Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Search engine optimization continually evolves to include new tactics. But classics like meta tags are still important. Making the most of your meta tags can be a small step that can make a large difference in your overall web marketing.
These simple meta data tips are worth reading, whether you have a site you already optimized or you are starting fresh with search optimization. Let’s look at meta tag best practices to help you get more search visibility.
Meta tags are part of your website’s code. Webopedia defines a meta tag as:
A special HTML tag that provides information about a Web page. Unlike normal HTML tags, meta tags do not affect how the page is displayed. Instead, they provide information such as who created the page, how often it is updated, what the page is about, and which keywords represent the page’s content. Many search engines use this information when building their indices.
The three meta tags that marketers need to pay attention to for optimization are:
- Title tag;
- Description tag;
- Keyword tag, which has low priority.
These tags, when optimized, help a search engine better understand what each page is about. They also help attract a web user as the text you apply ends up on a search engine results page.
Here is an example. I did a search for a non-profit called Explore Ecology, which is a client of my marketing firm. In the screenshot, below, the text “Explore Ecology — Environmental Education” is the meta title tag. The meta description is “Explore Ecology delivers a variety of environmental education programs focusing on science, education and art discovery.”
The other links below the title and description show pages of the website. Thus, having optimized meta tags can help an organization get more real estate in search engine results pages.
Think of meta tags to each page of your website as a library index card for a book. Similar to how a card describes a book, meta tags describe each page of a website for search engines to add to their massive database.
To view your current meta titles, see the code of your web pages by scrolling over the text of your website, right clicking and hitting “view source.”
Then look for the words “title” “description” and “keywords.” If the page has a lot of code, you may have to do a Control+F or a Command+F and search for these words. The code will look something like this.
Many websites have outdated information in these meta areas, or do not have this area optimized. Make all meta-tags keyword rich, with unique meta tags for each page of the site. The following is an easy way to look at optimizing your meta tags.
Each page should have a brief, unique, and descriptive title to let both users and search engines know what the page is about. Meta titles appear as the blue text in a search engine results page. For example, I searched for “Art From Scrap Santa Barbara” and saw this page of a website my company built.
An easy way to see your current website page’s title is to look at the top of your browser on each page.
The meta title needs to summarize — succinctly and with key phrases — what the page is about. As you see in the search engine results page, you only have a small number of characters for your title. Make sure that your meta title is no more than 50 to 60 characters for optimal results. If your web page does not use any of the key phrases you put in your title, then your chances of being found are lower. Search engines look for a mix of optimizations and when your code has synergy with your content, your chances are better.
A lot of sites have the company name repeated on each page. This is usually not necessary. You will usually get good rankings on your company name, so it does not need to be in every title of every page. In short, use the meta title tag’s limited space to make it count.
The meta description tags are a summary of each individual page. This is an area where you have more space to get your message across. Use the title to get attention and the description to rein visitors in. Sometimes descriptions contain calls to actions like “Learn More” or a phone number. The description is where you have space to educate and pre-qualify clicks. The maximum meta description is 125 to 150 characters. Make sure to accurately summarize the page content, not just stuff in keywords. You are optimizing meta tags not just for the search engines, but also for web users. So write in a readable manner.
Meta keywords are used to describe the page. Google likely ignores these, so they are a low priority. Use no more than 10 keywords per page. By using an excessive amount of keywords — a tactic back in older SEO days — it actually weakens your meta data and in turn, your search visibility. Utilize the keyword space by only using keywords that are directly related to that page. Direct and clear descriptions equal compelling meta data.
For example, Explore Ecology added a press release to its press page. When the release was sent to the webmaster, the marketers specified the meta title, description, and keywords, as follows:
- Title: Explore Ecology Nominated for Nonprofit Award
- Description: Explore Ecology of Santa Barbara is nominated for prestigious Classy non-profit awards in the Environmental Protection category.
- Keywords: explore ecology, art from scrap
The meta direction came almost directly from the press release’s title and subhead. Often professionals assume that a webmaster will do this. It’s a marketer’s job to manage marketing. Being aware of how meta tags are handled is a must whether it is managed in-house or hired out.
Many blogs and content management systems have built-in technologies to help write meta tags. No matter how your site was built, be sure to pay attention to your meta tags. Classic SEO tactics may not be as cool as new trends, but they last the test of time.