Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t just about the visible content you post to your website. Whether it’s a landing page or a blog post, you can use HTML code to create a hidden foundation for search to help out your readers. Meta tags are the elements that can go in the head section of a website’s HTML architecture. While the people who view your site won’t necessarily see this text, the search engines that can pull up your page will, and what you put in the head can make your site appear higher on a search engine results page (SERP) than other similar pages do.
This is something in content marketing that both web developers and the marketing team members who write website copy should know about. Developers should structure the head, and copywriters can create some of the content that appears within those head tags. Some of the text in the head will appear on SERPs, so it’s best to have someone who can write clear, concise and enticing copy handle the content creation. In that sense, some meta tags aren’t just for search engines because they can also impact whether readers click through to your page.
Meta Tags: What They Do and How to Use Them
Though the head section doesn’t display on the page, it can be quite long. There are a lot of different meta tags you can use in this section. Many of the available tags that can go in the head won’t do much to help your SEO, and some of them may actually bog down the information that’s more important, which may damage your SERP placement.
The title meta tag is one of the most important parts of your head. It looks like this:
The text you put inside the title tag tells the search engine about your page’s content, which means this is a good place to use a carefully selected primary keyword. The title tag also determines the headline of what users might see if your page shows up on a SERP. On a Google SERP, the title is the text that displays as a bold blue hyperlink above the web address and summary below.
This means the title should be chosen not only to provide information to the search engine but also to inform and entice the reader. You’ll need to keep it short — most search engines only display up to 60 characters, including spaces, of a title tag. It’s also best to put relevant keywords up front, and to make sure you don’t repeat identical titles across different pages on your site. While a developer can probably come up with suitable copy for the title tag, it’s often best to let an experienced marketing writer handle the content.
Like the title, the meta description tag provides info for both the search engine and the reader. It looks like this:
<meta name=“description” content=“[your content]”>
The meta description should provide additional context for what users will find on the page. This should be even more enticing and informative than the title, and you’ll have about 160 characters (including spaces) with which to accomplish that goal. It’s best to avoid including information in the meta description that isn’t actually included on the page. This is the second of the two meta tags that should probably include copy created by an experienced marketing writer rather than a developer.
This tag is a technical consideration that impacts how a web browser interprets the text on a page. It looks like this:
Some developers may choose a different character encoding option, but “utf-8” is a fine standard to default to. While defining character encoding isn’t necessarily a direct SEO strategy, a site that doesn’t render well on different devices will have a higher bounce rate. This can make search engines judge it as low quality and rank it lower than higher-quality competitors.
The viewport tag is a bit technical, but it will help with both user experience and SEO performance. It looks like this:
<meta name=viewport content=“width=device-width, initial-scale=1”>
With this meta tag, you can help your site render better on different device sizes and types. As with character encoding, this is an SEO consideration because its absence can impact the user experience in a negative way.
This is another highly technical meta tag, though it’s not quite as important as the others. The robots selection meta tag looks like this:
<meta name=“robots” content=“[your content]”>
People with more advanced web development and SEO knowledge can use the robots meta tag to control the ways a search engine interacts with a website. If you are a SEO beginner, it’s more important to worry about other meta tags. You actually don’t need to use the robots selection tag at all. Search engines will default to indexing and following links from your page if you don’t tell them to do otherwise with this tag.
Getting a Handle on Meta Tags
These aren’t the only meta tags that can go in your head section, but they are among the most important for SEO. If you want to get really advanced with how you manipulate the way search engines interpret your webpages, learning more about meta tags can be an effective part of that process.