10 Building Blocks of Great Meta Tags

by on January 10, 2011

We don’t need them do we?

You have about 70 characters worth of space in your title tag and approximately 155 in your description. What are you doing with it?

Even as far back as 2007, maybe more, people have been saying Meta tags aren’t a factor in search engine placement. In the Google Webmaster Forums, a commenter wrote:

“One problem that I could see that not having a description would cause, which is the same as not having meta-keywords is that most online “SEO evaluation tools” give you a shitty score if you don’t include things like that. Things that haven’t made a difference for so long one wonders when the “SEO evaluation tool” was made in the first place.

For me, I think I’ll save triple the time, forget about meta-keywords, which I already do, forget about meta-description, which I haven’t seen the point of for a long time and to save the most time of all, give up on out of date so called “SEO” tools.”

Meta Titles and Descriptions – A Moment of Sarcastic Commentary

I won’t lie; I was floored by this comment. If this was the thought three years ago, how much has that thought process grown since then? If Meta tags don’t mean anything at all and are useless, why is Google still talking about them?

You don’t see the point in Meta tags? Please allow me a moment of sarcastic commentary.

You don’t care about the only thing potential visitors will see when putting in a search query because the search engines don’t use them as a ranking factor? So “about” is an acceptable title for you as a way to introduce your company? Not even “about company”, but just “about”?

And you’re okay with the search engines picking anything out of your content to use as a description for your company, right? You think, “All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed…” is going to give potential visitors an inviting, warm, fuzzy feeling?

People, when you’re running an online business, the rules change. Everything you put out there is a representation of your company. Your meta information, your content, the images you use, the comment you made on XYZ blog – everything.

Take links, for instance. Any time you link out – from your site, from your social media account – it counts as an endorsement. You’re endorsing the page you link to. The search engines look at it that way and, more importantly, visitors look at it that way.

So think about it. Regardless of whether search engines use your Meta information or not, it should still matter to you. Your title and description tell how you feel about your business, and how you want visitors to feel about your business. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, take your online business seriously. #thatisall

Meta Data Building Blocks

If you’re going to build an active, engaging, growing online business, you have to start with the basic building blocks. Your Meta data is one of these blocks, and it has its own foundations.

  1. Don’t leave your title blank. From the Google Blog: “If you don’t specify a <title> tag, then Google will try to create a title for you. You can probably do better than our best guess, so go for it: take control of your <title> tag!”
  2. Different pages deserve different tags. Use unique tag lines (titles) and descriptions for each one. This may sound time consuming, but if you add this information as soon as the page is created, all it takes is a few seconds.
  3. Tags and titles are there to accurately describe a page’s content – use them wisely.
  4. Don’t stuff your Meta info – ever. In fact, if your Meta information doesn’t affect your rankings, then why are you stuffing them with keywords anyway? Instead, use your keywords, title and description wisely, to incorporate relevance, readability and user engagement.
  5. Write each title and description as if they were an ad for that particular page. How would you entice visitors to click? What would it take you to click through to a page? Think about it!
  6. For individual product pages, include non-changing facts (for example, listing manufacturer information or the number of available colors for a shirt).
  7. Don’t repeat the title in the description. These are two separate areas, and repetition is just wasting this precious space. Use the description to enhance the title and give a more accurate representation of the information contained on the page.
  8. Make descriptions as descriptive as possible. Remember, you’re representing your company and brand, here. Take the opportunity to show you’re serious about what you do.
  9. Try not to use quotes, dashes or other non-alphanumeric characters. These characters may end up have your description truncated at the character used.
  10. I am including one of Gabriella’s favorite infographics about best title tag formulas.

Finally, it’s important to note that Google acknowledged they don’t use Meta information for ranking purposes. Instead, they use it for relevance to a search. So, they may pull your site into the results for a search query because of your meta information, but they won’t put you on page one because of it.

This should actually come as a relief to many, because it leaves you fully able to focus on the potential visitor instead of the search engines. –And, as you know, the visitor is much more likely to buy than the search engines.



