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Meta Tags & Optimizing Metadata for SEO

Updated on January 11, 2017

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 meta data 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.

Here's why:

  • 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>

Quick Poll

Do you use metadata?

See results

Index & Follow Tags are Unnecessary

<meta content='index,follow' name='robots'/>

Metadata Mistakes

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.

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    • Dennis AuBuchon profile image

      Dennis AuBuchon 3 years ago

      Great information present in a way the readers can understand what meta tags are all about and how to use them. I voted up, useful, awesome and interesting along with liking, pinning and tweeting.

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      Try the tags sections. Not sure, though, if that goes into a meta tag. I've never checked.

    • CloudExplorer profile image

      Mike Pugh 4 years ago from New York City

      Very informational, and super useful for those web developer types, and also for us hubbers here that tend to either overdo it with our tags, or under do it.

      I always wondered if the tags option we have here on hubpages, does it directly convert to that of Meta Tags when it comes to creating a hub, would you happen to know if this is the case with hubs Mel?

      Thanks Melbel for some juicy info here, I knew much of it already, but I definitely learned a great deal more from your hub here.

    • Lorne Hemmerling profile image

      Lorne Hemmerling 4 years ago from Oshawa

      Nice job…really opened my eyes!

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      No, Google hasn't given credit for meta keywords for a very long time.

    • boosters profile image

      Sandeep Rai 4 years ago from India

      Now google no longer give credit for the meta keywords.. anyway nice information..

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Great information and very well explained. Voted Up

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 5 years ago from India

      really interesting and simple article on Meta tags. Hope that it will serve as a great learning resource for upcoming SEOs.

    • samsons1 profile image

      Sam 5 years ago from Tennessee

      Thanks so much for this informative hub. I recently 'picked-up' on the term but still did not know what 'meta' meant. You have enlighten me. Voted up, useful, interesting and shared...

    • Bethaleg profile image

      Bethaleg 5 years ago from Minnesota

      Just wanted to say thank you for providing this information in a clear and not-too-technical way so that even us with little experience could understand it!

    • ShaamCA profile image

      ShaamCA 5 years ago from India

      Meta description helps to increase the website CTR

    • profile image

      Neeraj Dhiman 5 years ago

      Meta data plays an important role in optimization, so fill you meta data with proper keywords, and do not exceed limit of meta description,write short and very informative description

    • profile image

      square205 5 years ago from Denton, TX

      Ridiculous how misinformed I was about metadata. Thanks for the update! I'll probably just be skipping meta keywords all together.

    • The-BestMouseTrap profile image

      The-BestMouseTrap 5 years ago from The heartland, USA

      Wow, that was a lot of work! And I know its dated, but some of the information still works, I guess its best to experiment since every seo expert has their own opinion, it really gets crazy trying to keep up. I try to watch googles Matt Cutts regular for clues.

    • Savva Pelou profile image

      Savva Pelou 5 years ago from London

      although one seo consultant said that keywords were still valid, they were 2 years ago (the time of their comment) nowadays because of keyword stuffing within this metadata, most search engines ignore this. good hub

    • KiloJKilo profile image

      KiloJKilo 5 years ago from Menomonie, WI

      Does this apply to hub pages? Can you put meta data in hub pages?

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Ohh, thanks for getting me clear on this!

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 6 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      MsDee, on HubPages we only use the meta description. This is what you put in your summary when you write (or after, if you're like me) your hub. Write it in a way that will entice people but also contain keywords. This is the description of your hub that Google search will put for your hub on its search results page.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      You have such an easy reading style. Question: Are meta tags in HubPages the tags we add to the right? Showing my ignorance.

    • profile image

      freelancer 6 years ago

      Good descriptive information about SEO & Metadata.Looking forward for the next post like this.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks again--so appreciate such well-done hubs and the comments they generate. This kind of help is invaluable to those of us who are trying to put all the pieces together without much of a foundation to work from. Voted up.

