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A handy guide to effective meta-tag optimisation for SEO

HTML Meta-tags are page data tags that lie between the opening and closing head tags (<head>) of the HTML code for a web page. These are an essential part of search search engine optimisation (SEO) for your online marketing strategy.

Here’s an example of the coding used for meta-tags:

<title>Not a Meta Tag, but required anyway </title>
<meta name="description" content="Content Description Here">
<meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html;charset=UTF-8">

The Title Tag

The Title tag isn’t actually a meta- tag, rather it is an essential page element, meta-tags on the other hand are optional page descriptors that help ‘explain’ the page to search engines. However, the title-tag is the single, most important tag in your page. It is the primary indicator search engines look for when determining what your page is about. Here are a few things to remember when writing a title tag:

  • The title tag is displayed in the search results as the most prominent piece of information available to searchers. It is important not to load your title tag with relevant keywords since the title tag will not affect your page rankings but will affect how relevant the user feels your page is to their search.

  • Titles need to clearly relate to their page

  • A good title, should act as a stand alone indicator of the contents of the page

  • A title such as ‘Home’ or ‘About us’ is ineffective when displayed in search results since it indicates nothing to the user regarding the content of the page.

  • Titles for your home page should include the name of your organization, preferably at the end of the title. The name of your business or organization is a low ranking search term because of its specificity so it should be included at the end of a title, with broader keywords or search terms at the beginning.

  • Bear in mind that Google will display up to 66 characters of a title tag, cropping to complete words. Ideally title tags should be a maximum of 70 characters long including spaces.

  • Yahoo however, has an absolute cut-off point at 120 characters

  • It is important to strike a balance between conveying the content of your webpage to the user, whilst including relevant keywords; including your target keywords or phrases within the title tag without compromising clarity, is the best way to lead users to your site.

  • The most relevant or heavily searched for key words/phrases need to be first in the title tag with least important keywords featuring last.

  • Separate important keyword phrasing with pipes, refrain from using commas, dashes, underscores etc. unless the keyword is written that way.

The Meta- Description Tag

The meta-description tag whilst no longer directly related to search engine rankings, is still a useful tool for directing users to your page. Bear these points in mind when writing a meta-description tag:

  • Use this tag to attract users rather than for optimizing search engine rankings

  • Ensure you include keywords, even though the meta-description tag does not directly affect rankings, the users key search terms will be highlighted within the search results, including keywords will ensure your listings stand out.

  • The meta-description tag should be between 150-160 characters in length for Google optimization.

  • Think of the meta-description tag as advertising copy, these short paragraphs give webmasters the opportunity to effectively ‘sell’ their page to relevant users. Crafting a concise and compelling description using keywords will increase site visitors.

  • Avoid duplicate meta-description tags- your content should be unique on each page of your site if you want your search engine rankings to improve, therefore, your meta-descriptions should be unique to each page of your site.

  • In certain instances it may be more beneficial not to write a meta-description for a certain page; if the page is aimed at targeting 1-3 heavily searched words or phrases, construct a meta-description that uses those keywords to attract users to the page, however, if your page is targeting longer-tail traffic, for example an e-commerce site, it can sometimes be more beneficial to users to allow the search engines themselves to extract the relevant text. This will prevent you from ‘overwriting’ the relevance that search engines construct naturally from the content of your page; a bad meta-description can be worse than no meta description.

Below is a good example of a meta-description tag, however note how the title could be better optimized- words such as ‘welcome’ and ‘Home’ are not a great idea if you want to attract the most relevant users.

 screen shot of meta-tags including title, description and keywords

The Keywords Meta-Tag

The keywords meta-tag used to be an important factor in page rankings, however these days, the only search engine that crawls for keyword tags is Microsoft’s Bing and it only does this for the detection of spam.  If you already have keyword meta-tags on your site, ensure that they aren’t excessive. Overloading your page with keywords will only reduce your ranking since it may be detected as spam.

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