Meta Tags: What They are and How To Use Them

Meta tags banner

Onsite SEO forms the foundations of an organic search campaign with meta tags essential to the onsite optimisation. Search engine optimisation is an essential element of a digital strategy with most traffic coming via organic search. An effective SEO campaign will help you to increase reach significantly and drive qualified traffic to your site. While most of the SEO weighting is geared towards link building, unless the onsite elements are optimised and search friendly, it will become increasingly difficult to rank well.


What are Meta Tags and What are their Function?

They are small snippets of text in the HTML that describes the pages content and tells search engines what the web page is about – essentially data about data. Meta is short for metadata which is the kind of data that they provide. They don’t appear in the page content and the only time you are likely to see some of them is on search engine result pages (title and description tags), unless you go viewing the source code of a page – usually only something developers and online marketers would do!

They are found between at the head of the page between <head> and </head> tags. To view them, right click anywhere on a webpage and select ‘View page source’.

Meta HTML example


Title Tags

The title tag is displayed at the top of your ad in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and at the top of your browser. It gives a snippet of your pages content and should be clear and concise giving an accurate description of the pages content as well as encouraging users to click on your ad. It is advisable to limit it to 55 characters so that it doesn’t get truncated (where it doesn’t all display and you get…) and to include your target keyword for the page to show relevancy. Most businesses choose to include their business name in there too for branding purposes. It is crucial to both search engines, as they use it to see how relevant a page is, and encouraging users to click on your ad boosting, thus boosting click through rates.

Browser example:

Title tag browser example

Search Engine Result Page Example (title – top line, description bottom 2 lines):

SERP example


Description Tags

The meta description tag gives a short and concise summary of the web page content and is often used in the search engine results pages below the title tag to describe the page. It is should be limited to 160 characters to prevent it being truncated and give a clear and concise description of the pages content as well as including your target keyword. It doesn’t effect rankings but the search term the user searches for will be in bold text in the search engine result pages and thus will encourage users to click on it.


Robot tags

These are used to tell robots whether to crawl and index the pages content on not. If nothing is specified, the content will automatically be crawled and indexed and therefore most people leave these tags out as they want their pages to be crawled. You would include these in pages that you don’t wish to be crawled and indexed and also configure a robots.txt file (a file telling the robots which pages to crawl and which to skip).

If you don’t want a page to be crawled, insert <meta name=”robots” content=nofollow”/>

If you don’t want a page to be indexed in the search engines, insert <meta name=”robots” content=noindex”/>

You are more likely to see the tag <meta name=”robotscontent=”noodp“/> which prevents search engines displaying their own description taken from their own directory rather than the meta description. Noodp stands for no open directory project and covers all of the search engines whereas noydir is Yahoo (no Yahoo directory)


Keyword Tags

The importance of this is very low. Years ago, people who were new to search engine optimisation tended to obsess over keyword meta tags but many search engines stopped giving them any consideration a long time ago as they were so easily manipulated.


Other meta tags

There are many other Meta tags such as “author” and “date”. These have no effect on search engine crawlers and are designed for internal indexing of websites.


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