Going Meta on Your SEO
Whether you’ve been an SEO for two weeks or two decades, you’re inevitably going to stumble into arguments about Meta tags. It’s sometimes hard to separate myth from history, and the role of Meta tags in SEO has evolved a great deal over time, but the basics are still critical and don’t need to be complicated.
Put simply, Meta tags are data that help search engines understand your web-page but that aren’t part of the regular content. There are a number of advanced Meta tags, but let’s focus on the three with the most SEO history: (1) Meta keywords, (2) Meta description, and (3) Title tag, in reverse-importance…
The Meta keywords tag is a comma-delimited list of keywords (or topics) that your web-page is about. There was a time when this tag helped search engines decide where and when your page should rank. That time was twenty years ago. By the early 2000s, search engines realized that Meta keywords were too easy to game, and we have good reason to believe that many even viewed them as a negative ranking factor (i.e. they treated those keywords with suspicion). In 2018, the Meta keywords tag is unlikely to help or harm you in most situations, and it isn’t worth much time or effort.
Your Meta description is meant to be a human-readable summary of your web-page. This summary is often (note: not always) used by search engines and some social networks as the description or “snippet” that they display. This summary is a vital part of the first impression that will determine if someone will click on your search result.
Here are three tips for writing good Meta descriptions:
- Write for humans – Too many people still treat their Meta descriptions as a dumping ground for their SEO keywords. Don’t do this. Your Meta description isn’t a significant ranking factor in 2018. It is, however, very important in determining whether someone clicks on and engages with your site. Like good ad copy, your Meta description should grab a searcher’s interest and leave them wanting more.
- Mind your length – Google currently limits display snippets to about 155 characters, after which they add an ellipsis (…). Try to keep your Meta description under this length, or make sure that the most important parts of your description happen before the cut-off.
- Keep it relevant – While you want to attract clicks, make sure that your description is relevant to your page’s content. Tricking searchers into a click leads to high bounce rates and no long-term value. In many cases, if your description isn’t relevant to the search or your content, search engines will simply overrule you and rewrite what they display.
The Title Tag
Your Title tag not only serves as the page title displayed by web browser but is often used by search engines and social media sites as the headline for your page. Keywords in your Title tag do still seem to impact rankings in 2018, but like your Meta descriptions, I’d encourage you to write Title tags for humans and treat them as your first impression to a world that may not know your brand or your content.
Here are three tips for writing high-impact Title tags:
- Think like a reporter – Think of your Title tag like a headline, and don’t bury the lede. Especially on the web, attention spans are short, and you have to help people quickly understand what your page is about and why they should care.
- Focus on the unique – Front-load the most unique part of your title. If you have hundreds or thousands of products pages, and you start every Title tag with your brand name, product category, and sub-category, people will give up before they know which product your page is about.
- Be succinct – In addition to the problem of short attention spans, Google only displays about 50-60 characters of your Title tag. Get to the point quickly, or it’s likely to get stranded behind the “…” and never heard from again.
Meta tags are your web page’s face to the search world. If you stuff them with irrelevant nonsense, you’re not going to achieve anything in 2018 but to irritate potential customers. Write like a human, be relevant, and take the time to craft Meta descriptions and Title tags that represent your value proposition and leave people wanting more.