What Are Meta Tags And How Do They Work

“If you build it, they will come” may have been true in “Field of Dreams”, but it definitely doesn’t apply to your website.
If you want more traffic, you need to tell Google and other search engines exactly what your website is about and why searchers would want to land on your page. You could let the Google algorithm just try to figure it out on its own, but if you want quality traffic, you need to speak to Google in its own language: HTML.

What are meta tags?

Simply put, meta tags are textual HTML tags that exist to provide information to search engines about the content of a web page. These tags are invisible to your website visitors, but show up in the code of your website. Searchers will see your title and meta description on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). are keywords and short phrases that describe your webpage’s content. Meta tags can be used for search engine optimization (SEO) by helping search engines understand and categorize your website pages. They can be essential to your digital marketing strategy, as they help visitors find your website via search engines and encourage clicking.

For example, let’s say you’re a bestselling crime thriller author. You might use words like “best seller” or “crime thrillers” in your meta tags. If someone searches Google for one of these terms, the search engine automatically knows your website is relevant based on the meta tags.

What are meta tags and how do they work with SERP?

What are the different meta tag types?

There are lots of different things you want to tell search engines about your website, so there are several different types of meta tags that help SEO and all have their own purposes.
Here are some of the most important meta tags to tap:

  1. Title: This is actually not a meta tag (it’s an HTML element), but often referred to as one, it is the title for your webpage. Like the title of a book or a movie, it should give search engines a general idea of what your page is about. Each page on your website should have a unique title that is about 50-60 characters. Many SEOs also include the site name at the end (i.e. Title | Similarweb).
  2. Meta description: This should give more details about the content of the page. Your meta description should be unique for every page, be about 150-160 characters, and have a call-to-action to encourage click-through.What do meta titles and meta descriptions look like on search engine results?
  3. Robots meta tags: The robots meta tag tells search engines whether you want a page to show up in search results, or the links in it to be followed by the search engine. For example, you may want your homepage indexed to show up, but a “Thank you for registering” page should be tagged “noindex” (meaning it won’t show up in the results).
  4. Viewport meta tags: This tag tells Google about the size of the content on the page. This is important in today’s world because website visitors may be looking at your site from different devices, such as a computer or phone. Defining the viewport tells the internet browser how to display the page for an optimal user experience.
  5. Hreflang tags: This tag identifies the language and country of your website. This is important if you have an international audience and want people in different countries to view your website in their respective languages.
  6. Canonical tag: This specifies the original source of the content on the website. If the content is displayed multiple times on the internet, it’s important to note the original source. This fixes SEO problems that can arise if you have duplicate content on the web.
  7. Open graph tags: Have you seen what your website looks like on social media? The displayed image, title, and description are all defined as open graph meta tags in your website’s HTML code.Open graph tags: how they relate to meta tags and social media
  8. Meta keywords: Meta keywords tags generally should host a list of the terms you’re optimizing your page for. You can tell Google your meta keywords, but not all search engines scan them because these words should already be in your title and description. The current recommendation is not to include the meta keywords tag in your code, and it’s been effectively out of use for several years.
  9. Alt text tag: A picture may be worth a thousand words, but not when it comes to image optimization. Incorporate keywords into this meta tag to describe images on your website so they’re accessible to both search engines and visually impaired people. Pick words that paint a picture.

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How do meta tags help your SEO?

We’ve been throwing around the term SEO a lot, so before we continue, let’s get back to the basics. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of ensuring your website is easily crawled and it’s value to the user is understandable to search engines. The problem is, there are billions of websites on the web and unless you’re writing about something very niche, there are probably thousands of other websites competing for the same traffic.

To beat the competition, you need an overall SEO strategy with meta tags in the middle. Meta tags are basically the CliffsNotes of your website. Google doesn’t want to read and analyze the entire text on your website, so you write the CliffsNotes to tell it exactly what’s the core value your page offers.

This is a win-win for all. The search engine provided results that are relevant to users and you brought relevant users to your site.

How to use meta tags for SEO

You may think that defining your meta tags is a simple task because you know what your website is about. Think again. If you want your meta tags to ensure highest performance for SEO, start with keyword research. Here’s how:

Step 1: Figure out which keywords to use

You probably know who your competitors are, but do you know what’s in their meta tags? You could always visit their website, right-click “Inspect”, and sift through the code and meta tags yourself. Or you could simply use the Keywords page in Similarweb competitive analysis to uncover the keywords driving the most website traffic to your competitors – likely the ones they’re using. Compare up to five websites at once and get a list of the top keywords your competitors are using within seconds.

