What are Meta Tags and why are they important?

Meta tagsMeta Tags have been one of the  most basic elements of SEO. It is a must to know for every SEO practitioner. Are meta tags a factor in Google page rank? Is it important? What effect does it have in your site’s SEO?

Meta tags have been around since… Since I can remember. They have been a big part in search engine history. They were valued as a factor in rankings before – until people started abusing their use in getting on top of the SERPs. After that, Google opted meta tags out of the ranking factors. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important anymore. Meta tags still play quite a big role in your site’s SEO.

Meta tags are the words that are hidden in your code. People browsing your site will just not be able to see them. It is, as Danny Sullivan puts it, a ‘legal’ way of hiding words in your webpages for search engines. The search engines still read them for it to have a simple, summarized idea of what your site is about and what exactly your keywords are.

Meta tags are located inside your html’s head area.

<head>Meta tags are located here</head>

There are three important parts of Meta tags that you can use:

1. Title – The title tag is the title text that is shown in search engine listings. I know that this is not necessarily a meta tag, but it similarly functions like one.

<title>Title text here</title>

2. Description – The meta description tag is where you would want to put your site’s summary. This is where you put what your site is all about and what you are offering people. It should not be too long because the search engines only read up to a certain number of words.

<meta name=”description” content=”This is where you put your site’s summary”/>

3. Keywords – The meta keywords tag is where you put all of the keywords you use in your site. This is basically where you want the words which will take you to the top of the SERPs page to be. Your keywords are important – even if you take away all of the other words, the user should be able to know what your site is all about when they read your keywords.

<meta name=”keywords” content=”SEO, Hacker, Google, Search, etc”/>

These three things make up your meta tags.

The importance of meta tags is that the search engines read them in order to compare if these keywords and the description are related with the visible content. Are your keywords present in your webpage? Is your meta description related with your content and your site’s niche? There is certain weight in your meta tags that the search engines see, that being the reason, wouldn’t you want to do everything in order to bring your page a little bit higher in the SERPs? That’s exactly the reason why meta tags is important.

Tips for Keeps: Even if meta tags do not hold much water when it comes to page ranking, their importance is still present as the search engine robots validate their relativity to your content and site niche.

This entry is part of the SEO Hacker School series: Using Meta Tags for SEO

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  • Thanks you so much for this excellent post. It confirms what I have been saying to all my clients for the last year or so. "There's no purpose in adding a bunch of keywords in the metadata if Google doesn't find them in your content". Just great.

    • You're very welcome Diane!
      Yeah and they also have to be limited. You can't put a long meta description or too much meta keywords because the search engines only read up to a certain amount of characters. So we have to be mindful of that too.

  • Yes, you are right for Yahoo and Ask. Meta tags may play a minor role in these two engines. It won't hurt you to add them ;-)

    • My thoughts exactly
      Thank you for sharing such helpful links orenoque! I personally Appreciate your valuable thoughts on this topic!

  • Sorry to contradict you but meta keywords are useless since 2002. http://searchenginewatch.com/2165061

    Even Google says so, here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/0

    • You're right Orenoque, But I still like to add the main keywords in the metadata for other search engines than Google. But most important is the meta description. Thanks.

      • Bruce Etzcorn

        I was going to say the same thing as O-

        I would still suggest not using keywords meta tag. It shows your competition what your optimizing for and allows them to easily start crowding your territory. All that time you spend researching keywords is wasted the second you enter them into keywords meta.

        I know there are tools out there that help strip keywords from pages/websites but I’d prefer to make them work for it instead of giving my keywords to them.

  • Meta description are also useless for ranking. Although they are very usefull for improving the snippets in the search engine result pages and increasing clickthrough rate.

    In its own «Guide de démarrage relatif à l'optimisation pour les moteurs de recherche» Google provides some clues as to what are the important things to consider for SEO:http://www.google.com/webmasters/docs/search-engi

    In English it is "Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide"http://www.google.com/webmasters/docs/search-engi

    • Thank you for this heads-up!
      Yes some search engines do completely scrap the meta tags and it won't hurt you not to have them. But don't you think the fact that yahoo and ask retrieves meta keywords they've indexed (according to Danny Sullivan) is a little bit more help for your SEO?

  • Danny Sullivan also suggests that you target misspellings of your keywords in the meta kws section as this can allow you to easily rank for common mispellings.

  • Now I remember where I started reading this SEO, I have that printed version of the Google SEO Starter guide from an office colleague. I wonder where's my copy?

    • Read more from Google – they have the best stuff. But they give out quite sparingly at times so you better have other sources too :)

  • Certainly nothing is missing..!! Great work..

  • Hi, good info on your site. I’m a newbie.

    • Hey Janet,
      Thanks! Glad you like what you read.

  • Shakeer Shaik

    Thanks for the info !!! This is my first week in the world of SEO !!! And i appreciate ur tweets !! :)

    • Welcome to the world of SEO Shakeer! Great to have you onboard :)

  • Shakeer Shaik

    Thank You !!! And could you please suggest any book for the SEO beginner ? Which would cover all the basics one should be familiar with in the SEO world !!!

    • Hmm well you could get that in this course and more. As for a book, I don’t have any because I didn’t learn SEO through books. I’m not the studious type, really. I’m more of the trial-and-error type of guy. Fast feedback loops and testing.

  • Shakeer Shaik

    Okie thanks for the hint !!! :)

  • Good tip. But there’s gonna be some new grounds to discover. Google wants to make the Plus tagging to be a part of their ever changing Google ratings algorithm.

  • Now I see the importance of Meta tags, there’s no more compromise to skip it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • I just finished implementing meta tags in my blogs! Hope to improved the visibility of my site. Thanks for the info!

  • You are absolutely right about meta tag. Even though search engine like Google can analyze site content from snippet but if you apply meta tag key words and description it will be useful for other search engine like yahoo and bing. And further more search engine will be able to choose whether to use snippet or meta tag description for search result.

  • selenagomez

    This post has been somewhat of a revelation to me.

  • Anon

    If you want Google to use the description that you’ve written in your Meta description tag, simply place your targeted keyword phrase within it and Google will use your Meta description.

    If you choose not too, Google will take a snippet of content from your web page that has that keyword phrase in it. Most of the time, that will not read very smoothly.

  • Lino German

    Informative post, thank you for sharing.

  • Roberto
  • Metas describe the content of you document. They always have been an important part of the code, and for search engine. We tend to forget them, when we focus on layout, deadlines, and link building. It tells what the page is about and are easily done when the content is well structured. It’s good to remind people now and again why they are important. It’s one piece of HTML that haven’t change in the last 20 years. Thanks for sharing

  • Käyttölainat

    SEO Meta Tags for better SEO-score is just yesterday’s news.

    • h3sean

      Somewhat. It still has an indirect effect so personally, I’d still improve it every time.

  • Brandon

    You have forgotten how they indirectly play a role as well.

  • Very informative post thanks for sharing

  • Thank you very much for your tips.I have currently all in 1 seo plugin