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Meta Tags for SEO- A Complete Guide


meta tag seo

When talking about on page SEO, the phrase meta tag usually pop up.
But, does all of the meta tags are important for search engines?
Where you need to put most effort and time?
What tools for meta tags one can use and what are the best seo meta tags ?
Find out all this and more in this post and don’t forget to comment below.
Look for the infographic inside!


• What Are Meta Tags
• Title Tag
• Description Tag
• H1 Tag
• Keywords Tag
• Meta Robots Tag
• Canonical Tag
• Social Media meta Tags
• More Tags
• Tools For Metadata
• Combining all together
• Wrapping up


What Are Meta Tags

A meta tag (short for metadata tag) is piece of code in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) that help to describe a webpage content.
Meta tags exist in the head section of the HTML page and are not visible to user, but only to search engines.

Examples of Meta Tags
If you do right-click on your page and select View Page Source, you’ll be able to see the meta tags.
Here is an example from Netotraffic home page, we’ll latter take a look about what some of these tags mean.

netotraffic meta tags

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”30″>
Refresh document every 30 seconds.

<meta charset=”UTF-8″>
Specify the character encoding for the HTML document to be UTF-8

<meta name=”description” content=”A tutorials on Meta Tags for SEO”>
Define a description of your web page

<meta name=”author” content=”James Sun”>
Define the author of a page

Meta Tag should contain Attribute to define what it does.
For example, the name Attribute can be: author, description, application-name, generator and keywords.
Meta Tags also supports the Global Attributes in HTML, like: Class and Style.

The most important tags for SEO
The focus on seo meta tags changed during the years, as search engines evolved.
When looking on what Google’s says and how things developed over the years, there are only 3-4 most important tags for seo
And one that is not used any more.
lets start looking about each of these seo tags.

Title Tag

Importance: The most important tag for SEO
Syntax: <title>Title Goes Here</title>

Purpose
The title tag appears in the top of the browser page and it’s a must according to the W3C.
It’s also one of the two most important tags for seo.
The title tag is used to identify the page among others pages and to tell shortly what the page is about, it’s like title of a book chapter.
This is how it will look in the browser

title tag in browser

And in the search engine results

title tag in serach results

Length
Many times you’ll see recommendation to limit the title length to no more than 70 characters, otherwise it will be clipped by the search engine like google. But, the limitation is not on the number of characters , it’s pixel width limitation.
The Page Title Pixel Meter is one tool to help you with this.
According to the tool developer, he found the maximum width of a page title is something between 466 to 496 pixels.

Page Title Pixel Meter

Keywords Placement
Select what are the best keywords you want to rank for, according to the page content, and use them in your title.
First ,should come your most important keywords, the least important ones should be last.
Note: If you use right-to-left language, the order is reversed.

Meta Tags Guide for SEO

Keywords Selection
The keywords you use in your title should describe the page content.
It’s not good idea to select them only according to search engine, your first priority should be users.
You need to keep a balance between the humans and machines.
like, it’s not logical to put only buy keywords in your FAQ page, you should combine descriptive and power keywords as general approach.

Make it Readable
Use pipes | to separate between your keywords.
This is good way to put short information related to the page.
Also it’s not necessary to use stop words, such ‘but’, ‘the’, ‘is’, ‘which’,’then’ as they take space and won’t help your seo much.
{keywords1 | keywords2 |keywords3…}

Brand Name
If you have strong brand name, you would like to include in the beginning of your title:
{Brand | Other keywords}
This is good for users looking for you by brand and to enhance your seo.

On the other hand, you might want to use the brand name at the end of the title and give higher weight to other keywords.
{Other keywords |Brand}

I think it’s good idea to add brand name for every title you have, it’s good for your brand awareness and to strength your authority.
It will help search engines to determine what your company is about and what products you sell.

Don’t Do

-Use the same title tag
For each of your pages, use a different title tag. It’s good both for seo and users to avoid confusion.

-Stuff Keywords
Repeating the same keyword over and over is of no help.
Google is smart enough to main words that you want to emphasis.
It can be that Google will pick another title to show, if he thinks yours is not good enough- so don’t give him an excuse for that.

-Use Special Characters in the title
Special Characters like: $,£,€,! are not allowed and will be ignore by the search engine.

More guidelines from Google on making a page title review.

Description Tag

Importance: Not effects SEO directly, but still counts
Syntax: <meta name=”description” content=”Description Goes Here”>

Purpose
This tag is used for a brief description of the web page.

Length
To avoid truncate of the description, best to keep it between 150 and 160 characters.
This is not pixel based like the title tag.

What your page is about
Good description help search engines to understand what your page is about.
Google can replace the description with its own version for the page if he thinks it’s not accurate or correct.

Click through rate (CTR)
Even so it doesn’t effect the search result ranking, a good description can improve the click through to your site.
Most people will click to a site if they think it can help them with what they need.
You should include words that are most suitable for the page content in a way that can attract visitors.
It’s highly important when it comes to commercial site with product pages, so pay attention to this.
But remember, writing for humans and for machines is the best advice.

