One of the most basic steps in implementing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) measures on your website should be to ensure your meta data is appropriate. There are a few differing opinions about which tags are required and which can affect rankings, but I’m going to discuss just the Title, Description and Keywords, which will appear in the head of your page, between the open () and close() tags.
The idea, of course, is to have your site displayed when a user is searching for what you have to offer. Having the finest meta data around won’t accomplish that, but not properly implementing these tags can definitely get in the way of your success.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples, and then discuss what you should be doing. I think you’ll be able to see very quickly which of the examples can result from following the steps that follow.
The difference is fairly obvious, right? One of them was on the first page, #3 result… nice! The other was on the 20th page, #208… hmmmm…. not so nice. Not a lot of shoppers will even bother with the second page – the 20th might be a real stretch.
Now, as I said, our friends at Gymboree didn’t land the #3 slot just because they have a good title and/or meta description. But which one do you think you would be more likely to click through on? That’s what we’re after here. So let’s see how to put your title and meta tags to work for you.
- Title – 60 characters will display
First of all, let me say that the Title tag is technically not a meta tag, like the Description and Keywords tags. It does appear with them, however, and it does have some value. This is the linked text that appears in your page’s entry in the SERPs (search engine results pages). As such, it’s the first opportunity to grab the user’s attention and show him what your page is about. If the title seems to match the information he’s searching for, he’s that much closer to clicking through to view your page. Use that to your advantage.
- Description – 150 characters – may display
The meta description is a brief description of what the page is about. Again, this is an opportunity to show the users specifically what your page deals with, hopefully enticing them to visit. You should put some thought into the description, as it may be your last opportunity to attract that user. Make it relevant to your page’s topic, and above all, write it for the user, not for the search engine. A mention of your main keyword won’t affect your ranking a bit – the description is strictly for the user.
It’s important that your description is accurate in the context of your page, and the use of your main keyword is recommended (3 keywords maximum, and even that can sometimes appear spammy). Google sees this as a suggestion, however, and if their algorithm decides it can find something more pertinent than what you’ve provided in the meta description, it may do so.
- Keywords – (see below) None will display
The keyword tag is an outdated meta tag… one I only mention because I want to be certain that everyone understands that it’s not only not necessary to use it, but can even be harmful when used unwisely. So I think it requires some discussion.
There was a time when site owners and webmasters could list the terms for which they wanted to rank in this tag and some search engines paid attention. Naturally, that led to abuse, and people began stuffing every term under the sun into their meta tags. But when Inktomi was acquired by Yahoo in 2002, the last major search engine that openly gave any credence to meta keywords ceased to be a player (Yahoo! may still look at meta keywords, at least in terms of variations).
If you’re like most people, depending upon Google for the majority of your traffic, entering keywords into the meta tags has no positive effects – they pay them no mind, at least not in a good way.
There have been indications that stuffing keywords (particularly any that don’t appear on that page) into the meta tags can act as a flag for spam. If you’re determined to use them just because you always have, then I urge you to be certain not to include any that don’t appear on the page and don’t overdo it. As a maximum, I’d suggest 3 or 4 comma-separated keywords.
Among other things, the head of your page will contain your meta data, appearing something like this:
< title>Not a Meta Tag, but should use it anyway < /title>
< meta name=”description” content=”Awesome Description Here”>
< meta http-equiv=”content-type” content=”text/html;charset=UTF-8″>
There are other meta tags that sometimes appear, but they have no effect on the page’s ranking, either, and I’m not going to go into them in detail here. Most of you will never have occasion to use the majority of them, but they could include such things as a site certification key, viewport, format detection or a URL shortener verification. So if you’re looking at your meta data and see any of those, there’s no need to panic.
Just as each page on your site should be unique, so should your title and description. The search engines are going to great length to provide the searcher with the most relevant results possible – it’s up to you to convince that user that your page is the most relevant of all those shown in the SERPs. You can’t do that by having the same title or meta description on several pages.
Don’t think, either, that simply fine-tuning your meta data is going to make you rank. There are over 200 ranking factors considered by Google’s ranking algorithm, so this is just a first step. There are a great many on-page SEO steps that can help your pages rank for your preferred search terms.