Understanding what meta tags you should use and why you should use them should be a key part of every website owners plan. Meta tags for SEO are especially important to know and they lay at the core of your SEO strategy. Even though most SEO website optimisation is focused on link building, content creation or other strategies, to have a fully comprehensive SEO strategy, you need to understand the role of HTML meta tags.
Meta tags directly communicate with search engines as they define:
- What your webpage is about
- How to read your webpage
- Who should see your webpage
Therefore, they can be understood as a sort of “first impressions” for all search engines, like a brief summary of what your website is all about. Now we understand the importance of meta tags, let’s see how to check the meta tags of a website.
How to Check Meta Tags of a Website
There are numerous ways that you can check the meta tags of a website. The easiest and most convenient method is to just right-click anywhere on the page you wish to see the meta tags of and select “View Page Source”.
This will open a new tab that is the website’s source code, and you can see, at the top, all of the stated meta tags. In between the head tags of a website lies crucial meta tags such as title tags, meta descriptions, meta tags for social media and a lot more.
What Meta Tags Should I Use?
With enough research, you will find that there are a lot of meta tags that can be used on websites, however, you definitely will not need to use them all, and some of them, you will only need to use on specific pages or types of websites, depending on the content and purpose of the webpage. However, some of the most important HTML meta tags you must use are as follows:
1. Title Tags
Your title tag displayed as <title> Your Webpage Title</title> is the bread and butter of every website. The words you use for the title tag will act as the clickable headline on search engine results pages (SERPs) and it will also show up on social networks and in browsers.
Your title tag is found in between the <head> tags, at the top of your website and is important for SEO as potential users will be reading them and will decide to click to your website or not, which your tag can influence.
Title tags must follow certain criteria and can also be used in more beneficial ways to attract more website visitors.
How to use Title Tags?
- Title tags must be within certain character lengths (50-60) and/or pixels wide (600px-700px).
- They should be unique for every webpage.
- They can include long-tail keywords to appeal to more niche audiences.
- Use certain terminology to indicate what your page is about (How to, Buy, Review).
- Using your webpage’s core keyword at the start of the title tag can have benefits.
2. Meta Descriptions
Similar to your title tag, you should and must use meta descriptions which is a HTML meta tag that provides brief content below the title tag on SERPs. Although this tag does not influence ranking directly, it does have a huge importance on your click-through rates (CTR). You are allowed up to 160 characters and need to use this to describe your page and get users to click on it.
Meta description tag example:
<meta name=”description” content=”Enter your meta description here that summarises your webpage and will be shown on SERPs.”>
How to use Meta Descriptions?
- Your webpage description should be no more than 160 characters long, including spaces.
- Each page should have a unique description.
- Your meta descriptions should include keywords related to your webpage.
- It is good practice to include certain terminology to attract users, making your webpage more appealing.
3. Heading Tags
Header tags come in 6 different forms and are used to structure for hierarchy in content. These forms are from H1-H6, with H1 being the first tag to use at the beginning of a piece of content, typically the title (not to be confused with the title tag).
These heading tags help both readers and search engines navigate across your content, splitting up text into necessary sections and grouping content together. Your SEO strategy should account for optimal header tags because they can improve your user experience (UX), which is basically what search engines want.
How to use Heading Tags?
- They should reflect the piece of content that follows, instead of using generic section titles, use ones that indicate the text below.
- Do not keyword stuff or overuse the HTML tags.
- Follow hierarchical suit, whereby your content sub-sections have a H2 tag, if that section has additional sections, then use H3 and so on. However, if it is a new section, you should add another H2 tag.
4. Viewport Tags
These tags are for the mobile responsiveness of your website, and you need to specify the viewport in order to have a good mobile experience. UX on mobile is, arguably, more important than on desktop. Mobile usage overtook desktop usage for the first time in 2016 and since then, more emphasise has been placed on mobile design. Google now indexes websites with a mobile-first approach, highlighting the importance of having a mobile responsive website.
How to use the Viewport Tag?
- <meta name=viewport content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1″>
- Luckily, if you are using a CMS such as WordPress, then this HTML meta tag will already been placed for you.