To achieve a compelling description and to get more clicks, you can use rich snippets.

amazon Schema review

However, Google doesn’t guarantee they’ll use these snippets for your results.
I wrote about rich snippets and markup in how to get more organic traffic

CTR is also important factor in google ranking algorithm.
Google would like to see around 30% CTR for sites that rank first in the search results ,so trying to improve your CTR is right thing to do.
I gave few advices about this in the post How to rank a website without links ,see the section How to increase click through rate.

Don’t Do

Leave empty description
Even is it’s allowed, better not to.
In that case, the search engine will fill it in for you,I prefer to supply my own description.

Have duplicate description
Each one of your pages should have its own unique description.

H1 Tag

Importance: High
Syntax: <h1>Text to emphasize</h1>

Purpose
Search Engines (SE) gives more weight to text inside this tag, therefore it’s perfect for extending the Title tag usage.
The good thing, you have unlimited number of characters to use, therefore you can put more important keywords Into this tag.
Another use can be to strength your Brand name by using it in this tag.

The preferred location is at the beginning of your post and most SE expect to find only one H1 per page.
If you want to emphasize other parts, use the H2..H6 tags or bold.

Keywords Tag

Importance: Not relevant
Syntax: <meta name=”keywords” content=”kw1,kw2,kw3″>

Purpose
To Add relevant keywords for your page and describe it better.

What are meta keywords ?
The meta-keywords tag used to be the ‘Holly Grail’ for how to rank high in search engines, but not any more.
The tag purpose was good, to add some main keywords helping to describe the page.
But, very soon people created spammy pages with keywords stuffing for the goal of ranking high.

In the old days, If you a had a page on dogs, you could use relevant keywords as:
domestic, German Shepherd and Canis lupus to give hint for the search engine (SE) on your content.
But, what if you want to trick the SE and let it think your page is about something you don’t relay have?
Using meta tag keywords it was easy to fool SE about your true intentions.
Finally, search engines detected this manipulation and put an end to this.

Today SE are much smarter, they can read and understand your page content at some level, still not like humans do.
The Panda update, which first appeared in February 2011, is designed to find these low quality content sites and prevent them from ranking well in SERP.
Panda can penalize for things as : duplicate content, spammy pages or too many ad.

Because of the overuse of this tag, it was depreciated by most SE.
So today, the keywords tag is useless and it’s even recommended not to add it to the webpage.

Meta Robots Tag

Importance: important
Syntax: Syntax: <meta name=”robots” content=”<value>”>

Purpose
Telling the search engines what to do with your pages.
The most important ones are these 4 name attributes.

Index
Allow search engines robots to index the page (it’s the default).

noindex
Disallow search engines from showing the page in their results.

follow
Tells the search engines robots to follow the links on the page to index them.

nofollow

Tells the search engines robots to not follow any links on the page.

The ultimate guide to the meta robots tag

Why the tag is important ?
Essentially, this tag can effect if your page should be indexed by the search engine or not.
Even accidentally adding the Noindex attribute can prevent a page from been indexed, not speaking about a whole website.
So this tag carries a lot of power.

To make sure you page is indexed, just enter the url into the search box and you should see it in the results.

indexed page example

 

In WordPress, plugins like Yoast and All in one SEO can do all the seo work for you.
Here is a screen shoot from one of my pages using All in one SEO.
You can change the title and description meta tags and also set the noindex and nofollow attributes for the Robots Tag.
Again, make sure they are not selected, unless you have something else on your mind.
We’ll see more about this later.

Canonical Tag

Importance: moderate
Syntax: <link rel=”canonical” href=”<value>” />

Purpose
This tag can help you deal with duplicate content, by selecting a preferred (”canonical”) version of a web page.
When the search engine see there is more than one URL with the same content ,i.e, duplicate , it will prefer the canonical URL.

How duplicated content is created?
Some ways that duplicates are been created-
Someone copying your page without a permission, Content curation by it’s nature has duplicates, Content syndication like rss feeds ,software that scraped your page.
As you know, duplicate content is not something that search engines love.
It cause them issues on how to treat such content, what to index, what to trust and how to rank it the SERP’s.

There are times when you know your about to create a duplicate content, and want the search engines to know about this.
One way for this, is to set the the preferred version with rel=”canonical”.

The preferred page, is the original resource and you need to add this tag for every similar page you have.
This way you sign the search engine what page to show to users searching and also credit the original URL.

When to use it ?
Usually you don’t need to set this tag, Just be aware of it and how it can help you.
Consider using it for pages accessible from more than one place, like categories or when other sites syndicate and publish your content (ask them to use ”canonical” to credit you).

 

All in one SEO short

Social Media meta Tags

With such huge amount of data in social media networks, you want to give your self a better chance.
Facebook, twitter and Google+ allow you to add tags for better content shaping.

Facebook Open Graph Meta Tags
Using Open Graph enables you to optimize how your content appears in a user’s time-line on facebook.
The tags also gives a view on how people share your data on using time-line on facebook.
It enables to convert websites information into Facebook “graph” objects, allowing customization of how website data will shown on Facebook.

facebook open graph data

The most important tag are:
og:title –specify the title of the content (object), best 60-90 characters.
og:type – specify the type of object for your content, it can be: blog, website or article and more.
og:image –An image URL for the image to show in the user’s timeline.
og:url– The URL of the page.
og:description – The description Facebook will show for the content, maximum 300 characters.
fb:admins – determine access to admin features directly from your site.

