Let’s talk about meta tags: what they are, why they matter, and how to do them better.
If you found this article via a search engine, there’s a good chance you found and clicked this article because of meta tags.
Meta tags are the foundation of SEO, and they are the first thing you’ll find yourself setting up when building a web page.
What Are Meta Tags?
Meta tags are a type of HTML tag that provides search engines with information about a website page.
Let’s take a look at the basic elements.
The title and description tags make up almost the entire entry.
If not for these meta tags, all you’d see in Google SERPs would be my URL.
Advanced digital marketing requires the use of even more tags that improve page rank and overall user experience.
Just like this search result, you’ll soon find out that these tags control how your entire digital presence is viewed and navigated.
Machines can read URLs just fine. If I wrote for machines, my website would look like this:
Google prioritizes certain tags because they provide context for people.
I built my website for people as well, so it looks like this:
This polish is what marketing is all about.
In this blog post, we will explore meta tags and see how they affect your overall digital marketing efforts.
While simple, the devil is in the details, and every detail counts.
How Meta Tags Affect Brand Image and Click-through Rates
You absolutely can judge a book by its cover. It’s what covers are designed for.
Your title and meta description tag create the cover for your web page. They’re your first impression on most visitors.
It’s not just about search engines, but how we view the Internet.
Reddit is a basic link-aggregation site that takes away all the bells and whistles.
Reddit depends on the title and image to entice conversations and clicks.
Using meta tags correctly is like using the correct format for a business email.
Sure, you can put whatever you like out there, but there’s a level of professionalism that’s expected at some point.
Even Amazon will only give you a picture, title, and short description to make your point.
Think of these tags as your elevator pitch.
You’re given about as much space as a Tweet to sell your entire brand and product.
This means you need to nail it.
You can’t just call in this detail and polish everything else. If you do, nobody will ever see the rest of what you polished.
We already know how meta tags affect SEO, but that’s not the only element.
Tags are a crucial element that determines what my automated social media posts look like.
When other bloggers, YouTubers, and social media influencers (and micro-influencers) share your content, tags make it easier.
Think of meta tags as the packaging for your product.
If your packaging isn’t spot-on, nobody will ever buy your product, no matter how great it is!
What are some best practices to implement for tags?
Meta Tag Best Practices
There are a TON of different HTML tags that can be used on a web page. We’re only going to focus on a handful of significant tags.
We’ll start with the one that might have brought you here today.
1. Title Tags
It’s not technically a meta tag, but it shows up in the header and is used as one.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use all those characters, and 60 is the generally recommended limit.
Long-tail keywords make a difference.
Here are the top meta titles in the SERPs for “How to make content marketing effective.”
By adding the year, we get an entirely new set of results for “how to make content marketing effective 2021.”
Some users will want basic information, while others will want the most current.
By adjusting our title tag, we can affect which of these searches we rank for.
Ultimately, the goal is to hit both, but that’s not always feasible.
Make sure your keyword is in your title, or you’ll find your articles buried in search results.
For example, when I search for the “best tacos in Tucson,” some restaurants are on page 9below, even Del Taco.
That’s a wasted opportunity for that taco capital of the country!
These small businesses could greatly improve their search results, sales, and ROI by simply adding “best tacos in Tucson” to their title tags.
Here’s a sample of the HTML required for a title tag located in your header.
<title>The Best Title Example I Could Come Up With</title>
In WordPress, it’s as easy as giving your page a title.
You really can’t miss it.
That’s all there is to it!
2. Image Tags
Like title tags, Image tags aren’t labeled “meta.”
They’re clearly used by search engines, link aggregators, and other sites to identify your site.
There are two image descriptions actually crammed into one tag.
Here’s what the HTML code looks like.
<img src=“image.jpg” alt=“image description” title=“image tooltip”>
Both the alt and title tags should be defined for the best experience.
The title displays on your screen when you hover your cursor over it.
