Working as search consultants leads to some very interesting conversations with clients. Perhaps itâ€™s the overwhelming complexity, or maybe itâ€™s the false belief that a few simple tricks will open up a world of rankings. Whatever the underlying cause is, it certainly can be challenging to talk people down when they make decisions based on a tiny bit of knowledge or worse, complete misinformation.
Take for example, the infamous meta tag.
These somewhat hidden adjuncts to raw web code were included in HTML specs in the early days of the internet Â as an attempt to better communicate with search engines. The idea was to provide a back alley of communication that would help web “bots” to index pages Â more effectively by using metadata Â within web pages. These tags were in the code but (for the most part) are not seen in the rendered web page. Sounds like a great idea right? Wrong. Soon after the idea was picked up by early search engines, website owners began insert misleading words about their pages hoping to rank for terms for which their pages were not relevant .
Thus the birth of Search Spam.
From that point forward the value and use of meta tags has declined to the point that now there are only a couple that are worth addressing.
Meta Tags That Make a Difference
Title Tag – This is still a major part of how search engines determine what your web page is about. It needs to be brief (70 characters or less) and it needs to summarize the page content using your targeted keywords. You do not however, want a string of keywords but rather a natural language title that includes your keywords in descending order of importance with your brand last (there are exceptions to this but generally this is a solid approach). Â The biggest challenge for title tag strategy is local SEO. If your market includes several key areas throughout a metropolitan area your index page tagging needs to reflect the regional scope of your business thenÂ address the hyper local markets with content and pages tagged for those areas. It can get a little cumbersome and if you find that the division of pages is creating thin content, that’s usually a good sign to stop.
Description Tag – This is the bit of text that shows up on search results under the title link. The interesting thing about description tags is their value has morphed. In the early days, search optimizers would use these for keyword value and other content enhancement. That value is gone. However they do have a distinct value as essentially a display ad. If you work hard to get your page to perform for your keyword phrases, you will also want a compelling pitch as to what distinguishes your business. The description tag can be a nice spot to make that pitch. There is no guarantee that searchers will see it though. Google can take itâ€™s own snippet from the page content if the algorithm feels like itâ€™s the best match. But oftentimes a well crafted description tag will trump the auto because it should align best to the keyword phrase you are working.
There are also some meta tags that are needed for technical purposes to communicate with search bots, ( charset, robots, etc.) but these play more of a role in the accessibility of content by crawlers rather then the quality of the content.
So while meta tags still linger, they have become a minor element in the toolkit of search professionals. Yet their diminished importance is still working its way through marketing circles and often still manages to find its way into discussions with prospective clients. Knowing how to answer their meta tag questions will help you educate them on the new realities and move the relationship forward. With any luck we can (hopefully) nail down the coffin lid on the dreaded keyword tag once and for all.