How to use Meta Tags to Improve your Website Ranking

by Lindsey Winsemius


Posted 6 days ago



Website Meta data, called meta tags, is an often-overlooked but important part of a successful digital marketing mix. 


What are meta tags?

Meta tags are the structured data that describes the content of a website within the website code to allow search engines to properly scan and display the website in search result.

There are a number of different "tags" or types of data that can be used to describe a site. In this article, I'm going to talk about the tags that are most important to Google, and for helping your website get more traffic.

Title Tag

According to Google, “Titles are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevant to their query.”

Titles are what help users decide if they want to click on your site. Proper titles can improve your click-through rates, and also help Google to determine if your website is worth ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

Title generally also appear as the label of the site on the tab once you’ve clicked on it.

Tips to writing great website Title tags:

1.  Include a Title in the tag. 

Don’t leave this tag blank. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how many website owners neglect their tags altogether.

2.  Use descriptive titles. 

Avoid vague or generic titles like “Home” because that doesn’t really describe that page. You might consider using your company name as the Title for your homepage.

For example, here is the title tag for ApogeeINVENT's homepage:   <span style="background-color: white;">ApogeeINVENT: Transforming dreams into Technology through Custom Web Development and Design, and business marketing and management products.

For other pages, we would want to change the tag to the match. For our Products page, the title might look like this: 

ApogeeINVENT:: Award-winning Products. Management and marketing software products for businesses.  


3.  Be concise. 

Google only displays a certain number of characters in a Title (this number varies from time-to-time as they adjust the number according to their testing), so anything after that won’t be visible to users.

4.  Don’t keyword stuff. 

An old practice that used to work was throwing a lot of keywords into the title to help make sure it ranked for all the keywords people would search for. Search engines have learned recognize this activity and will even penalize sites for doing it as being spammy. Having a few descriptive terms in a page title can be helpful, but throwing in a list of keywords in the Title tag is not helpful to your users, and will hurt your ranking.

Keyword stuffing example by Google: "Foobar, foo bar, foobars, foo bars" 

These repetitive terms are not useful to the user in determining if this is the right page for them, and may be considered spam or keyword stuffing by Google.

5.  Write unique titles for each page. 

For some sites, it is easier to put in the same tags or boilerplate for each page. This doesn’t tell visitors what each page is about, and can hurt your ranking as a result. 

Each page should have a distinct, descriptive title that describes or summarizes the content on that specific page.

Writing a unique tag for each page can help your ranking because long tail keywords rank better in today’s competitive environment. 

Google also discourages the use of titles that vary by a single word. For example, having the tags “MyCompany – a great place to buy affordable products” as the homepage Title, and “MyCompany Products – a great place to buy affordable products” as the Title tag for the products page is not specific enough.

6.  Brand your page concisely. 

Avoid using your company and name and tagline on every page. This can cause your pages to look repetitive if several pages are returned for the same query. Instead, if you want to be sure your company name is included on each page, consider using a delimiter like a colon, hyphen, or pipe.

An example from Auto Search Technologies: AST:: Auto Search Technologies, Inc:: Responsive Automotive Websites...   


Description Tag

The description tag is where you can add more detail about what is contained in that page’s content. Think of it as your elevator pitch for that particular page: How can you summarize that page in a short and enticing way that will get viewers to want to click on it?

The description will sometimes appear as the summary below the Title in search results. Google has started more often pulling content from the page that matches the query, only using the description if it is the best match.

This doesn’t mean the description isn’t important, however. If your content is shared on the social sites, the description might be the summary used in the post preview. It can also help search engines understand the big picture of what is important on your web page. Below you can see an example of what shows up when I search for our newest subsidiary, CryptoComics.

Mata Tag Description Example: CryptoComics

Description Meta Tag Best Practices:

1.  Make sure each page has a description tag. 

Even if Google or other search engines don’t always use this tag as the snippet in search results, the Bots are scanning this tag and can help in your ranking.

2.  Be specific on each page. 

Write descriptions for each page that are specific as possible to that pages’ content. As with the Title tag, boilerplates or repeated content looks spammy to the search bots scanning your site, and will often cause your site to be penalized, or at the very list, the description content won’t be shown in search results. 

Your homepage can have a site summary in the description, but each subpage should contain specific descriptions for that page. If you have hundreds of products, this might not be feasible, but at least consider writing specific descriptions for the main pages on the site and each product category. 

3.  Clearly define or tag facts on each page. 

You don’t need to write a sentence for each description tag. We’ve talked before about the tendency of viewers to skim content, and prefer content that comes in small sections or bullet points.

The same concept can be applied to the description tags. For example, if you’re creating tags for a product page, you might want to tag the product name, price, and other relevant information. Take this example of a book listing page: 


This clearly tells both the search bots scanning your site and the potential site visitors what is contained on that page. 

4. AutoSEO is encouraged. 

Some website providers, like our own website platforms, have automatic tags assigned. We call ours AutoSEO, and it will regularly generate automated tags based on the pages’ content. This can be helpful for large sites or sites with a lot of product pages.

Google encourages this practice, saying “programmatic generation of the descriptions can be appropriate and are encouraged.” Descriptions must still be human readable and NOT a long list of keywords. 

As we talked about in the Title tags, the overuse of keywords is not useful to the viewer since they don’t give a clear view of the pages content. In the best case, it won’t be displayed to the viewer. In the worst case, it will be considered keyword stuffing and your site will be penalized.

5.  Focus on quality. 

Even through the meta data is hidden in the site’s source code, it could still show up in front of a viewer. I make that mistake myself sometimes. Our blog software includes as place to write in my own Meta Description tag, and sometimes when I’m in a hurry, I leave it blank and let the site generate its own tag. I’ll commit to taking the extra few minutes to write an awesome short description for every blog. Now you need to commit to writing great, quality descriptions for at least the main pages of your site! (My six-year-old would say pinkie swear, the most sacred of promises, but I’ll accept a verbal commitment.)


Keywords tag

This tag dates back to earlier years of SEO, when Google used keywords to display results. Because of abuse by so many websites, they stopped using this tag back in 2009. Keywords are now completely disregarded by Google.

Rich Snippets

Rich snippets, or structured data, is how Google recommends companies give more detailed information about what is contained in their webpages.

In the example below, you can see how Facebook uses rich snippets to pull information into the search results, and tells Google how to display it:

Rich Snippets Example

Structured data falls under two categories:


Type of Content: By including content type in your data, you can help Google display your content more appropriately in their results. Many search features are directly connected to the content of your page. For example, if you publish news articles and properly categorize them as such in your data, Google can display them in a news parasol. The same goes for recipes, books, product, and other categories people might be searching for.

Enhancements: There is structure data to enhance your categories. Let’s take a book for example. You can describe the book’s author, reviews, page numbers, and other pre-defined features that will then display in carousel results.

Using structured data to define the pages on your site will give you richer search results that viewers are more likely to click. It will also help search bots to better understand the content on your site, and make them more likely to display it.

Ask us about how structured data works, or go to schema.org to learn about it yourself.



Conclusion

Writing proper meta tags for your website can help improve your ranking by clearly communication to Google what content is on your site. It could also help to increase your click through rates from the search engine results pages by using rich formatting for your search results.