    • profile image

      learning management systems 6 years ago

      This isa great things to do in SEO meta data

    • profile image

      Gauri 6 years ago

      Hi! Mebels,

      Very informative article on about meta data for SEO. This line i like most "Remember that it's 150 characters and not 150 words"

      Regards

      Gauri

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 6 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      While flash CAN be search engine friendly, I really recommend that you use HTML for things such as meta data. I avoid using flash at all costs because while Google can read some flash files if written correctly, it's MUCH easier and overall better for SEO to use HTML. HTML is easy, you don't even need to know much HTML at all... just what you need to use for the meta data, where it goes, and that's it.

    • profile image

      jasmeet singh 6 years ago

      It was a great informative article about SEO & Metadata. I am new to web designing, basically I am creative director, and very much interested into strategic insights to maximize the brands visibility. I am trying to learn about online marketing. I just need to know is it necessary to know HTML for inserting Metadata or it can be done using Flash

      Regards,

      Jasmeet Singh

      jasmeet.warraich@gmail.com

    • profile image

      al 6 years ago

      Get listed in as many directories as possible. The more traffic a directory has the better. Getting listed under the most relevant category lets search engines know more about your website and also leads relevant traffic your way. Craftmatic

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 6 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      Both meta keywords and robot tags are types of meta data -- both are types of tags.

    • profile image

      china man 6 years ago

      good hub - nicely explained - even for net virgin like me.

      Minor point - you mention robot tag but don't say whether this is different from the keywords or meta data.

    • profile image

      Orange Counry SEO 6 years ago

      The description should show the relevant seed keywords you are aiming for at least twice so people can see it but not more than that.

    • profile image

      senuke x 6 years ago

      Great hub! Thanks for explaining a complex issue in easy to follow terms. It was really helpful.

    • profile image

      Adam Heaton 6 years ago

      I can't agree with this post at all. Meta data is just as important as ever, without it, sites will never rank for the keywords the webmaster desires.

      Titles should contain a few keywords and the description should be both relevant and rich in keyword content. I only believe the meta keywords are worthless as many sites just spam this area.

    • profile image

      SEO Consultant 6 years ago

      Very useful, Thanks

    • Rajib Kumar profile image

      Rajib Kumar 6 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      really nice hubs..

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 6 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      Jersey, much of this IS actually outdated. Much of it does apply to the smaller search engines, but it really is outdated when it comes to Google. As the opening line says: "this is a/an historic piece on meta tag optimization." That being said, meta tags are still helpful for SEO just not directly... it's one of those "every little bit helps" type of things.

    • jerseys4kids.com profile image

      jerseys4kids.com 6 years ago from Vancouver / Bangkok

      I have seen a lot of gurus out there saying that this is all outdated? Are they just ripped?

    • Ben7YAH profile image

      Ben7YAH 6 years ago

      Thank yooooouuuu! Not a lot of folks know how to break things down so that the novice can understand.Your awesome!

    • profile image

      LaLa in KCMO 6 years ago

      Great posting - it's a short and sweet explanation of what meta data is and the importance of it. Thanks :)

    • jesus72knight profile image

      jesus72knight 6 years ago from Albany, New York

      Being an SEO, I view met tags as one of the important key aspects of search engine optimization.

      Great article by the way. keep up the good work.

    • SEOshortcuts profile image

      SEOshortcuts 6 years ago from San Francisco CA

      Good information, but bad idea re: keywords in the meta data.

      Bad idea because 1) your competition just got handed an easy list of your keywords...2) the other search engines are still improving all the time.

      The keyword tag is meaningless, and IMHO a great way to inform your competitors what to optimize their pages for.

    • profile image

      Steroids 6 years ago

      Useful post, really helps me to increase my search engine ranking.

    • sasta10 profile image

      sasta10 7 years ago from Manchester, UK

      great info.

    • profile image

      SEO testimonials 7 years ago

      Now this is what i call useful information ! But i also think the meta keywords are a little outdated.

    • Masumrana profile image

      Masumrana 7 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      nice hub.

    • georgescifo profile image

      georgescifo 7 years ago from India

      As far as Google is concerned, they do not take the meta keywords into account.While some other search engines still take the meta keywords..

    • profile image

      SEO St. Louis 7 years ago

      Nice post. Though I would argue that there are more important SEO aspects to focus on before meta keywords. Of the top 3 search engines (google, yahoo, bing), only yahoo still uses them, but hardly weighted at all. While they're certainly not bad to have, it won't kill you if you skip them.