5. Image Alt Tags
Describe your images! Alt tags are used to describe images to search engines and screen readers, helping people who rely on assistive technologies to read websites and web pages. Your images can be displayed in image searches if Google knows what they are, therefore, if you use an alt tag for each of your images then Google can understand it.
How to use the Alt Tag?
- <img src=”yourimage.jpg” alt=”sentence describing your image”>
- It is good practice to be descriptive in your alt tags and avoid being too generic, for example if it’s a picture of a chocolate birthday cake, don’t write “food” or “cake” but you could put “birthday cake with chocolate” depending on the photo.
- Optimise most prominent images (ie. e-commerce product images).
6. Nofollow Link Tags
As you build links on your website you will be using a series of inbound (internal) and outbound (external) links. Using the nofollow attribute we are referring to outbound links, the links that point to other websites.
Using outbound links can be a great help to aid your content and support it by showing that your information is based on reliable sources, which further helps search engines better understand your content.
By default, links are followed, which means you “vouch” for the page, it is linking to. However, what you want to do is insert the attribute “nofollow”, this tells Google and other search engines not to follow the link and not to pass any of the link equity on to it. However, this is not to say you should set all links to nofollow.
How to use the Nofollow Attribute?
- When you link to “untrusted” content.
- If you are using paid or sponsored links.
- Can be added to internal links that point towards sign-in and register pages, which are not SEO pages and therefore not necessary to pass SEO juice to.
- Any spam or user-generated comments that include links should be nofollow.
- Add rel=”nofollow” in your anchors to implement the nofollow attribute.
7. Canonical Tags
Canonical tags are important and should definitely be used to prevent search engines from finding duplicate content. You may have similar or the same versions of a webpage, but you need to tell Google and search engines which one should be ultimately indexed and found by users. A canonical tag can also be used on pages that share similar content, even though they are different pages. Commonly, websites may have other versions such as:
But you only want one to be indexed, this is where the canonical tag can help. Otherwise, Google can penalise you for duplicate content.
How to use Canonical Tags?
- <link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.yourwebsite.com/” />
- Use on versions of the same page
- Duplicate pages under multiple URLs
- If your webpages share similar content
8. Meta Tags for Social Media
Meta tags for social media provide a way for you to control the content that gets displayed when your webpage gets shared on a social platform. There are two types of social media meta tags, Open Graph (OG) and Twitter cards. OG tags are recognised by Facebook and Linked while Twitter cards are exclusive to Twitter.
It is important to make sure that your webpage looks nice when displaying on social media to help boost your CTR scores and UX.
How to use Meta Tags for Social Media?
- og:title – This is where you would insert the title of your webpage
- og:url – The URL of your webpage
- og:description – A brief description of your webpage
- og:image – Here you insert the URL of an image that you want to be shown on social media when your page is shared.
- og:type – The type property lets you distinguish what type of webpage it is, for example, it could be an article.
- It is important to validate your pages when your tags are setup, so you know what they will look like if they are shared.
- Meta tags for social media are particularly important for blog articles as they are more likely shared online.
- <meta property=”og:type” content=”article” />
- <meta property=”og:title” content=”Insert the title of your article” />
- <meta property=”og:description” content=”Insert a brief description of your article” />
- <meta property=”og:image” content=”Insert the URL link for your article’s image” />
- <meta property=”og:url” content=”Insert your webpages URL” />
9. Robots Meta Tag
A robots meta tag is a type of tag that can be used to prevent certain web pages from being indexed. Well, you may ask why you would ever want to do this? Your website’s SEO rankings are looked at as a collective, rather than an individual, while individual pages can outperform others, your entire website is seen as a collective. Therefore, if you have some poor performing pages, pages with little-to-no content or even private pages that should not be indexed, then the robots meta tag can help you do just that.
You can pass different types of values in a robots meta tag, for example, “noindex, nofollow” this tells search engines not to index the page and not to follow any of the links on the page.
How to use a Robots Meta Tag?
- Noindex and nofollow pages that have little to offer, this will make sure that you do not waste your crawl budget.
- Check carefully that you do not restrict important pages, this can be harmful to your overall website.