The alt text displays when the image can’t be rendered (or is spoken to the blind and visually impaired).
When uploading an image to WordPress, you’ll be prompted to enter the title, caption, alt text, and description.
The more fields you fill out (even if you use the same information), the more searchable your images become.
It’s also a matter of ADA website compliance.
There are approximately 7.5 million people with some level of visual impairment in the U.S. alone.
That’s a huge segment of the population that wouldn’t have a great user experience without alt image tags.
Optimize your images for search engines and users.
3. Description Meta Tags
A meta description tag gives you a chance to provide an overview of the page’s content.
They’re limited to around 160 characters and aren’t directly tied to Google’s search algorithms at all.
Once again, the reason you need description tags is to improve the user experience.
Description tags encourage click-throughs.
Here’s what the HTML looks like:
<meta name= ”description” content=”This is an example of the text that will show up in search results. Read on to learn more about description tags.”>
Without a meta description, Google will default to whatever preview sentence it feels best encompasses the content.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
This post doesn’t have a meta description (I rarely use them), and it ranks well.
Of course, my blogs are filled with relevant content in short, sweet sentences. Most of them would work as descriptions on their own.
Still, there’s no harm in adding additional information to make your content more searchable.
4. Robots Noindex and Nofollow Meta Tags
Robot meta tags aren’t always necessary.
By default, all of the pages and links you create on your website are indexed as ‘follow’ by search bots and web crawlers.
Whenever you want to redirect them, you’ll need a robot meta tag.
Here’s the noindex HTML code:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex” />
This would be within the header and indicate this page doesn’t need to be indexed.
It’s useful for syndicated and duplicate content that your customers/readers could use, but you don’t want credit in search indexes.
Here’s the HTML for a robot nofollow.
<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow”>
This is used for links you don’t necessarily want to endorse.
For example, readers leaving links in my comments aren’t exactly endorsed by me, so a nofollow tag above the comments section keeps my site clean for bots.
Here’s a great infographic on when and how to use nofollow tags.
Now we get to one of the most controversial meta tags.
5. Keyword Meta Tags
Keyword tags aren’t used by search algorithms to determine search ranking.
Here’s what the HTML looks like:
That doesn’t necessarily make them useless, however. They’re especially useful in WordPress.
Keyword tags and categories can help Google determine which page on your site should rank for a search.
They also create a page in WordPress that provides one more indexed page.
This means that, while your blog posts are focused on long-tail keywords, your tag and category pages have feeds covering the shorter keywords.
Categories can be used for the URL format, providing one more keyword to the page address.
This is accomplished under Settings > Permalinks in WordPress.
Adding this format provides context to your content.
Google loves context for search results!
Keywords also provide a big-picture overview of how many pages you have for each keyword.
You can use them to help plan your editorial calendar.
6. Viewport Tags
You don’t spend much time thinking about viewports, but they’re especially important in today’s mobile-first world of search.
On mobile devices, pages are shown in a popup window called a viewport that extends past the device’s border.
Here’s an illustration of what I’m talking about.
Developers can set the viewport size to increase mobile usability.
WordPress users can check this tag to learn this information for their templates.
You probably didn’t know that unless you’re already a web developer.
Since Google increasingly focuses on mobile-friendly websites, this meta tag could mean the difference between success and mobile failure.
Now that you have a basic understanding of meta tags and why they’re important, I’ll show you some of my favorite tools for manipulating them.
Free Tools to Add and Check Your Meta Tags
Don’t worry if this all sounds overwhelming—there are tons of tools to make it easy to get meta tags right. Here are two of my favorites.
Yoast SEO Plugin for WordPress
With Yoast, all of the pages and posts you publish have back-end options to increase social sharing, optimize SEO, update tags, and other metadata.
With Yoast installed on your WordPress site, a few clicks and a few seconds of your time are all it takes to add meta-tagging to your process.
