What comes to mind when I say the word, “meta tag”?
Does your heart skip a beat, in anticipation of something of value?
Or, do you naturally cringe and try to avoid the topic at all cost, until you’re forced to confront your monsters?
I’m here to tell you that meta tags are your friends. Although right now, you may not see them as having any value, they do serve a purpose, when and if used appropriately (and that’s a big “if”).
They can work their magic to help optimize discovery, and they also help organize your content and archives.
Meta tags, specifically, metadata, is a type of secret code for nerds. (Do they use that word anymore?)
By the end of this post, I’ll have you convinced to join me in crusading for the meta tag. Well, at least, you’ll appreciate meta tags more since you’ll have a better understanding of their unique properties.
Stick with me, and by the end of our discussion, you’ll see how meta tags can be, when used correctly, are the best tools for marketers.
As you know, meta tags are little HTML snippets of text that describe a webpage’s content. They aren’t seen on the page itself, but they’re placed into the page’s code.
It’s important to know when and where, and when not to use them. They help determine your page ranking; they also document relevancy to your content and ultimately, to your site niche.
Ranking high has more to do with how relevant and reputable your page is; it’s all about the quality of your content. It’s about user satisfaction and the page’s popularity, not so much about meta tags.
Pages are supposed to stand on their own merit. Creating fresh content is the key to a healthy web page.
Back in 1995, people were still searching online with Infoseek, AltaVista, Lycos, and Yahoo.
Yes, Yahoo is still around, but is significantly different from its beginnings. Yahoo began in 1994 and was reborn in 2002.
Infoseek lasted from 1995 to 2001. AltaVista, the Google of its day, debuted in December of 1995, relaunched in 1999, and was morphed into one of Overture’s sites.
Lycos was interesting as a forebearer, as it operated one of the earliest crawler-based search engines from 1994 to 1999.
Google was launched in 1998 as a Stanford University research project and is currently the most popular search engine. Google had the unique ability to quickly analyze links all across the web.
Naturally, things changed after people began spamming and trying to trick search engines. As the web became more commercialized, meta tags were developed.
Moving the “way-back machine” to September 2009, Google let out a slip which shocked all but the old-timers. Come to find out, in ranking web pages, Google doesn’t even use keywords meta
tags! The façade was shattered.
Why do meta tags have such a negative reputation? For one, it’s always the first thing critics talk about when reviewing a site. Why? Because meta tags are the first thing, one sees, at the top of each header.
First, there’s more to meta tags than just keywords and description. A lot more. Keywords and description are merely used more frequently than others.
If you’re interested in reading about the others, check out this comprehensive meta tag resource. It’s a great resource.
For now, however, I want to just talk about the most used meta tags, and separate them into “good, no-way, and meh.” You’ll notice that the “bad” list is much longer.
Keep in mind: Use just a core minimum. Anything extra is just fluff. Besides, they take up code space, and clutter up the page, slowing it down.
So, what is best to use?
Below is a list of my recommendations, with some examples for informational purposes, for your web developer:
• Meta content type
These are crucial for your site as they tell the browser how to decode the page. Without these metadata, the end-result would drastically be altered.
Here’s an example:
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html;
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html;
Very important for SEO, this meta tag should have a unique title on every page. For example, the following words are perfect: “Chocolate Gifts | Artisan Truffles | Gourmet Chocolate”. It should be no more than 70 characters in length.
It will look like this:
An example of a poorly written Title tag, using the above example, would be this: “Chocolate”
• Meta description
A character snippet within 160 characters, in HTML, summarizes a page’s content. Best if optimized, but that’s another post.
You don’t want a lot of fluff, stay away from being verbose or using flowery words. Be as concise as possible. You might wish to include a telephone number or clear call or action.
When you include a strong call to action, you’re giving the reader the “next step”. You’re telling him exactly what you want him to do.
Here’s a good example of meta description, according to Google:
content=”Author: A.N. Author,
Illustrator: P. Picture, Category: Books,
Length: 784 pages”>
Another example of good coding: If you have a burger joint in Sacramento, “sacramentos-best-burgers-delicious” rather than, “best-burgers-in-sacramento”
Tells a browser how to control the page’s dimensions and to scale, especially crucial for mobile viewing.
A good example of this type of metadata code is:
<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width,
An example of a not-so-helpful
So, those, in my opinion, are the “best” meta tags. Maximizing your online presence by following these recommendations carefully. Make sure that your web developer is using the recommended style and type of metadata. Remember, your tags should be checked for accuracy, and be relevant. They must be keenly descriptive and not extraneous.
Read on for the “meh” meta tags. These don’t help as much as the ones mentioned earlier.
• Social meta tags
These are pretty complex, so I’ll just leave them out for now. If
you’re interested, check out OpenGraph and Twitter data.
You really don’t have to have these. The only thing to remember here is to use
them when you want to be different from the norm.
• Specific bots (Googlebot)
These give robots specific instructions, such as forcing them not to use your DMOZ listing information, etc. Search engines are usually well equipped to handle this on their own.
One only needs these if it’s an international site.
Google doesn’t use these, but I think Bing uses placename, position (latitude
and longitude), and region.
Surprise! Yes, they’re on my “meh” list as they really do little to help. If you’re building the site, do yourself a favor and leave them out. Keep them if they’re automated.
Google says yuck! Use a server-side 301 redirect.
• Site verification
If you’re verified with Google and Bing, why do you need these? Redundant.
Now, we’re heading into the “no way” group of meta tags. Just a caveat: nothing terrible happens if you use these; they’re just not helpful and are a huge waste of valuable space.
• Author/web author
• Revisit after
A command to return to a page – ignored by major search engines.
A maturity rating, similar to those used in the movies. Best to use a separate directory for anything, not “G” rated.
Lists the page’s expiration date and start date. Is your page going to expire? Just remove them. For the date, make an XML sitemap – so much easier.
Redundant if your footer posts your copyright.
Primarily for educational purposes, these tags are sometimes used to place an abstract of the content.
Supposedly used for controlling who can access the page. It’s already set to global, so these are not necessary.
Useless. It tells what program created the page.
• Cache control
Intended to control how often a page is cached. Use the HTTP header instead.
• Resource type
Describes the type of page, likely a document. The DTD declaration has already done that for you.
So, there’s my short list of heroes and villains in the meta tag world. Hint: think “topic” or subject”, not “page or article”. You’ll end up with the right formula of a rich, informative website. Focus on the page’s content and user experience, and the meta tags will take care of themselves. No need to keep trying to “game the system” by overusing or misusing meta tags.
Now you can be a crusader for meta tags! You are hereby sanctioned to use meta tags intelligently and with purpose. No more unnecessarily taking up code space. Your pilgrimage as a crusader for the proper use of meta tags has now begun. Onward!
Don’t forget to comment below and tell us what you think of this article. Your thoughts are always welcome and appreciated. Thanks for reading.