How Meta Tags Really Affect Your Website

Do Meta tags really have an impact on your website's SEO rankings?

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Girard, Jeremy. "How Meta Tags Really Affect Your Website." ThoughtCo, Jan. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-meta-tags-really-affect-your-website-3469992. Girard, Jeremy. (2017, January 24). How Meta Tags Really Affect Your Website. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-meta-tags-really-affect-your-website-3469992 Girard, Jeremy. "How Meta Tags Really Affect Your Website." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-meta-tags-really-affect-your-website-3469992 (accessed September 26, 2017).

Meta Tags are an important, but often misunderstood, aspect of web design. Meta Tags contain information or “metadata” about your website. This information, which is in the <head> of an HTML document, is not meant to be read by the people that visit that site, but is intended for browsers, web servers, and search engines.

Now, you may have noticed that “search engines” were included in the aforementioned list.

Yes, search engines do read a site’s metadata, but they do not use that information in their search ranking algorithms any longer. Years ago, search engines did use Meta Tags as one of the signals that influenced rankings, but rampant abuse of these tags destroyed their use as a rankings signal in all major search engines today. This causes confusion for many people who may have once been told that they had to “change their Meta Tags” in order to improve search engine rankings, but who have not kept up with changes in SEO practices and do not realize that, while still valuable in many ways, Meta Tags no longer have impact on search engine rankings.

So what do Meta Tags do now and how do they help a site be optimized for people? Here’s a rundown of the most common Meta Tags used on websites and exactly what their purpose is.

Description

The Meta Description tag is one of the ones that used to be used by search engines for ranking purposes.

Because of this, many people still mistakenly believe that they can seed this tag with SEO-centric keywords and impact their search engine placement. That is no longer the case, but that does not mean this tag is not still important. Many search engines will use the content of this tag, which should contain a short description of the content on that page, as the description used in the search engine results page (SERP) when that page is returned with a search query.

There is no guarantee that the search engine will use the text from your Meta Description tag, but they do take it as a suggestion, so it is a good idea to write a clear, concise description of your page using this tag.

Keywords                      

Keywords was another tag that search engines used to use in their rankings calculations. This is the one that was prone to abuse and it is no longer a factor in rankings. Some SEO specialists use this tag simply to list out the keywords that a given page is optimized for. While the tag will not impact SEO rankings, it does give anyone working on the code of the site a clear list of which keywords are relevant to that page.

Author

The Meta Author tag is often used to list the person or company who created that page or website, almost like a signature in the code. Some web designers prefer this method over adding a “Website designed by…” link in the footer of the site.

Robots

The Meta Robots tag lets the search engine’s crawlers know whether or not a page should be indexed and included in their database. If you have a page on your site that is not intended for the general public, like a page for employees only, using the Robots tags is one way you can block that page from search engines.

Language

Websites that contains pages with different languages can use the Meta Language tag to let the browser know which language a given page is written in. This is not for computer coding languages, but for human languages like English, Spanish, French, etc.

Revised

The Meta Revised tag lists when the page was last changed. This can be helpful since it will let a search engine know if recent changes have been made to the content of that page and if, therefore, that page should be crawled again and reindexed.

Title Tag

One final HTML element that is worth mentioning is the <title> tag that is found near the start of all webpages. Like Meta Tags, the title tag is not really meant for people, but rather for machines. Unlike Meta Tags, however, the title tag does show up in the web browser in a few places:

  • The top of the browser window, in the toolbar
  • When a page is added as a bookmark or favorite, this is the title that will be used
  • In the SERP page, this is the title that will be used for the page, displaying the first 50 to 60 characters

Each HTML document must only contain 1 title tag and this tag is actually used by search engines in their ranking algorithms. The content of the title tag should be a short, clear description of the content found on that page.

Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/24/17