When building a simple website, there’s more to consider than organizing content with HTML and styling it with CSS. While the majority of a web developer’s time will be spent in this area, good websites also utilize Meta Tags to help provide some more structure and additional information about a webpage. Sites who use meta tags are typically providing information to browsers and search engines, making them an important part of any search engine optimization (SEO) or overall digital marketing strategy.
Why Use Meta Tags?
It’s important to use meta tags for several reasons. The first reason, and primary for most people, is that they can help a site rank well in search engines. Strategic meta tags can go a long way towards improving a site’s SEO. Secondly, meta tags can be used to help users understand what to expect before visiting a page. This quick preview can be a big boost in a site’s overall user experience (UX).
How to Use Meta Tags
Adding meta tags to a webpage is simple. Simply go to the <head> section of the page and add the appropriate tags there. The best practice would indicate that meta tags be implemented beneath the <title> tag in this section. Once the tags are added, the layout should look something like this:
<title>My Example Web Page | ExampleSite.com</title>
<meta http-equiv=”content-type” content=”text/html;charset=UTF-8”>
<meta name=”description” content=”This is my first example Meta tag!”>
<meta name=”author” content=”Example Author Name”>
Most Common Meta Tags
While there are many meta tags out there, some certainly appear more frequently than others. The most commonly used meta tags are listed below:
The Meta Description tag is used to provide an overview of what sort of content the user can expect on a webpage. This information is displayed in search engine results pages and should typically range between 150 – 160 characters in length for optimal viewing.
The Meta Charset tag is used to explain character encoding. This helps browsers and search engines understand the nature of the characters used within the content of the webpage and enables more effective crawling and rendering.
The Meta Robots tag is used to deliver messages to crawlers, commonly called robots, on a specific webpage. While the Meta Robots tag does work, the practice we recommend is using a robots.txt file to deliver instructions to these crawlers.
The Meta Keywords tag is used to highlight certain keywords or keyword phrases to search engines. These keywords are listed in an effort to rank the page higher in search results for certain queries. This tag is, however, now obsolete, as most search engines have publicly acknowledged that they do not include Meta Keyword data as a ranking factor in their search algorithms.
The Meta Language tag is used to help browsers and search engines identify the language used on a webpage. This tag isn’t entirely necessary, as most browsers and crawlers are able to easily distinguish between most languages, but it can be beneficial to SEO by being used as a targeting tool to identify the page’s desired audience. For example, a page written in Spanish is obviously geared towards Spanish speakers, so a site on a US-based domain may use this tag to demonstrate that the page is intended for Spanish speakers.
The Meta Author tag has been a cause for discussion several times in the SEO community. Google, the world’s largest search engine, has changed its stance on this tag, as well as the idea of “author credibility” on multiple occasions. At this point, the Author tag is supposedly not a ranking factor, but that could very well change (again!) in the future.
The Meta Refresh tag is used as a function more than an indicator. This tag can be used to refresh a page, pointing to a different URL or the same one, after an allotted amount of time has passed. This is not a very common practice.
Webpage <title> Tag
The <title> Tag is commonly regarded as the most important search engine ranking factor on any given page. This tag is used to indicate what the page is about in a concise way. The ideal <title> tag will typically fall between 50 and 60 characters in length. No pages on a single domain should ever use the same <title> tags; Each page should have its own.
Which Meta Tags Should I Use?
There are several key meta tags that every webpage should feature. Our recommendation is to always use the Meta Description, Meta Language, Meta Charset and <title> tags on each webpage. There will be appropriate times to use other tags of course, but these are the ones that should always be made available – especially the <title> tag!