One of the basic foundations of a website’s SEO best practice is meta tags. When building a new website, you’ll find yourself setting up different types of meta tags for SEO.
To develop optimized web pages, you need a good understanding of what meta tags are, their importance to SEO, best practices in creating them, and the types of meta tags you should focus on.
These and more are what you will learn in this guide. Also, you will discover why meta tags can help your website get more brand exposure and increase click-through rates.
But first, let’s start with the basics…
What Are Meta Tags In SEO?
Meta tags are HTML tags in a document or webpages that provide information about the content on the page.
This information is called metadata and is used by search engines like Google to understand the content of a page for crawling and indexing.
Google, in particular, uses the metadata information from the meta tags to improve the quality of its search results such as rich snippets, titles, and sometimes, for SEO ranking purposes. That being said, in some cases, search engines ignore the metadata completely and choose to display what is more relevant to the query.
Though meta tags can’t be seen on the web page itself, every website has meta tags of different sorts in the page HTML codes. Meta tags tell search engines and web browsers in the background how a web page should render for visitors.
Now that we know what meta tags are, let’s explore their importance to SEO and why you should care about their usage.
The Importance of Meta Tags for Website SEO
Some meta tags are the first impression for most website visitors, especially those coming from organic search traffic. They can also be the decisive factor for a web page that is clicked or ignored.
Title and description meta tags, which are the two most important meta tags for websites, can impact the appearance of a web page in SERP and its click-through rate.
It’s not just about the title or description tags. Search engines use a host of meta tags to improve user experience, crawling, indexing, and ranking.
Further Reading: SEO Basics: A Beginners Guide on How to Do SEO
6 Types of Meta Tags to Improve SEO
There are several meta tags today, but as a digital marketer or entrepreneur, you’d better focus on the ones that matter to your business.
Let’s discuss the different types of important meta tags and their best practices.
#1. Title Tag
One of the most important meta tags is the title tag. It’s important both for website users and search engines.
The content of the title tag is the page headline, and it must be wrapped in the h1 tag. The headline or title of a page is visible to users, thus making it an important SEO factor for improving the user experience.
It is one of the few tags used in SERP and a convincing factor that determines the success or failure of your content.
For example, when you run a search for any query, here’s what a typical search engine result looks like. This is what the title tag is in Google and most search engines today.
If you look up a web page sources code, the title tag is usually in the head section and looks something like this: <title>The page title goes in here.</title>
If you’re blogging with WordPress, you don’t have to worry about title tag. It’s as easy as writing your headline. Once you put in the content headline, the title tag is automatically embedded.
Title Tag Best Practices
- Avoid titles that are too long. Aim for a 60-character maximum or 10 words.
- Each web page must have a distinctive title.
- Add target keywords in your title
- Write catchy headlines – but don’t mislead your readers
- Use title or sentence case – I prefer title case.
- Match search intent with headline titles
The title tag can be problematic for on-page SEO factors. But it is easy to find and fix these errors on your website.
If you run a site-wide SEO audit using a tool like SEMrush, you often find SEO warnings like duplicate titles, too long titles, pages with empty titles, etc. What you need to do is to follow the SEO recommendations to fix these pages on your website.
#2. Description Tag
Think of meta descriptions as your second chance to woo someone into having a date with you. Your first attempt, which is the content headline, has failed. The only card left is the description.
The meta description is the part of the search results that summarizes the page content. It tells a potential blog reader what the content is all about – the benefits, expectations, and why the reader should consider your content to others.
Google has stated that meta description isn’t a direct ranking factor, but it does help to write quality content summaries that increase the click-through rate and drive more search traffic.
Meta description tag helps improve the user experience and can influence clicks. Never ignore their importance.
Here is what a meta description looks like for most search engines:
If you blog on WordPress and use an SEO plugin like Yoast, Rank Math, or the All-in-one SEO, you can easily write content meta descriptions and have the correct meta tags embedded into your final content. These SEO plugins provide easy access to write your content description without messing with the page source code.
This is an example content description box from the Yoast SEO plugin.
Meta Description Best Practices
- Keep it short, simple, and descriptive – not too short.
- Keep it under 165 characters for best practices. However, this is not ranking or SEO factors.
- Write a unique description for each page on your site.
- Check for duplicate meta descriptions on your site with an SEO tool.
- Check for empty or missing meta description tags.
Further Reading: 7 SEO Copywriting Tips for 2022
#3. Image Tag
Blog post with relevant images gets 94% more views than text-based only content.
So, it is safe to say optimizing images are part of an SEO task and can increase website traffic through Google image search. But image optimization falls into two categories. One is about improving its visual quality, resizing, and footprint. The other part is about describing the purpose of the image on the page to enhance the user experience.
While image optimization tools help with quality improvement, tags help describe an image and its purpose on the page. You can see an example of one of the critical components of the image tag, alt text or alternative text, for the image embedded above as shown through the Gutenberg WordPress Block editor:
So, image tags are important for SEO for many reasons:
- It tells search engines the purpose of the image on the page
- For visually impaired users, image alt text tags can help them understand the content better.