Discover your competitors SEO meta tag strategy with Similarweb

Step 2: Learn which keywords are better than what your competition uses

Now that you know which keywords your competitor’s target, you need to figure out how to beat them. You can do this by copying their most effective keywords, but more importantly, creating your own, more specific keywords, or long-tail keywords, to give you a serious edge over your competitors.

Back to our bestselling author. Your keyword maybe “books”, but people interested in reading your book probably aren’t plugging that into their search bar. Instead, they might type “books about mothers and daughters” or “books with surprise endings.” These are much more specific and more likely to get quality traffic to your website.

Not sure how to find the right long-tail keywords? Find the terms with the highest traffic and the lowest competition to use in your meta tags.

There are lots of keyword ideation tools you can use, like Similarweb Keyword Generator, to help you figure out the long-tail keywords that get you the most traffic. These tools tell you exactly what people are typing into Google, how many people are searching for these terms, and how many of your competitors are targeting these terms.

Dive into long tail keywords with Similarweb keyword generator to find more meta tag ideas

Step 3: Write your meta tags

Once you’ve got your best keywords figured out, start using them to build the page title, title tags, meta descriptions, HTML tags, and other tags for your website. Here are a few best practices for creating your tags.

  • Be specific: What best describes the content of this particular page? Instead of writing something like “my books,” opt for “best selling crime thrillers.”
  • Be unique: Every page on your website should have unique meta tags. If you use the same ones repeatedly, it could give Google the impression that the pages aren’t unique, and as a result, aren’t important. Big no.
  • Use real keywords: Your meta tags should be actual words that someone would type into a search engine. This means making sure you aren’t just shoving a bunch of keywords together, or keyword stuffing, which will drastically hurt user experience. Search engines actually penalize this kind of content by pushing it further down the SERP. Get the idea? Let’s get a little more specific.

Step 4: Monitor and adjust your page’s performance

Great job on finding those golden keywords! Now you need to monitor their performance and make adjustments if needed. You can do this by creating benchmarks and tracking any changes in traffic every month. You’ll be able to see which keywords are getting hotter and which may need to be switched out for better keywords in the future.

You can also track how you’re doing against your competitors. Have you increased your share of traffic for your keywords? If so, awesome! If not, it may be time to revise those keywords.

What if Google changes your title tag?

You worked really hard to create your title based on the keywords you want to use to attract audiences, and suddenly, you realize that Google automatically changed your title without you knowing.

Don’t freak out. This is actually very common and is probably a sign that you need to swap your meta tags for more relevant keywords. In fact, on August 24, Google announced that it implemented a new system for generating titles for web pages. In the post, Google said:

“…[W]e are making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page. We consider the main visual title or headline shown on a page, content that site owners often place within <H1> tags or other header tags, and content that’s large and prominent through the use of style treatments.”

Basically, Google wants to make sure titles are 100% relevant to the content listed on the page. If there’s any doubt about your title, Google will use the text you wrote on your homepage for the title.

What can you do if Google changes your title?

Don’t worry! If your title is changed, but you don’t like it, there are a few things you can do.

Shorten your title

Sure, you might want to explain everything about your website in the title, but too many characters and Google won’t even read it. Best practices suggest keeping your title under 60 characters. This ensures your title is succinct, relevant, and optimized to appear in search results.

Clean out the keywords

You want to make sure you aren’t keyword stuffing in your title. This hurts your SEO and could lead Google to ignore your website. Make sure your title isn’t repetitive and that each word serves a purpose.

Make sure you didn’t forget the title

Oops! You worked so hard to create an amazing meta description and perfectly crafted tags, that you forgot to define the title or used “boilerplate” language like titling your homepage “Home” or simply the name of your website. In these cases, Google wants to make sure website visitors know what your page is actually about, so it will create a new title. If you forgot to define a title, you can simply write one and add it to your website’s meta data.

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Meta tags FAQs

What are meta tags?

Meta tags are keywords and phrases that describe the content on your webpage.

What are the different types of meta tags?

The different types of meta tags include:

  1. Title
  2. Meta description
  3. Robot meta tags
  4. Viewport meta tags
  5. Hreflang tags
  6. Canonical tags
  7. Open graph tags
  8. Meta keywords
  9. Alt text tag

What is a meta tag example?

An example of a meta tag is the meta description. A meta description provides unique details about the content of the website, with a character count of 150-160, and includes a call-to-action at the end.

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