Examples:
<meta property=”og:title” content=”Some Facebook title”/>
<meta property=”og:url” content=”https://netotraffic.com/content-promoting-ideas/”/>
<meta property=”og:type” content=”blog”/>
<meta property=”og:description” content=”Put your content here”/>

Twitter Cards
Twitter Cards correspond to facebook Open Graph Protocol.
You can attach rich photos, videos and media to Tweets and to drive traffic to your website.
Few card types exist:
Summary Card – for adding description or image.
App Card – to detail a mobile app.
Player Card- to provide video/audio/media.

The most important tag are:
Twitter:card- the card type, default is “summary”.
Twitter:url –The URL of the content.
Twitter:title –the title of the content,maximum 70 characters.
Twitter:description –the description of the content, maximum 200 characters
Twitter:image –the image that will be displayed on the Twitter Card

The example should be similar to facebook, so I’ll not repeat this.

Google+ (Schema.Org)
Schema.org is organization for promoting structured data on the Internet, it can be in few different encodings, like: RDFa, Microdata and JSON-LD.
It appears that Microsoft recommended the Schema.org microdata format for Google+ and also to generate rich snippets in search.
Data is extracted from the shared URL’s content in one of 4 ways, according to this order of precedence:

Schema.org microdata (recommended) >
Open Graph protocol >
Title and meta “description” tags >
Best guess from page content (not recommended)

Here is a code example
<body itemscope itemtype=”http://mysite/product”>
<h1 itemprop=”name”>MyNewProduct</h1>
<img itemprop=”image” src=”{image-url-goes-here}” />
<p itemprop=”description”>Very good seo product.</p>
</body>

For more about the usage of Microdata like: Itemscope and itemprop.

More Tags

Few more tags that are less important, but can come into use.

hreflang tag
This tag is used for localized sites to let the search engine know what is the right version of your content.
When the site has more than one language version ,you need to add the “alternate” tag to prevent duplicates and for better user experience .
Example:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”http://mysite.com” hreflang=”en-au” />

notranslate tag
Prevent from Google to translate the page using Google Translate tool.
<meta name=”google” content=”notranslate” />

Tools For Metadata

There are few tools for the purpose of creation and testing meta tags

•  To Analyze your site’s meta tags like- HTML Meta data, Open Graph, Twitter Cards, App Links and App Indexing you can use the
meta tag analyzer chrome extension.
For each category you’ll get a score on how good you are and overall score as well.

meta tag analyzer

• A second chrome extension to inspect your page is meta seo inspector

meta seo inspector
• To generate title and description you can use tool as Advanced Meta Tags Generator
Tweakyourbiz is generator that help creating titles for articles and blog posts

tweakyourbiz title generator
• Inbound Now Blog Title Generator helps to generate SEO friendly blog post titles
• For validation and testing on page rich snippet markup, there is the Structured Data Testing Tool
• Facebook has Open Graph Object Debugger

Open Graph Object Debugger
• Twitter has Card validator

Combining all together

If you use CMS as WordPress, things are much easy for you when it comes to meta tags.
I’m using “All in one seo” plug-in , but you can get most things with similar plugins as yoast and other full SEO solution plugins.
Inside the page you’ll see the specific setting for it, this setting overrides the general setting.
All in one seo

On top you can see a preview of how your result will look in google.
You can set title, description and control the Meta Robots Tag.
Others less important setting exist (I didn’t capture them).
If you use the general setting, the title will be set according to the title of the page( default).

But there also other option you can set, like:
%blog_title% – Your blog title
%blog_description% – Your blog description
%page_title% – The original title of the page
%page_author_login% – This page’s author’ login
%page_author_nicename% – This page’s author’ nicename
%page_author_firstname% – This page’s author’ first name (capitalized)
%page_author_lastname% – This page’s author’ last name (capitalized)

Same principle for the description. here the defaults is auto-generated excerpt from your blog post.
That’s why you better check the description to see if you want to override it from the page.
In the Social Meta tab of the addon, you can set and control things like:
Add your Social Profile Links,
Select Image Source,
Add Facebook Admin ID
Default Twitter Card,
Twitter user name

And much more.

 

Social Meta tab

If you want to add the social meta data separately, you can use addon as
Facebook Open Graph, Google+ and Twitter Card Tags
It supports all 3 major social networks and has integration with WordPress SEO by Yoast.

Meta Tag infographic


Wrapping up

Meta data for your page is important element and you should take care of it.
It should be part of any website on page optimization.
To summarize this post:
• The Title is your most important tag for search engine ranking.
Description tag can be great for increasing clicks and attracting more visitors.
• Don’t use the Keywords Tag, it has no meaning these days.
• Verify that Meta Robots is not set to noindex for all of your pages.
• Keep in mind the Canonical tag in cases you use syndication or have content copies.
• Use social meta tags to shape the look of your posts in social media sites.