- <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>
10. Schema Markup
If you invest time into schema markup, you can greatly increase your SEO and UX. Schema markup, if implemented correctly, is a technique that organises your pages in a way that is specifically recognised by search engines such as Google.
Using structured data markup allows search engines to read and understand your content in greater depth. You may have seen certain layouts on SERPs where it shows a “rich snipper” that answers your question or query. These snippets can be designed by creating a scheme markup of your content.
If you have snippets on Google, then you are likely to see an increase in CTR and traffic to your website.
How to use Schema Markup?
- Your schema markup semantics must follow schemas that are available on https://schema.org/.
- Study your pages and break them down to create relevant concepts that you can markup.
- You can use a Structured Data Markup Helper to assist and guide you.
Meta Tags Example – Summary
|Title||<title>Insert your website’s title here</title>|
|Meta Description||<meta name=”description” content=”Enter your meta description here that summarises your webpage and will be shown on SERPs.”>|
|<h1>Main Header</h1> <h2>Section Header</h2><h3>Topic Header</h3>|
|Viewport Tag||<meta name=viewport content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1″>|
|Image Alt Tag||<img src=”yourimage.jpg” alt=”sentence describing your image”>|
|Nofollow Tag||<a href=”https://yourlink.com” rel=”nofollow”>Your Link</a>|
|Canonical Tag||<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.yourwebsite.com/” />|
|Social Media Tags||og:title, og:url, og:description, og:image, og:url, og:type|
|Robots Meta Tag||<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>|
|Scheme Markup||Visit https://schema.org/ for schema markup information|
What are the Benefits of using Meta Tags for SEO?
When implementing a search engine optimisation strategy, you will likely cover different areas such as link building, content creation, technical SEO, off-page optimisation and on-page optimisation. So where do meta tags fit into this? Well, the on-page optimisation, which is the core of your SEO strategy, is where you need to have the right meta tags set up.
Unless your meta tags are optimised for SEO, there is a little-to-no point in working on other SEO strategies. You will be spending efforts to increase your organic traffic, but your website will not be optimised for it. Therefore, by sticking to our meta tags list above, you can make sure that your website’s on-page SEO is correct.
So, what are the SEO benefits of using meta tags correctly?
- Title Tags
Correctly using title tags, with focused and planned keywords can allow you to be found by certain audiences searching key terms.
- Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions do not directly affect your SEO but are important for improving your CTR and helps users understand what your webpage is about and contributes to users clicking on to your website. Key search terms will be bolded in your meta description on SERP if a user searches by those terms.
- Header Tags
Your h1-h6 tags need to be correctly set up in order for search engines to easily scrape your website and understand its context from a structural point of view. This also benefits your website’s UX which further benefits your SEO.
- Viewport Tag
Using the viewport tag you are setting your website up for mobile responsiveness, which is absolutely fundamental for on-page SEO. Your website has to be mobile responsive, no questions asked.
- Image Alt Attributes
Using alt tags in your images, with specific descriptions, allows Google to describe your images without having to “see” the image. This also benefits users with assistive technologies (ie. screen readers), therefore, benefiting your UX.
- Nofollow Links
Using “nofollow” in some of your outbound links helps balance your web page with trusted authoritative sources and those that are not so trustworthy. Providing a health crawl budget.
- Robots Meta Tag
This is a great way to benefit your SEO by optimising your crawl budget and where search engines should look at and where they shouldn’t look at. Some pages would be a waste to have crawled, such as account pages or thin-content pages, therefore you can tell Google to not bother searching these pages.
- Canonical Tag
This meta tag has SEO benefits by telling search engines to focus on one core page, the canonical page. If you have the same page on multiple URLs or pages that are very similar, you can focus all the attention from Google to one page, which avoids duplicate content and strengthens the core page, benefiting your SEO.
- Meta Tags for Social Media
Using OG tags and Twitter cards help on the UX side of things. You can control how your webpage is displayed on social media platforms and increase the CTR to your website.
- Schema Markup
Adding schema markup to your web pages that follow specific criteria can greatly benefit your SEO. Using schema markup, you are giving key metadata, recognised by search engines such as Google, which will help in the understanding of your content.