- If the image can’t load properly on a page, the alt text tags help users identify the images.
There are two tags you need to fill out when uploading your image – alt text and image title tags. Search engines can’t see images but they can read the alt text and image title tags to understand the purpose of the image.
The alt text tag is used to describe the image, the title tag is used to give the image a name. WordPress lets you enter the image title, description, alt, and caption.
You can fill in as much as you want. There is no rule to how you can describe your images, but the most important thing is to give each image a distinctive title, description, and alt text.
Image Tags Best Practices
- Every image should have descriptive alt text.
- Describe the purpose of the image to give it more context.
- Don’t name your images using the original file name such as IMG0003.jpg.
- Don’t stuff keywords in the alt text or description tags.
Further Reading: The 15 Best Free SEO Tools You Need to Know 
#4. Viewport Tag
In the world of mobile-first indexing, to improve the user experience, web pages should specify a viewport. The viewport meta tag tells web browsers how to render the page on different screen sizes.
It also tells search engines like Google that a page is mobile-friendly.
The absence of this tag on a page will lead to mobile-friendly test failure. You might have come across such an error message in the Google Page Speed Insight tool.
If you’re in doubt about whether your web pages are responsive or not, install the Viewport Resizer Google Chrome extension to test the responsiveness of your web pages.
This is a simple tool that lets you test a web page on different screen sizes and devices. You can test a web page on iPhone X, iPad Pro, iPhone 6/7/8, iPad, HDTV 1080p, and small tablet sizes.
Also, if you want to know if a web page has the viewport meta tag included in its header section, right-click on an empty area on the page and click on “view page source”.
There you have it.
Meta Viewport Best Practices
- Implement meta viewport tags across all web pages
- Unless you’re a dev, stick with the standard tag shown in the image above.
#5. Robots Meta Tag
If you don’t specify for search engines the meta robots tag instructions, it assumes as follows and indexing. By default, all links are followed and all pages are indexed.
But what if you want to restrict a page from indexing or bots following the link? This is where the meta robots tag comes into play.
Some pages are not necessarily important for indexing by search engines. Such pages include add-to-cart, signup pages, log-in pages, unsubscribe pages, etc.
If you have pages like these on your site, you may want to exclude them from indexing. Apart from your site users, they offer no tangible value for search engine traffic.
While there are lots of robot meta tags, these four are the most used and necessary for most websites.
- Index – Tells search engines crawlers to index the page
- No-index – Tells search engines bots not to index the page
- Follow – Tells search engines bots to follow the link because you also trust the source
- No-follow – Tells search engine bots not to crawl the link.
Meta Robots Tag Best Practices
- Except where otherwise, don’t use no-index for important public pages on your website.
- In the robots.txt file, don’t deny crawl agent access to your site.
- Use the no-follow tag where necessary
- Avoid tagging all outbound links no follow
- Don’t use no-follow for internal website links.
#6. Charset Meta Tags
The Charset meta tag is not a direct SEO factor. However wrong use of it can impact the user experience, and cause a high bounce rate, low time on site, and poor reading experience.
When text is transmitted between web clients, the browser needs to decide quickly what is being put into it, and if it doesn’t recognize the text, it will display it wrongly.
This is where the Charset meta tag helps browser and search engines understand the character encoding of the web page. It tells browsers how the text on a page should display and stored.
The most common and widely used character encoding is UTF-8 for Unicode and ISO-8859-1 – for the Latin alphabet.
Why is The Charset Meta Tag Important for SEO?
SEO is all about improving the user experience – if it’s good for your site user, it is a good SEO practice. In other words, anything that hurts site usability is not good for SEO.
Since content is one of the major SEO ranking factors, anything that has to do with content quality is considered important. This is why the Charset tag is an important meta tag for SEO.
Every web page has this tag at the head section, you can look it up to know which character set your site is using.
Other Meta Tags to Consider
To be fair and transparent, several other meta tags might be useful for your business or website needs. Here’s a more elaborate list of HTML tags used in web development.
Let’s briefly walk through some of these tags not considered in this post:
- Meta keywords – It was used to define a page focus keyword to search engines. Google no longer uses it as part of its ranking factor.
- Author meta tags – for businesses with many authors, this tag helps define the author of the content to search engines.
- Refresh meta tag – Tells a web page to refresh at a specific interval.
Further Reading: The 4 SEO Meta Tags That Will Improve Your SEO
In the early days of digital marketing, meta tags were critically important ranking factors for many search engines, including Google.
Meta tags such as keywords, titles, and descriptions tags, were especially big SEO ranking factors in that era.
But as technology advances and search algorithms become smarter in understanding the content on a page with the power of AI technology, some meta tags are less important or outright not relevant.
That being said, the title and the description meta tags – as well as the others mentioned in this post – remain relevant and important for SEO and for improving the user experience. Don’t lose sleep over meta tags, but follow the instructions in this blog to maximize your chances of your precious content climbing the search engine rankings.
Hero photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash
Shamsudeen Adeshokan is a blogger and an affiliate marketer who blogs at CyberNaira. He works with beginner online entrepreneurs and small business owners by providing high-quality content to help them achieve better marketing results