Meta tags are text snippets in the html of a web page. They are no visible to site visitors and if implemented correctly they can have a significant effect on SEO.
What meta tags mean for SEO
Website visitors can’t always see heading tags and meta tags. But these invisible pieces of code have a huge effect on the way a page looks, on whether users choose to visit a page, and, most importantly, on how a page performs in search engines.
Meta tags are positioned in the header of a web page’s source code, so they are not visible to website visitors. As Moz state in their meta tag overview, there are at least 20 different kinds of meta tags. Some of these are crucial to any good SEO campaign, but not all of them are that important. The most well-known of meta tags are keyword tags, meta descriptions, meta content type tags and title tags.
In the mid-2000s, keyword tags were regarded as very important, and some developers would stuff their code with keyword tags relevant to their industry. As a result, Google and other search engines began to ignore keyword tags altogether, and give penalties to those who continued to overuse them. They now have zero effect at all on SEO rankings.
Other meta tags like author, generator, cache control, and refresh will have equally little impact on your website’s performance for users or search engines, any good SEO agency will safely ignore them and move on to the important ones: meta content type, meta description, and title tag.
A meta description is a short paragraph of information, which is around 160 characters and it describes the contents of a web page. A page’s position in search engine results is not affected by its meta description, however that doesn’t mean it is not important for SEO. Google is always experimenting, and the length and importance of a meta description has changed over time.
Google sometimes displays meta descriptions as the snippets underneath the page title and url in search results, but this is not always the case.
On other occasions, Google will take a short extract from a page that is most relevant to the web user’s search query and show that snippet instead. To have the maximum control over what searchers will see, an SEO agency will optimise your meta description with relevant keywords, but don’t keyword stuff! Google’s Matt Cutts explains, these descriptions are crucial to any conversion-focused approach to SEO, as they give web users a chance to decide if they want to visit the page or not, and if they have found what they were searching for.
With that in mind, it is vital to make meta descriptions as compelling as possible, and to have them act as mini advertisements for a page. SEO agencies can help write attention-grabbing copy with relevant keywords for maximum appeal for site visitors and search engines alike.
Title tags do not begin with the word ‘meta’ in the code, but they are still regarded as meta tags. Title tags are very important to search engines and users as they tell both what the page is called, and appear in search engine results no matter what.
For search engine rankings, title tags are one of the most important on-page attributes, second only to actual page content. When search engine spiders crawl web pages they look for relevant keywords in title tags. This is then a major factor in determining a page’s position.
Heading tags are similar to meta tags though they are always visible to site visitors. Writing them involves similar principles of using keyword without bordering on keyword-stuffing.