The Most Important SEO Meta Tags and How To Use Them
Good SEO starts with the best meta tags. Strategic placement of SEO tags helps search engines understand the content on your webpage which is why they are essential for SEO ranking.
Every website should contain meta tags but not every type of meta tag is good for SEO. Some tags should be present on every single webpage while other tags should be avoided altogether.
This SEO tags guide covers all the most important meta tags you need to include in your HTML and which meta tags should be left out.
What Are SEO Tags and Why Are They Important?
SEO tags, also known as meta tags, are small pieces of code found in the HTML that describe the type of content on the webpage. Meta tags have two purposes:
- Acting as a webpage directory for search engines and crawlers
- Informing browsers how to display the content to enhance UX
Including meta tags provides a clearer structure to the content. This in turn helps with SEO ranking. It speaks to the quality, relevance and user-experience of the webpage.
The tags are little clues that bots pick up on to determine how the webpage should rank on SERPs. Be aware however, that perfectly following all the meta tags rules does not automatically result in a higher SEO ranking. Content is still king, the SEO meta tags are only there to guide the crawlers.
The second reason why you should incorporate meta tags is to ensure everything is displayed as it should. These short pieces of code also organise the content to improve the user-experience.
One example is a title tag. It lets you differentiate between the main heading, H2, H3 and so on.
This type of formatting is especially important for responsive webpages. Using meta tags correctly helps with translating the layout and improving UX. This then also reduces the bounce rate.
Why Meta Keywords No Longer Matter
Although some seo tags are considered essential, there are also a few pointless meta tags. One common mistake in SEO is including meta keywords.
There was a time when people (both amateurs and professionals) would stuff keywords into the meta keywords tag. If there is one topic of consensus in SEO it is that keyword stuffing is not good for your ranking nor the UX.
Google and Bing, being the smart search engines that they are, picked up on this behavior and boycotted it. Google now excludes the meta keywords tag from its ranking algorithm and Bing marks it as spam.
In short, forget about the meta keywords tag. Instead, incorporate keywords into the headings, meta description and main body in a natural manner.
Is a Canonical Tag Necessary?
Canonical tags inform crawlers that a page is identical despite having a different URL. In SEO, duplicate pages lower SERP ranking but a canonical tag prevents this downgrade.
Although it is always better to have only unique pages, sometimes a duplicate page is necessary. In those cases, a canonical tag is a saving grace.
Canonical tag in HTML example:
How to Structure Content with SEO Meta Tags
There are 3 key seo meta tags that help structure the content for both search engines and viewers: The title tag, meta description and header tags. These SEO tags should be included for every page.
The title tag, also called the meta title, is the most important element of a webpage. It is the most visible element in your content since it appears first on search engine results pages and also as snippets elsewhere.
Title tag in HTML example:
The meta description is the snippet of text that appears below the meta title on SERPs. This is a short, concise and enticing summary of what can be found in the content.
Meta description in HTML example:
<meta name=”description” content=”insert concise description here”>
Header tags structure the headings in the content. There should be only one H1 tag but there can be several of the lower level headings. Similar to keywords, header tags should only be used where appropriate and when it enhances the content.
Heading tags structure example:
<h1>main title of content</h1>
<p>main body paragraph</p>
<h2>level 2 heading</h2>
<p>main body paragraph</p>
<h3>level 3 heading</h3>
Can the Title Tag and H1 Tag Be the Same?
A title tag and H1 tag is often used interchangeably but they are two different elements. The title tag only appears in the HTML and the H1 tag can appear in both the HTML and main content.
The reason for this separation is that there is a maximum number of characters before the title tag is cut off on the SERPs, around 55 – 60 characters. So, some may choose to have different meta titles and H1 titles for SEO purposes.
On the other hand, having identical title tag and H1 can also be a good idea. It creates consistency and avoids having the content appear as misleading (to both viewers and bots).
Other Important SEO Tags
Although not essential, these meta tags can significantly improve the SEO ranking.
The viewport meta tag provides information on how to display the page. This is a crucial tag for responsive websites.
Viewport in HTML example:
<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial scale=1.0”>
Image alt text
Alt text appears instead of an image when the image doesn’t load. It is an opportunity to include keywords for better SEO.
Image alt text example:
<img src=”image name.gif” alt=”alternative image description”>
Anchor texts are the highlighted keyphrase that is connected to a hyperlink. This keyphrase should be a close description of the linked page to indicate to crawlers that it is relevant.