The Essential Guide to SEO Meta Tags

Three crossword tiles on a wooden table that spell out SEO Meta Tags

SEO meta tags give enhanced detail on your web page and helps the search engines understand your content. These little tags have gotten a “bad rap” because of their misuse. People tried to manipulate the search engine algorithms by keyword stuffing their tags. As a result, Google changed the algorithm and how they value meta tags.

In this guide we’ll show you how meta tags can be the secret sauce for your search engine optimization. We’ll cover how meta tags have evolved, the ones essential for SEO and those you should avoid.

Search engines value good, informative content that answers the searchers query concisely. Optimizing your tags will highlight the best elements of your content and your website will stand out in search results.

What is a Meta Tag?

Meta tags are small bits of HTML code that helps describe your web page content to Google and other search engines. The word “meta” is short for metadata. It’s supplemental data about your web page such as page title, description and content type. The search engine will use this meta tag data in its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) shown to search users.

Check your SEO Meta Tags and find critical issues affecting your site’s indexability.

Are Meta Tags Necessary for SEO?

Meta tags are necessary and still very important for your SEO strategy. They live within the head section (AKA the header tag) of your web pages. You can easily add them via HTML, WordPress plugin, or page editor fields. Once inserted, they’ll go to work and become visible to the search engine crawlers.

HTML example of SEO meta tags

Essential Meta Tags

Using the right tags can make a big impact to your search engine rankings and improve the search user’s experience. For the essential meta tags we consider the Title Tag and Meta Description must haves.

What Meta Tags Should I Use?

Although there’s several types of tags you could use, not all will help your SEO. We’ll show you the best meta tags needed to increase your search engine visibility and website traffic.

Use meta tags to let Google know who you are and the purpose of your content. Content such as a blog post, product, service, webinar, media file or presentation.

Use our SERP key below to see which meta tags impact SEO and search results.

SERP key used to demonstrate meta tag impact on search results

Best Meta Tags for SEO

1. Title tag

Though technically not a meta tag, it’s often included when tagging web pages.
It’s an HTML tag (AKA SEO title) that’s a concise description of your web page. It’s very important to SEO, usability and social sharing. The search engine will use the tag and display it as the clickable hyperlink on the SERPs. Your SEO Title should be unique, present on all web pages and 50–60 characters long.

2. Meta description tag

This tag is infamous in SEO marketing. Since 2009, Google announced it won’t affect your site’s ranking any longer as its purpose has evolved. Now the meta description tag has one very important role: improve your click through rate (CTR). This tag becomes your “organic ad copy” as search users skim through the SERPs. Write a better ad, gain more clicks – it’s that simple. Your meta description tag should be 160 characters long.

3. Viewport tag

In our mobile evolved world, it’s vital to specify a viewport tag and promote a mobile-friendly experience. This has become a standard inclusion on all modern websites. Without this tag your web page will display for desktop-sized widths and your pages scaled for mobile devices. The result forces the user to pinch and zoom to see content.

4. Social meta tags

Add social meta tags for Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to optimize social sharing streams of your content. These tags allow you to specify how your titles, descriptions and images will show on social media. Optimized social content can spread easier with reshares and mentions. The result is new inbound links to your content which has a positive impact on SEO.

5. Meta content type tag

This tag determines your character set for the page and should exist on each page. Without this tag, your page may not render properly in a browser.

6. Canonical tag

Though technically not a meta tag, it’s often included when tagging web pages. First introduced by the major search engines in 2009, it’s one of the great advancements in SEO.

It’s purpose is to tell search engines a specific URL is the preferred version of the web page. In marketing speak it’s also known as a “canonical URL” or “rel canonical”.

On your website:
https://example.com/blog/seo/
https://example.com/marketing/seo/

Both URLs are the same web page, just discovered differently. Google may index both URLs which might confuse a search user.

Example:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://example.com/blog/seo/” />

Result:
By using the canonical tag you’ll avoid “duplicate content” warnings for multiple URLs.

