SEO Update: How to Rule the Rankings in 2015 (Part 4)
From Panda to Penguin to Hummingbird to Pigeon, the ever-changing landscape of SEO looks far different in 2015 than it did five, three or even just one year ago. In this multi-part article series, we’re separating SEO myth from SEO fact to arm you with the information you need to ward off the snake-oil practitioners who are looking to make a quick buck and help you climb the ranks of the search engine results pages the right way.
When I speak with clients about search engine optimization, one of the most common requests I hear is that they “need to have meta tags added to the website.” When I hear this, I know two things right away:
1. They have spoken to someone in the past about SEO.
2. They do not have a current understanding of SEO best practices.
Whereas once meta tags were a central element of SEO, they now play only a minimal role in search engine rankings.
What exactly are meta tags?
Meta tags are not displayed to the end user; rather, their sole purpose is to convey information to search engines about the page’s content.
Most clients who broach the topic of meta tags don’t have a good understanding of what they are or what role they play; they just know the term as being synonymous with SEO.
Meta tags are snippets of code that are added to a web page’s header. They are not displayed to the end user in the browser; rather, their sole purpose is to convey information to search engines about the page’s content.
Understanding meta tag types
The most important type of meta tag – and the one that still has some impact on SEO ranking – is the title tag.
The purpose of the title tag is to convey the main focus of a given webpage. Unlike the other types of meta tags, this one does appear in the browser in the title bar or tab.
A good title tag explains the content of a page and includes a few keywords relevant to that page. It should be no more than 50 to 60 characters in length, and since every page of your site has a different purpose, each page should have a unique title tag that is relevant to that specific page. An example of a title tag’s content could be:
“Charlotte NC Website Design and Marketing | Fame Foundry”
This is the title tag that Fame Foundry uses on our home page. It is short (56 characters including spaces), to the point and includes keywords relevant to our business, including geographic information (Charlotte, NC) and service keywords (website design and marketing).
In addition to being used by search engines to understand the content of a page, the title tag is also used on search engine ranking pages, or SERPs, as the title of a page’s entry.
If you are launching an SEO initiative for your company, a thorough review of your site’s title tags should certainly be a part of that plan.
As its name suggests, the meta keywords tag is comprised of a list of keywords that are relevant to the page. In the early days of SEO, this tag had a great effect on page ranking. However, black-hat practitioners quickly learned how to game the system by stuffing this tag with irrelevant keywords in an effort to grab traffic from popular trends and topics, and as a result, all of the major search engines have now eliminated the use of this tag in their ranking algorithms.
As its name implies, the purpose of the meta description tag is to provide a concise summary of a webpage’s content. Like meta keywords, the meta description tag has no effect on the page’s search ranking.
However, the meta description can still have an effect on driving traffic to your site. How can this be? Because often, Google and other major search engines display the text of the meta description tag right below the title tag on search results pages as a way to help users decide whether the page contains the type of information they’re looking for.
As a result, it’s important to ensure that each page on your site has a unique, compelling description of no more than 150-160 characters that encapsulates that specific page’s content and is written to appeal to the end user, not the search engines. In this way, well-formed title and meta description tags can make or break a user’s decision to visit your site.
This tag is used to instruct search engine spiders, or “bots”, whether or not a page should be indexed and made available to searchers.
A more recent addition to the meta tag lexicon, meta author is used to identify the person who is credited with developing the content for that page. This is typically used for resource-based content such as an article or blog post.
If your site contains pages with different languages, using this tag on different pages can be helpful to let the browser know which language a given page is in.
This tag provides the date when the page was last updated.
These are just a few of the dozens of meta tags that can be incorporated into the code of any given webpage. As you can see, some of them serve a very useful purpose, like instructing the search engines not to index a particular page (such as one that contains content that is exclusive to paid subscribers). However, for all except the title tag, their value no longer lies in their ability to improve your search engine rankings. Therefore, while it’s important to employ these tags for their intended purpose, if you’re trying to use them to boost your visibility in search results, your efforts will be in vain. Instead, it’s more important to focus your time and resources on tactics that will improve your standing in the long run, such as publishing keyword-friendly, value-add content and building inbound links.
Jeremy Girard Jeremy Girard has been designing for the web since 1999. He is currently employed at the Providence, Rhode Island-based firm Envision Technology Advisors and also teaches website design and front-end development at the University of Rhode Island. In addition, Jeremy contributes regularly to a number of websites and magazines focused on business and the Web, including his personal site at Pumpkin-King.com.