For a number of years, the topic of search engine optimization has been synonymous with meta tags. Misuse and overemphasis on the role of certain meta tags has ended up causing confusion for those outside the SEO community in recent years. Case and point: there are still many websites that "stuff" meta tags with targeted keywords in hopes that they'll skyrocket in the organic search rankings – this may have worked long ago but does not anymore. This post covers how and why, in the modern day of SEO, meta tags might not be as important as you once thought.
What are meta tags?
Meta tags are snippets of text that describe the content of a web page, but do not appear on the page itself. There are three main types of meta tags:
- Title tag – what search engines view as the "title" of a web page (this shows at the top of your browser)
- Meta description tag – a brief description of a web page (this shows in search engine results pages)
- Meta keyword tag – a series of keywords deemed relevant to a web page
Meta tags do help SEO, but not all of them, and not all the time.
Many modern day marketers could be surprised to learn that title tags are the only type of meta tag that have any pull in a web page's search ranking, but this is the truth. However, while Google uses title tags to learn what a web page is about, on-page content still pulls much more weight in Google's PageRank algorithm. Title tags are also the only meta tags that are visible to the average user.
It's important to note that keywords in meta description tags DO NOT affect search rankings. Google's official SEO guide states that meta description tags are important because Google might use them in search engine result snippets – this is why they are still important. This ultimately means that a web page's meta description tag will only be visible if a user's search query includes a keyword that is also found in the meta description tag.
Meta keyword tags no longer matter to Google and other search engines, and should be thought of as a waste of time. Years ago, some marketers engaged in what is known as "keyword stuffing" – inserting keywords totally unrelated to their pages as meta keyword tags in an attempt to pirate traffic from popular pages. Since then, Google has completely disregarded meta keyword tags in PageRank (as it should).
fjorge has an easy-to-learn take on how to tackle meta tags.
- Title tags – Since title tags are visible to every user that visits a web page, we view title tags as a necessity for every page on your website. When writing title tags, follow this format: Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
- Meta description tags – These are important for pages that rank well in organic searches, but can be irrelevant for pages that do not. Yes, having a meta description tag on every one of your web pages is considered an SEO best practice, but writing meta description tags for a 100+ page website can become a major waste of time. If you notice that your website is lacking in the meta description tag department, we recommend digging into your Google Analytics to see which landing pages are receiving large amounts of organic search traffic, then optimizing your meta description tags for those pages first.
- Meta keyword tags – These are a waste of time, and should be completely ignored when optimizing your web page for search engines.