For more SEO learning, YOAST has a great primer article that shows how search engines use metadata.

Specific Use Meta Tags

Meta tags that may be useful in specific circumstances and non-essential for SEO. Examples include:

  • Bot tags: These tags give specific bots instructions (e.g., Googlebot). You rarely need them as search engines do a good job their own managing the bots behaviour. However, there may be cases where you need special management instructions.
  • Geo: For now, Bing still supports these tags, but Google does not. Geo tags include the place name, position (latitude and longitude), and region.
  • Language: This tag is necessary if your website reaches an international audience. Here you’d want to declare an “official” language for your web page.
  • Robots: Many marketers still believe the robots meta tag is necessary. However, it’s only mandatory if you need to change indexing or link following instructions. When omitted, Google will use default values of index, follow.

    Example

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

    Content Values for search engine crawler

    index – show this web page in search results
    follow – follow the links on the page
    noindex – do not show this web page in search results
    nofollow – do not follow the links on the page

  • Refresh: An old school tactic for redirecting a web page. Note that Google isn’t a fan and recommends using a server-side 301 redirect instead.
  • Site verification: This tag is an alternate method used to verify your site with Google or Bing.

Deprecated Meta Tags

  • Keywords tag: A string of keywords, separated by commas, relevant to the web page topics. Once upon a time the keywords meta tag was a primary ranking factor until questionable marketers abused it. As of September 2009, Google no longer uses this tag as a ranking factor. As a result, no successful SEO plan should include this tag.

Unnecessary Meta Tags

Although these tags won’t harm your website, they won’t help your SEO either and just taking up space. It may be time for a cleanup of the following tags:

  • Abstract: An abstract tag can describe a web page in a short sentence. It’s rarely used and the description meta tag is preferable.
  • Author/web author: These tags name the author of a web page and are unnecessary. Google now respects authorship markup and suggests using rel=author to denote the author instead.
  • Cache control: This tag will control when and how often your web page caches in the browser. Instead, Google prefers that we place the cache control in the HTTP header.
  • Copyright: A site’s footer usually includes the page’s copyright – so why declare it again?
  • Distribution: This tag controls who can access a document and where. Most site owners intend for their content to be available to Everyone, Globally. So, public pages rarely use it.
  • Expiration/date: This tag tells search engines when your page expires, and the date tag denotes the creation date. Good for limited time events or news items.
  • Generator: This tag shows what program created the page which adds no value to your web page.
  • Rating: A tag that shows the maturity rating of a site’s content. Further research uncovered this tag is no longer being used by search engines. Reference this article if you need to Block Explicit Resources.
  • Resource type: This tags denotes the type of resource your page is, such as “document.” A useless tag as it’s already set by the Document Type Definition and won’t help your SEO.
  • Revisit after: This tag instructs search engine robots to return to a page after a specified period. Search engines don’t respect these tags and will not help your SEO.

Over to you

There are many tags to choose from and we’ve provided a snapshot of the most important ones to kickstart your SEO. Use them on all your campaigns – it will help both search engines and search users discover your amazing content.

This is your chance to show off your amazing content in search results. Let the searcher see that your content is the best answer to their search query. Do so and you’ll get the “click through” over the other search results. More clicks, more visitor traffic and a Solid Win!

Final takeaways

  1. A well crafted Title Tag can improve your search engine rankings.
  2. A compelling meta description will be your organic ad text and increase your CTR.

Use meta tags wisely when developing your SEO strategy. If you do, you’ll see better search engine visibility and higher rankings.

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Avatar for Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo is a certified HubSpot Inbound Marketing expert, Senior Brand Strategist, as well as a lover of family, friends, and life. He enjoys good health, Tae Kwon-Do and discovering the most influential marketing trends.


Avatar for Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo

Eric Melillo is a certified HubSpot Inbound Marketing expert, Senior Brand Strategist, as well as a lover of family, friends, and life. He enjoys good health, Tae Kwon-Do and discovering the most influential marketing trends.