Meta Tags & Optimizing Metadata for SEO
The use of metadata by search engines, including meta keywords, has changed extensively throughout the years.
While many of the rules regarding metadata remain the same, it is now an area of lesser importance when it comes to SEO. That said, meta tag optimization is still an important aspect of search engine optimization, so it is important to employ many of these so-called "deprecated" techniques to ensure high SERP rankings
Following these rules pertaining to metadata can help ensure a site's high ranking in search results. While Google does not use metadata for site rankings, there still are search engines that do. A variety of websites and syndication services also rely on metadata. Furthermore, Google even pulls your site's description from your metadata for use in the SERPs.
While meta tag optimization is still useful, it's important to note that there is no reason to stress out over metadata. This article is meant to serve as an informational piece on how metadata is used today as well as noting its much greater historical importance. Feel free to comment, however, on your thoughts and feelings (particularly on the modern usage of meta tags and metadata in SEO.)
What is Metadata? What are Meta Tags?
Metadata provides information about a site. This information gives search engines clues regarding what a site is about. Since metadata is hidden away in a site's markup, visitors can't see it, but search engines can. There are several types of metadata, but we're going to talk about the three most important parts that make up meta tag optimization: meta keywords, meta descriptions, and the robot tag.
Meta descriptions are actually one of the few things that visitors will see, but they won't see it on your site. Here is an example:
Bob has a site about sports cars and in his meta description, he has written, "The ultimate guide to European and American sports cars."
When someone searches on Google for the term "sports cars," Bob's site may show up in the results. If it does, the listing will show his meta description. In short, meta descriptions tell people what a site is about before they even visit it.
What Do Meta Keywords Do?
Meta keywords work very similar to meta descriptions, but instead of telling Internet users what a site is about, it tells the search engine. Here is an example:
Lisa's site is about Georgia peaches. In her meta keywords, she has written, "Georgia peaches, peaches from Georgia, peach orchards" By writing these keywords, Lisa is telling search engines that her site is about Georgia peaches, peaches from Georgia, and peach orchards. Annette searches in a search engine for the term "peaches from Georgia." Since Lisa's site has this phrase in its meta keywords, the search engine may show Lisa's website to Annette in the search listings.
Why You Need Meta Data
Meta information is very important to a site's well being when it comes to SEO. The part of SEO that deals with metadata is known as meta tag optimization. Many people say that you don't need meta keywords because "Google doesn't use metadata in their algorithm and since Google is the most popular search engine, there's no need to use them." That is a myth. While there is no argument that Google is the most popular search engine in the world, Google also reportedly does not use metadata as a way to weigh sites. Still, it's a bad idea to ignore meta tag optimization.
- Other search engines use meta keywords in their algorithms and although they won't make up the larger portion of a site's traffic, it is traffic the site may not be getting if it didn't have meta keywords.
- Google doesn't care about meta keywords at all, so no sites will be penalized by Google for having meta keywords.
- Meta tags are easy to add. It's as simple as adding a tiny bit of HTML right after your <head> tag. Many content management systems even do all the work for you. Those using something like Wordpress are blessed with the number of plug-ins available that help out with metadata.
- Google uses meta descriptions to give searchers more information about your site. Without a meta description, Google will hand-pick something from the site it feels is relevant to what the searcher is looking for. While this can be helpful, having a clean and well-written meta description can really entice searchers that YOUR site is the one they are looking for. While it has no impact on a site's ranking, it can help click-through rates.
How to Add Metadata
Each site has a main page or an index page. In the file for this page, a web developer or site admin, should is to look for the open head tag: <head>. Right after this tag, the site admin should enter their metadata. The following example shows what metadata should look like:
<head> <title>Lisa's Peach Stand</title> <meta content='georgia peaches, peach orchards' name='keywords'/> <meta content='Lisa's Peach Stand sells peaches' name='description'/> </head>
Do you use metadata?
Index & Follow Tags are Unnecessary
<meta content='index,follow' name='robots'/>
There are a few easily fixable problems that people run into when they are optimizing their metadata. For example, sometimes metadata is set up to disallow search engines from indexing a site. There are a few reasons webmasters set their sites up to block search engine, but those creating websites for SEO purposes should make sure search engines are NOT blocked.
If a website isn't being indexed in the search engines, generally the first thing a webmaster will do is make sure their robots tag is not blocking search engines. By default, if a site does NOT have a robot tag, search engines will index it. Many webmasters write a robot tag that essentially says "allow search engines to index this", but this is unnecessary as search engines will only avoid indexing a site if there is a robot tag that disallows them from doing so. (Or if it's been blacklisted, but that's a whole different issue.)
Another problem that people run into is giving search engines too much information. Sites are allowed a max of 10 keywords in their metadata. Here's an example:
Lisa's site has three meta keywords which are "Georgia peaches, peaches from Georgia, peach orchards." Gina, who is Lisa's competition has 12 keywords which are "peaches from Georgia, Georgia peaches, peach orchards, peach orchard, peaches, Georgia, Georgia peaches, Gina's peach stand, juicy peaches, peaches from the south, ripe peaches, fresh peaches"
Because Gina has more than 10 keywords and Lisa has only 3, Lisa stands a better chance of doing well in the search engine. The same rule applies to meta descriptions, except web developers are allowed a max of 150 characters for meta descriptions. Remember that it's 150 characters and not 150 words. While this isn't one of the biggest SEO mistakes a web developer can make, it still can negatively affect search engine rankings.