What are Website Meta Tags and are They Necessary?
How do search engines use meta tags? How to use Meta Tags for SEO? When you’re ready to launch your online marketing and SEO campaign, meta tags will help you communicate to the search engines what’s in your website. The term “meta” comes from the Greek language and literally means “about.” Meta tags are coded into your HTML editor or WordPress site and are hidden from your site visitors; they don’t need to be written in the manner of compelling or engaging marketing copy. Their intended function is to provide search engines with a reference of relevant keywords and phrases that accurately describe what your website’s contents are about.
Visitors who come to your website to investigate or buy your products and services don’t usually care about the information that’s written into your unseen meta tag code. The search engines, however, are programmed to look for what’s there and in your website’s HTML code. A list of your keywords is one of the things the search engines look for in your meta tag code.
Meta tags are viewed as a foundational part of a web site by many SEO specialists. Some developers, however, took advantage of what they could do for search-engine ranking, and Google programmed its search algorithms to disregard them as a factor in determining results-page rankings. The Google search algorithms still remain, however, an important player in how your website makes use of SEO.
Are Website Meta Tags Really Necessary in SEO?
If you don’t rely upon keywords to drive traffic to your website, you may wonder “Are meta tags necessary?” You may be using referrals from other sites or print, direct mail or other forms of advertising to drive traffic to your site. In this case, you may easily assume you can forego the use of meta tags and they won’t need to be included in your HTML code. Certain situations can arise, however, that could cause you to wish you had a meta tag included in your website’s code.Let’s say, for example, that you’re relying on print, radio, TV or billboard ads to drive traffic to your site. Suppose someone heard about your site on their car radio or through a passing conversation and then forgot your site’s URL or possibly even your company’s name. That individual may nonetheless be determined to get to your site, perhaps because of a high degree of motivation to purchase your product or service. Having forgotten your site’s URL, that well-motivated potential customer will most likely perform an online search to find you. That’s when a meta tag containing a description of your products or services will enable that interested party to find his or her way to your website.The information contained in your site’s meta tags summarize the content of your website and they provide a list of your site’s keywords. That latter function is important even though the new Google algorithms don’t give enough weight to that keyword list to raise your rank on the search-results page. That keyword meta tag will instead serve to convince the search-engine bots that your keywords are relevant to the readable content of your website.
Creating Meta Tags That Search Engines Can Use Effectively
There are four common-use meta tags that benefit your site by providing search-engine crawlers with the necessary data to properly index your site with its related keywords and phrases. The meta tags for your website are placed in the HTML code’s “head” section at the top of the code page. The relevant text is inserted between the <head> and </head> tags.
The first meta tag describes the displayed readable character set of your HTML code. The descriptor is referred to as UTF-8, and it stands for Unicode Transformation Format. UTF-8 supports and describes the various symbols, characters and punctuation marks encoded across all of the world regions. Adding this meta tag tells the search engines which characters to use to display your website correctly in the browser. Enter <meta charset=”utf-8″> to include the meta tag in your code.
The second meta tag is the page title, or title tag, and it contains the text that will also appear at the top of most browsers. It’s best to include a relevant title that’s also catchy and memorable. The text comprising the title is entered in between the <title> and </title> tags. It should be limited to no more than 60 characters including spaces; that’s the limit most browsers can reliably display.
The third meta tag is a very short description of what the content of the web page refers to. The code is constructed in the following manner: <meta name=”description” content=”Describe what’s on this page” />. Bear in mind that what’s entered here between the second set of quotation marks might be seen in the search-results page. It’s usually best to use the same keywords or phrases in this text that describe the products or services promoted in your SEO campaign. Once again, you’re limited in the number of characters, including spaces that most browsers can display. It should be kept between 150 and 160 characters.
This description will often display as a short snippet of text underneath your link in the search-engine results. When users enter certain keywords or phrases into the search box, this is what they’ll see before clicking on the link to visit your web page. You’ll want the text to be informative, trustworthy and give your visitors the confidence that the link will take them to where they want to go.
The fourth and most important meta tag contains a description of your website’s relevant keywords. These are the keywords that you’ve included on the web page and in your SEO campaign. The keywords should be entered here using this format and separated by commas: <meta name=”keywords” content=”add, your, keywords, here, and, separate, them, all, by, a, comma” />.
How Do Search Engines and the Current Google Algorithms Use Meta Tags for SEO?