    • profile image

      electric go kart 7 years ago

      When I started my journey to internet marketing, I was not aware of many techniques and do's of the internet world. It took me two years to figure things out. Talking about your hub, its very nice and informative. Within just 5 minutes someone can easily understand the importance of meta tags. I wish you posted this hub two years ago, I wouldn't have wasted a lot of time searching for information. Thanks and to all those newbies, this hub has got very good information. Make sure you follow it!

    • profile image

      Harrist 7 years ago

      Super Articles

    • FindYourSearch profile image

      FindYourSearch 7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Nice work consolidating this information. While it is indeed important to implement meta descriptions, there is no guarantee Google will display your meta description as its snippet on the results page. Using popular keywords and high-quality writing (yes, even within the 160 character limit) will encourage Google to choose your carefully-crafted meta description over less predictable bits of content from your site.

    • profile image

      Google TV 7 years ago

      Excellent work. It completely informs the readers about the meta data. After reading it people must be aware of its importance.

    • kev8 profile image

      kev8 7 years ago

      Excellent article, I wasn't quite sure about the whole meta thing.Now I understand!

      Just one question you mention at the end that you should only have 10 keywords per site. Does that mean I should only give my hubs 10 tags each?

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks for writing this! Appreciate the lesson. I need to do this right away!

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 7 years ago

      I am bookmarking this hub with the intention to keep coming back and collect all the useful info you placed here! Thanks because I really found this hub helpful!

    • profile image

      Muhammad Jamshed 7 years ago

      I am always in search of this kind of articles. Thanks for your great article. keep continue

    • profile image

      barryliam 7 years ago

      Thanks for the info, great explanation. I look forward to reading more :D

    • profile image

      helpfulguy 7 years ago

      Nice lovely hub! keywords are important for seo

    • jfreemon profile image

      jfreemon 7 years ago

      Great hub! I know that people say meta tags are, for the most part, useless because Google disregards keywords, but both the title and meta description tags are both still very useful.

      Nonetheless, your explanation on meta tags was great!

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S 7 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      Nice Post! When i started writing in HubPages I had no idea about meta tags and other SEO stuff. I have learned a lot therough this site.

    • profile image

      fasthardmoneynyc 7 years ago

      They are important to the engines that still use meta tags to look for what keywords are important, safe bet is to use them period.

    • Neil Ashworth profile image

      George Poe 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Nice hub. Very useful information on META data and well explained. Neil

    • profile image

      Elijah 7 years ago

      Great

    • rumbling profile image

      Nishadha Silva 7 years ago from Sri Lanka

      I don't know why people keep saying META tags are dead. Description is very important in getting those clicks from search engine results and although key words are not that important any more it doesn't hurt to add them.

    • profile image

      dan 8 years ago

      I have read a few articles about the relevance of meta data and it seems there are clashing views. In researching I found that most search engines do not use meta keywords because of misuse. Also I've read that this could have negative effects on your business because competitors can view your keywords. Any thoughts?

    • melbel profile image
      Author

      Melanie Shebel 8 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

      I am glad so many people have found my SEO tips to be so helpful. Thank you all for the awesome comments!

    • profile image

      seodude16 8 years ago

      Cool article. I totally agree. I always use unique and keyword rich meta tags for eachpage. The title tag is the most important on page seo factor imo

    • profile image

      waterdamagelocal 8 years ago

      Meta tage is very important in SEO. Because the keyowrds used in meta tags are indexed by search engines.

    • profile image

      sulumits retsambew 8 years ago

      MEta tag is just important

      thanks for information

    • profile image

      Video conferencing solutions 8 years ago

      its really important to see meta tags. and meta keywords is really important in seo point of view.

    • profile image

      SEO consultant 8 years ago

      God informative hub, meta data keywords is still useful to the spiders, though people keep saying they are dead.

    • profile image

      jerry 8 years ago

      thanks for the info. now that i know i will do that on my site.

    • profile image

      SEO Manchester 8 years ago

      Thanks, very useful