Yoast also allows you to enter a focus keyword that doesn’t get added to the meta tags, allowing the back-end program to analyze your post.
BuzzStream Meta Tag Extractor
If you need a quick chart of the metadata that’s being used by your competition, BuzzStream’s Meta Tag Extractor is a sleek and simple solution.
Copy and paste a list of URLs, and you’ll be presented with the meta tag information.
There’s even an option to download as a CSV file so that you can scrape large lists quickly.
It’s a quick and easy way to organize this data when you need it.
This free online tool does its job without all the bells and whistles.
Less Popular (but Still Useful!) Meta Tags
To be fully transparent, here’s a chart of HTML meta tags.
An author meta tag can be used to tell search engines who wrote a piece of content.
Authors have been used in the past for search results, but it’s not a factor anymore. However, you might use author tags if you run a multi-author blog.
WordPress does add this information to blogs when multiple users are contributing content.
It’s more a badge of honor for bloggers than anything else.
Most of the rest define parameters that should already be controlled on a server level.
While I ignored these meta tags, it doesn’t mean you have to. Feel free to add whatever information you’d like.
It doesn’t help search rankings, but it doesn’t hurt them, either.
Meta Tags FAQs
Meta tags are a type of HTML tag with information to share about your page. This helps search engines understand what it’s about so you can show up in the relevant search results.
Meta tags are important for SEO because they make sure search engines know what your content is about. Based on these tags, search engines will be able to show the website in the appropriate results. This way, people can find you easily.
Meta tags can provide hidden information that can be read by assistive technology. For those who with visual impairment, the image alt text can provide image descriptions for them.
Meta tags can be added directly into the HTML. You can also add them in tools like WordPress. There, you can add image alt tags, title tags and meta descriptions.
Meta Tags Conclusion
Meta tags are a basic part of HTML—and they can impact SEO.
Back in the early days of the internet, they were a signaling factor for search engines to understand what content is on a page.
The internet (and our relationship with it) has evolved exponentially since then.
Contextual search, AI digital assistants, and mobile devices are changing the way we view content.
Search engines are incentivized to provide the best search results possible, so meta tags are less important.
However, some, such as the titles and meta descriptions, are more important than ever before.
While less metadata is used, it’s still the first impression you’ll make on both robots and people.
What do your website’s meta tags say about you?
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Google September Core Update & Product Reviews Update Both Completed On September 26th
As I called, Google has completed rolling out both the September 2022 core update and the September 2022 product reviews update while I was offline. Both officially finished rolling out on September 26, 2022 – so Monday.
Here are some quick facts on both these updates, now that they are done. But as you know, the core update took exactly two weeks to roll out, a full 14 days. The product reviews update took only six days to roll out.
Google September 2022 Core Update
- Name: Google September 2022 Broad Core Update
- Launched: September 12, 2022 at around 11:25 pm ET
- Rollout: Two weeks – completing on September 26, 2022
- Targets: It looks at all types of content
- Penalty: It is not a penalty, it promotes or rewards great web pages
- Global: This is a global update impacting all regions, in all languages.
- Impact: Google would not tell me what percentage of queries or searches were impacted by this update but so far, this seems to be a typical core update that reaches wide and the impact is fast.
- Discover: Core updates impact Google Discover and other features, also feature snippets and more.
- Recover: If you were hit by this, then you will need to look at your content and see if you can do better with Google’s core update advice.
- Refreshes: Google will do periodic refreshes to this algorithm but may not communicate those updates in the future. Maybe this is what we saw the past couple of weeks or all those unconfirmed Google updates.
Google September 2022 Product Reviews Update
- Name: Google September 2022 Product Reviews Update
- Launched: September 20, 2022 at around 4 am ET
- Rollout: Six days – completing on September 26, 2022
- Targets: It looks at product review content
- Penalty: It is not a penalty, it promotes or rewards “insightful analysis and original research.”
- Not a core update: Many are going to say this is a core update, it is not.