Meta tags provide the search engines with a short description of what your website is about. You can be creative in coming up with what you feel is the best meta description text, but remember that brevity is key. When people enter your company’s name in the search engines, the text coded into your “description” meta tag will appear underneath the link and should feature the name of your company and the products or services you sell.
Most advertisers rely on search-engine marketing or SEO keywords to sell their products and services online. Inserting the correct data for the meta tags into your HTML code informs the search engines of what the website contains and its relevancy. The meta data will include your company’s name, so if somebody remembered your name from a radio, TV or print ad and then entered it into the search engine, your website will appear in the results.
Although the Google search-engine algorithms no longer refer to keyword meta tags to determine a website’s search-result ranking, the popular search engine has an individualized coding system that addresses the content of keyword meta tags in its own way. Rather than rankings, the current Google code focuses on relevancy as a means to properly index your website and display it in the appropriate search results.
The Google approach also requires some personal interaction between the search engine and a website’s owner or developer. To properly index your website, Google will first ask you to verify it by including a code in a special meta tag. You request this verification code through your Google account in the Search Console. This meta tag only needs to be coded into one website page, which is usually an index page that shows up on your domain’s top level. This approach results in your index page following your website instead of it being a page coded as part of a sub domain or part of a directory or folder. This top-level page should appear as “yourwebsite.com/index” with the “yourwebsite” portion of the URL being the actual domain name you’ve chosen.
In the <head> section of this page and underneath the other four meta tags, enter the special code Google provided through your Search Console account. The code is then used to verify your website. The meta tag is coded in this manner, which places the verification code exactly as it was provided in between the quotation marks for content: <meta name=”google-site-verification” content=”Enter the verification code here” />
By default, your website is then programmed to be indexed and crawled by all the bots out there, including Google’s. If you prefer to not have any bots crawl through and index your website, you’ll need to specify this with the “robots” meta tag in this manner: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow” />
You can, however, add specialized meta tags that will allow Google bots to crawl and index your website, archive only certain pages or prevent the text of your meta description tag from appearing in the search engine results. This is where meta tags can become a bit complicated, but you can obtain a full listing of what can be accomplished with these customized Google tags by visiting https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/79812?hl=en.
How to Add Important Website Meta Tags in WordPress and SEO
Some marketers may not want to get bogged down in coding an extensive website and turn to WordPress to meet their SEO needs. WordPress is a free content management system that can easily publish web pages, blogs and shopping carts used to sell or promote products and services. It’s not hard to learn how to add meta tags in WordPress because the website template and its HTML documents are already built into the platform. All that’s needed is to insert the keywords in their appropriate fields through a plugin or add a few lines of code to a header file.
After installing WordPress and choosing the template with your desired theme, look for its “template file.” This is where you’ll find the “header.php” file. When you open this file, you’ll find the <title> tag. You won’t need to change anything with regard to the <title> tag because that’s done through your WordPress administrator’s page. What you’ll see there is a text box where you can change the title of your page at any time by simply adding or changing words in the title field and clicking “save.”
Underneath the <title> tag in the header page is where you can add the “description” and “keywords” meta tags. As in HTML code format, the content of the “description” field is the small (150 to 160 character) text description that shows up in the search engine results underneath the link to your website. Inserting text into the “keywords” content field is similar to the way SEO keywords are entered in HTML; they’re separated by a comma. You can revise them at any time by coming back to the “header.php” file through your WordPress account, adding or changing keywords and then clicking “save.”
If you’d rather use a third-party plugin to manage your keywords and meta tags, you can visit the Official WordPress Plugin Directory website. This is where you can search for a plugin that you’re more comfortable using, and you may find one that can make it easier to quickly update your site content to match an evolving SEO strategy.
DIY HTML Coding, Templates or Third-Party Assistance?
This should give you an idea of what’s involved in using meta tags in your website and how they can relate to your SEO strategy. If you’re not overly enthusiastic about all of the coding involved in HTML, you may wish to consider going the way of the template. WordPress is one of the most popular and easily learned formats for website building and publishing, but there are others out there. A simple search for “website templates” will bring up a wide range of apps and platforms that can help you launch a new website.
Taking the template route may relieve you of heavy coding duties, but you may also be sacrificing a significant amount of individuality and freedom-of-choice. In this case, the extra effort of a DIY approach may pay off for you. You may also wish to consider obtaining the assistance and services of an experienced website developer. Your best bet in that case is to work with a developer you can trust to effectively listen to what you have in mind, and then create the website that best reflects your vision and brand.