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Meta Tags – Which Ones Are Still Important

meta tags

Not so long ago, marketers could rank a website at the top of the search engines simply by stuffing it full of HTML meta tags. Once this loophole was closed, marketers realised that creating over-optimised pages and throwing tons of links at them achieved the same result. Once this loophole was closed, marketers began to experiment with rich snippets and data markup and attempt to boost their rankings through false social proof.

For as long as the search engines have existed, there have been marketers who have attempted to game the results. Meta tags and meta fields have always been one piece of a large algorithmic puzzle and over the years, much like all elements of a website that can be used to manipulate rankings, they have helped websites generate millions of sales.

But are they relevant in 2014?

Let’s take a look.

What are meta tags?

Meta tags are website descriptors. They are lines of code and text which lie between the open and closing tags in a HTML document. This content is not visible to the average website visitor and it is not located on the front-end of a website. Instead, meta tags are located in the code of a website and unless a human is looking for them, only the search engines will see them.

The basic aim of a meta tag is to explain to the search engines what a page is about.

Page title

If you are clued up on SEO, you’ll likely know the words ‘page title’ better than ‘title tag’. Contrary to belief, the page title is not a meta tag. The W3C define the title tag as a required element of a page, whereas it defines meta tags as optional page descriptors.

Even though by definition the page title is not a meta tag, it is often edited alongside the meta description and meta keywords. As such, among most marketers, the title tag is a form of meta tag.

Is it a ranking factor?

The page title is still an important ranking factor to Google and all other search engines. It is among the first criteria a search engine looks at when loading a page and it is critical to explaining to the search engines what a page is about.

meta tags - which ones are still important

Meta description

To Google, a meta description will look like:

A website meta description is what shows up as the synopsis for a page in the search results (shown above). Marketers only have 156 characters to describe the web page (Google only shows the first 156 characters) and so it is critical that a meta description includes all of the relevant and valuable information a searcher will be looking for.

Is it a ranking factor?

The meta description is not a ranking factor for Google. Google does not count the meta description toward your rankings. However, the meta description is still a very important part of website optimisation as it is your sales pitch to searchers. It needs to sell to the searcher and get them to click through to your website.

Meta keyword tag

Meta keyword tags are still common on websites and there are millions of businesses out there that have stuffed their keyword field with tens or even hundreds of tags. However up to date marketers know that the meta keyword tag is not an important part of search engine optimisation and as such, most online strategies do not involve them.

Is it a ranking factor?

The meta keyword tag is defunct to all major search engines and it is not a ranking factor. They used to point out what keywords a website was targeting for Google but a combination of manipulation and poor search quality resulted in the meta keyword tag being stripped of any power. If your website currently uses meta keyword tags, you can leave them in, because whilst they won’t help your website rank they won’t harm it either. The only people that look at them these days would be your competitor’s SEO company.

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