- English Language but will expand: This is only looking at English-language content right now but likely will expand to other languages, this is a global launch. I am surprised it is still only English but it is, as we documented below.
- Impact: Google would not tell me what percentage of queries or searches were impacted by this update.
- Discover: This update can impact your performance in Google Discover, Google previously said.
- Recover: If you were hit by this, then you will need to look at your content and see if you can do better with Google’s advice below
- Refreshes: Google will do periodic refreshes to this algorithm but may not communicate those updates in the future. This may be the first refresh that Google has done, it is the first refresh Google communicated about.
Both updates were fairly large and had big impacts for many many sites. Which one impacted which, despite what Google said, can be hard to pin point.
Glenn Gabe, as do others, thinks the product reviews update, was a bit (maybe a simplification) of a correction on the fourth product reviews update. Meaning, they fixed some flaws with the fourth product reviews update with the last one, the fifth product reviews update. Here are some tweets from Glenn:
Quick update on the Sep Product Reviews Update. Looks like Google pushed a BIG tremor on Sat into Sun & a # of sites that tanked w/the July PRU are recovering (w/out changing anything). I said in July that I expected changes there. Thx to the site owner letting me share this. pic.twitter.com/9clUFmmotj
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 27, 2022
OK, here’s another site that got hit hard w/the July Product Reviews Update that surged back on Sunday when Google pushed a tremor. The site owner explained the July hit was a wakeup call & they have been addressing some things. But sure seems like this was a correction by Google pic.twitter.com/BnuaeY7zIY
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 27, 2022
Well, that sounds familiar! I’ve had a bunch of site owners reach out w/a similar situation. Great to see that recovery. Google seemed to address some flaws with the July PRU. 🙂
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 27, 2022
All of my sites are down around 25%.
How have ALL of them fallen basically the exact same percentage? Whatever this update is, it’s the worst one yet for me.
For whatever reason I’m off the cliff edge today, after 13 hours I am at 13% of my 1-24 Sept average!
My first thought was the site was down or had been down, nope, we’ll see what the rest of the day brings.
In the past few days, I’ve been seeing a rise in sites like TripAdvisor and TripSavvy, which are the travel information sector’s equivalent of big box stores. I see that as an erosion of subject authority as a ranking factor.
The ranking difference isn’t huge, but when you’ve been ranking at or near the top of the SERP for a bunch of important searches, a drop from the first position to the second–or from the second position to the third–can have a significant impact on Google traffic (especially if an answer box or a list of questions has been inserted after the first result).
25 year old site, medium-large, well established, first mover in our niche back in mid 90s, 20,000+ referring domains backlinking to us. Not a major brand.
The second the core update started running on the 13th we started dropping like a rock. Down 20% sitewide now, and continuing to drop. We were clearly hit by some invisible sitewide penalty, as EVERY SERP listing dropped for us by at least a spot, in many case many spots. We do not use any black hat SEO, keyword manipulation, unhelpful content, etc. We trimmed out our thin pages to improve quality indexing significantly over a year ago, and updated a good chunk of our content…
For my first 13 hours on Sunday I was almost flatlining and then traffic kicked-in resulting with an almost average Sunday plus the traffic has continued into today so far.
While my sites are all still down, today’s numbers look more like -5-10% down from the norm instead of the -25% I was seeing earlier.
Seeing our site tumbling over the same visibility chart cliff as a very friendly to google cable news network’s website does add some amusement to the situation…
20 year old site here. Aug update hit us slightly, but this update has been a major hit as well (though we have been on a slow slide this past year). Down another 20% it seems…
There is a bit of chatter into today with SEOs saying they are still seeing volatility.
Tracking Tools On September 2022 Core & Product Reviews Update
Here is what those tracking tools looked like over the past two weeks or more:
Sorry for being offline when the update finished, I am still catching up. I do hope you all did well with these two updates.
Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.
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