What are Meta Tags?
Meta tags are tags that describe metadata within an HTML document. This metadata is information that is read by web crawlers and search engines.
These meta tags communicate to search engines things like if you want the page to be indexed in search results, or what info to present in the search engine results page otherwise known as the SERP.
Meta tags always belong in the <head> element of an HTML document. When you are looking for these on the page source of a webpage, you will see them towards the top.
Important Meta Tags
The meta title, also known as the title tag, is used to determine the title of the HTML document or webpage. Titles aren’t technically a meta tag, but fall into the key metadata elements of a webpage.
This title tag is represented in the search engine results and is a ranking signal, so optimizing it is key.
Include your keywords and test different variations to draw in users and improve your CTR.
The meta description tag describes the page for people on the SERPs. Think of this as the ad copy that could incite users to click on your website.
This meta description tag does not have an impact on ranking, but it can have an impact on your incoming traffic if you are ranking well.
Another note is that sometimes your meta description may not be shown if Google finds another snippet of text on your webpage that is more relevant to the query.
The meta robots tag allows you to control how a web page is indexed or served in the search results.
The key indexation controlling parameters to remember are:
The noindex directive tells search engines not to index a page. This is the most important meta robots tag to remember in case you are looking to keep certain pages on your website off the SERPs.
The nofollow directive tells crawlers not to follow any of the links on a page or pass equity to the linked pages.
Some other indexation controlling parameters to keep in mind:
The index directive tells search engines to index a page. This is the default setting if you don’t specify anything, so wouldn’t worry about this one.
The follow directive tells search engines to follow all the links on a page and pass equity to the linked pages. If you have noindex and a follow mixed together, Google may eventually ignore your follow directive.
The noarchive directive tells search engines not to show a cached link in the search results.
The nosnippet directive tells search engines not to show a text snippet or video preview in the search results. This is primarily used to hide descriptions on the SERP.
The notranslate directive tells search engines not to offer a translation of the page in search results.
The noimageindex directive tells search engines not to index images on the page.
Tags Not to Worry About
There are a few meta tags you may have come across or heard of, but aren’t necessary to pay attention to.
The first is meta keywords. Back in the day, people used to spam the meta keywords tag in hopes to improve rankings. It worked for a while up until Google changed their stance on the use of the tag, but these days, it’s ineffective.
The meta charset tag specifies the character encoding for the web page. This controls how characters display and ensures that there aren’t character formatting issues.
The meta charset tag is important, but for the most part, should be automatically defined in your content management system or CMS. The most common is UTF-8 which is the character encoding for Unicode.
Meta Refresh Redirect
The meta refresh redirect tag tells browsers to redirect users at a specified amount of time.
This meta tag should not be used.
It may confuse users and may not be supported by all browsers. This meta tag was used by websites that wanted to serve multiple ads that require a refresh. These days, it isn’t necessary, and if you are looking to redirect someone to a different page, just set a 301.
There you have it.
A few of the most important meta tags, as well as a few meta tags you shouldn’t worry about.
Meta tags are rather simple to understand and making sure you set the right ones as needed will ensure your pages are represented correctly on the SERPs.