The Write Stuff – Blog

Apr 23 2012 What is a meta tag? (And what you need to know about them)
What is a meta tag

If you’re new to SEO, you may have heard the terms “meta tag”, “meta title”, “meta description” and “meta keyword tag”, but not really known what they were or how they could benefit your business.

So what is a meta tag?

A meta tag is the line of code which contains the meta data about a webpage. This data includes the meta title, meta description and meta keywords.

In simple terms, this is the information which shows up in search results when you conduct a search online.

For instance, if you were to search for  “SEO copywriter Adelaide” you would find the following meta data for Copybreak.

SEO Copywriter Adelaide Australia

This data is then broken down into:

the meta titlethe blue, underlined text,
the meta descriptionthe black text that forms the search result “snippet”,
and the meta keywordsthe words that describe the business/service.

Do meta tags help SEO?

When search engine Google first launched, the meta data provided the information a search engine needed to determine:

  • what a site was about
  • how relevant it was to the user, and
  • where it was ultimately placed in the search results.

This worked fine until lots of dodgy sites began to stuff keywords (often unrelated) in their meta keyword tag to drive traffic to their sites – effectively spamming the search results. As a result, the major search engines no longer pay attention to meta keyword tags (Google’s Matt Cutts explains in this short video).

So while meta keyword tags no longer have any influence when it comes to where your site ranks in the search results, the meta title and meta description tags do play a far more important role. Let’s look at them a little closer.

Meta title tag

If you haven’t written custom meta titles for your pages, these will be automatically generated from your page name. This is why you’ll often see tags which have “home” in the title, or other useless information.

Let’s look at a couple of the sites that came up when I entered a search using the keywords “spa pumps”.

Meta tag example 1

Meta tag example 2

Both tags offer very little useful information relating to “spa pumps” in their meta title. The first tag doesn’t list the keywords at all, and while the second tag has the keywords, the rest of the information is pretty useless (unless I’m also looking for those specific model numbers).

In contrast, the meta title in the example below lists all the relevant keywords as well as a great incentive for prospective customers to click through to their site.

Meta tag example 3

Customising your meta title tags to include relevant keywords and useful information not only replaces a potentially useless generic meta title, it also assures your audience that your site is appropriate to their needs and therefore increases the likelihood of them clicking through to your site.

Meta description tag

The snippet of text beneath the meta title is your meta description. Again, this provides a fantastic opportunity to connect with your audience and encourage them to click through to your site.

As with the meta title you’ll want to include the keywords most relevant to the page, but you also have a little more room to “sell” your products or services. Make this snippet interesting and if you have room, develop a call to action to give your audience a solid reason to click through to your site.

Meta tag example 5Meta tag example 4

If you were looking to buy a spa pump, which site would you click through to? The one with the disjointed, repetative meta description, or the one that offers a Troubleshooting Guide and “how to” video?

Which one seems to offer the better service and value?

Meta tag word limits

Clearly you don’t have a lot of room to write your meta titles or meta descriptions, but what are the limits? Your meta title shouldn’t be longer than 70 characters – which will include spaces and punctuation – and you’ll have about 156 characters for your meta description.

DO IT LIKE  A PRO: To see if your meta tags measure up, you can copy and paste them into this awesome Google SERP Snippet Optimisation Tool from SEOmofo.

UPDATE! Since Google updated the look of their search results, the character limits for meta title tags has been significantly reduced.

See: How Google’s new search display affects your title tags for more information.

The final word

While meta tags may not hold much value when it comes to where your site ranks in search engines like Google (the quality of your content is now the major driving factor), they still play a critical part in whether or not prospective customers visit your site.

Unless a prospect is typing your web address directly into their browser, this will be your very first chance to make an impression, so it pays to get it right.

Just like the rest of your website content, you can update your website meta tags at any time. If you’re not confident about doing this yourself, an SEO copywriter (like me!) can write these for you and you can ask your web developer to update your site with the new tags.

If you’ve got any questions about meta tags you can post them here, or on my Facebook page, and I’ll be happy to help.

 

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