks? Do you even use META keywords? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!