{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter July 19, 2013 at 3:54 am

Very good and short post, but including all important about meta tags.
I like it.

Reply

Soni SEO April 8, 2013 at 5:48 am

Nice post in short..

Reply

Stacey March 24, 2013 at 5:31 am

Great tips. Amen to #7 & 8 regarding descriptions. I think many site owners don’t take enough care when writing their descriptions or ignoring them all together and letting google automatically fill something in.

Reply

Rahul seo December 3, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Clearly explained meta tags,thank you.

Reply

Gabriella December 11, 2012 at 7:03 am

Rahul, you are most welcome :)

Reply

smarttouch November 28, 2012 at 12:20 am

Thank you so much for these tips, also don’t write a too long title or description, try as possible to make the title 70 character and the description 160 character. the reason is when someone search google for a keyword the snippet (result) will show the title and description or content from the page, so try to make them short and to the point.

Reply

Victor Parker August 31, 2012 at 12:55 am

All the overview of meta tag is excellent. Share 10 important and useful point of meta tag and show the important of meta tag in this blog

Reply

rahul December 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

Great Post
This may be very useful
Thank you..

Reply

Tim Ryan December 7, 2011 at 4:05 am

I came to know about the importance of meta tags after reading some articles on meta tags. From what I’ve understood meta tag description is as important as any other techniques we use for increasing traffic. Its a challenging task since we have to write in short and in such a way that it tempts the reader to click and find out more.

Reply

Gabriella December 7, 2011 at 4:32 am

Exactamundo Tim, keep in mind there is a balance. Personally I love looking at our tag images. Action words, Brands, Keywords, those are all things one has to take in mind when building them.

Reply

Don Gerig November 3, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the tips on meta-description… I went through my site and found out the previous web designer did a terrible job with them. Since reading your article I have re-written all my meta-descriptions to make the more useful. Does anyone know if adding a time and date to the front of meta-description is a good idea. I know when I search I often click on the one with a recent date. Does anyone else do this?

Reply

JRPittman November 7, 2011 at 10:36 am

Recent dates do make it much easier to find relevant information, Don. I’m definitely a “recent date” searcher, and often use Google’s “past year” – “more search tools” feature. In regards to actually adding dates into the meta description:

Generally, the search engines are pretty good at grabbing a date from a page – if there’s a date already on the page. Adding dates into the meta description isn’t necessary. On doing a brief search for site:www.adrhomes.com to better advise you, I did find some 404s, however. You’d go a long way in terms of search (as well as usability), if you took a look at your site’s technical as well as meta descriptions. Great job on taking the initiative to make your site more useful!

Thank you for your comment :)

Reply

Siju George October 5, 2011 at 12:33 am

Right now meta keywords has little effect in Google ranking due to old keyword stuffing issues. However, we cannot avoid meta description and title tag. Title tag is the first on page optimization factor which we need to care. Even meta description has its own effect.

I agree with you that title and description tags should be written as an ads for the specific page which improves CTR. We should use unique tags for each pages to avoid duplication issues. We can use | to seperate two sections in title tag and that is widely accepted.

Reply

Jibin P August 24, 2011 at 3:21 am

Great article. Usually I am using Content management systems for my websites. Meta tags are always an issue. Gabriella’s infographics are very useful to automate the task. Thank you.

Reply

asigurari July 5, 2011 at 8:17 am

Meta tags should always be used for any site, page, or blog. Think yourself when you want to search for something on Google. Your search query will give you some results, 7 of them have a crappy title and no description and three of them have great title, what you searched for and best description. Now, on what result will you click?

Reply

Guest January 20, 2011 at 7:46 pm

People usually make mistakes with guideline #7. They tend to insert the title in the description, which is redundant and a waste of space.

MicroSourcing

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John January 19, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Great tips on how to properly put together meta data building blocks. I especially liked your tip number 5 where you talked about writing each title and description like an ad.

One of the best things your meta information can be used for is to entice people to click, so it makes sense to take your time to write a good title and description.

I thought it was interesting that you mentioned that Google will probably put your site into the results for a search query because of your meta information, but they won’t put you on page one because of it. This is why if you want to get indexed properly you should put a lot of focus into your meta data. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

Reply

JRPittman January 20, 2011 at 7:46 am

John, it amazes me how you always manage to pull out important parts of the article and highlighting them. Want to come work for us? ;)

I’m really glad we came across that link for the Google Webmaster Forum pinning down the “truth” about meta tags, and then the Google Blog about them. It makes it easier to shine the light on the subject. No, meta tags won’t get you ranked; yes, meta tags will get you indexed for a specific search term.

Thanks for the comments. Keep coming back!

Reply

Nick Stamoulis January 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Great point that everything is a representation of your company. Laziness certainly does show and is likely to turn people off when it comes to your meta information. It’s important to have unique tags for different pages to clearly convey what is on it’s page. It’s crazy that some people miss that step.

Reply

JRPittman January 20, 2011 at 7:25 am

Hey, Nick – I understand missing steps… occasionally. You get in a hurry and forget a link here or a sitemap there. What I don’t understand is people feeling these steps aren’t important at all. Thanks for your comment, and glad you liked the article!

Reply

david January 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm

When it doesn’t matter much in the SEO then why the hell should we do all this stuff about the Meta tags?

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Gabriella January 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Hello David – where have you heard it’s not important in SEO? Not sure our writer said that anywhere in her article. As a matter of fact she references Google’s Official blog where they state “Keep an eye on your description meta tags. Description meta tags weren’t being utilized to their full potential in 54% of submitted sites. These tags are often used to populate the two-line snippet provided to users in the search results page. With a solid snippet, you can get your potential readers excited and ready to learn more about your organization.”

Does that mean it matters in the SEO world? I would venture to say yes… if you use Google, or any search engine, for that matter. Let me add there is a lot of SEO conjecture and opinions out there – which is fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion -, but in our professional opinion SEO is still based on theory, testing, and of course best practices in Organic SEO.

We believe in writing for humans. As much as we would love to corner the market on Google’s secret algorithms, all we can advise our readers to do is write for their market.

Reply

JRPittman January 20, 2011 at 7:37 am

Hi, David: Your question probably makes SEOs and SEMs alike groan and shake their heads. SEO only goes so far; you can’t look at JUST what benefits you get from optimization. In fact, I would say SEO is a technical, non-human element (keyword A brings these numbers; we’ll use keyword A in anchor text, title, etc.) of site development. For example, when you’re actively building links, whether paid, free, directory, article, blog comment, etc., do visitors care about those links pointing to your site? Not likely. Who cares about the links? The search engines – inhuman, non-thinking, non-caring, non-buying search engines.

At some point in time you have to stop. You have to step away from the SEO frame of mind and look at the site or project as a visitor. You have to look at the meta tag, for instance, and decide that it doesn’t matter if it helps SEO or not (it does, just not for rank). You have to say “this is what’s best for my visitors, this will make them click, this will bring them in.” In other words, just because something “doesn’t matter much in SEO”, doesn’t mean it has no value at all.

Marketing lesson 101. :)

Reply

Aaron Bradley January 14, 2011 at 8:26 am

A nice good overview of meta tags, and some good tips – great stuff!

Regarding #7, I agree with you when you say “[d]on’t repeat the title in the description,” insofar as one should not repeat the *exact* title in a description.

However, one *should* include critical words that appear in the title, or at least the stems of those words. This is because the full description is much more likely to be displayed in a SERP snippet if keywords in the query also appear in the meta description – and since title tags tend to (or should) target the likeliest queries for that web page, so should the description.

In that same vein, I would say part of the enhancement you speak of should take account of synonyms for key title words, and other closely-associated keywords and phrases related to the title, for the same reason that these considerations will increase the likelihood that the description will be reproduced wholesale in the snippet.

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JRPittman January 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

Excellent point about including critical words, Aaron. A lot of things about SEO become so ingrained, we don’t really think about them anymore. They’re done “by rote” and easily missed when writing informational articles. I hope our readers scan down to your comment and read it. It definitely gives more clarity.

Thanks for your thoughtful addition!

Reply

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