What are meta tags exactly?
Are they good for SEO?
Are they harmful?
Which meta tags help your SEO, and which are harmful vestiges of the past, deserving of you passing over them?
This, and much more is what you’ll learn today.
Quick Navigation – Table of Contents
- #1 – Title Tag – The One Tag to Rule Them All
- #2 – Heading Tags – Topical Pillars That Are Easy to Build
- #3 – Meta Descriptions – Tell Me Why I Should Click on Your Listing
- #4 – Image Alt Tags – Small Thing That Can’t Hurt, Even Helps a Little
- #5 – Meta Robots Tag (noindex and nofollow) – hot stuff, handle with care!
- #6 – Canonical tag – You know what “canon” means, right?
- Conclusion – Meta Tags for SEO
#1 – Title Tag – The One Tag to Rule Them All
As the title (pun intended) suggests – they’re important.
In fact, they far surpass anything that the word can convey – they’re crucial and second only to content in telling Google what your page is about.
So, title tags:
- Help Google understand your page’s topic
- Help You stand out in the SERP’s
- Boost your rankings a bit (by having keywords in the title)
You have to nail them just right and there’s no way around it.
Writing compelling title tags is both an art and a science.
You have to be crafty with words, mindful of your keywords, and understanding of the search intent.
This can all be done, it’s not rocket science, but it’ll take time trial and error.
You won’t start a master.
Here are some basic tips to get you going right away.
a) Make your title long enough (and not a character longer)
Space allotted to writing title tags is precious real estate.
Be concise; be descriptive; get to the point!
And above all – be helpful to the reader.
And all in the space of 70 characters or less.
Thought Twitter was tough? You’ve just dived one layer deeper.
Note: If your site is created with WordPress and you’re using the Yoast SEO or All In One SEO plugins. You can edit and see how your title tag will appear in Google. You will find the snippet editor under the main content block of your post/page.
Not using WordPress, no problem! See how your title will look with this tool.
It’s a SERP simulator – it’s awesome.
b) Camel Case your title – the Last Ditch Effort to Stand out
This is a tactic I use sparingly. Only when I’m competing with other folks who know how to write their title tags.
And only if it’s not spammed out already (if everyone’s doing it for my target keyword in the SERP’s – I don’t do it. Just to stand out!).
What is Camel Casing?
It’s Making the First Letter of Words a Capital Letter (as this sentence).
It makes your title look big and strong, much more likely to draw the attention of the wandering eye.
“Yes, I think I’ll click and read this one”
They’ll think, and you’ll smile.
c) Use your titles to reinforce your brand
There’s value in being brief and saying more with fewer words. Then you’re left with precious space; which you can put to good use.
Have your brand name at the end.
This is useful because people will see it more and grow familiar with it. This will create brand bias in your favor. So next time, when they have a click dilemma they’ll go with the one they know better (you).
For example, here’s how Brian Dean from Backlinko does it:
Note: Obviously, for this to work, you need a shorter brand name. This site’s name (Lets Work Online) may not work, but it’s a small loss.
Here, we teach people how to make honest money online and take control of their financial lives, and the brand name makes that crystal clear.
It works very well 🙂
Bonus tip – keyword in the title tag
I know what you’re thinking:
“What! This is a bonus?
And here I was, thinking that having a keyword in the title, especially at the beginning, is a Google ranking factor.
And a big one too!
And that’s where you’d be wrong. That’s why I added it as an addendum to those more important tips.
To prevent you from making a mistake.
Yes, it’s true that keyword in the meta title is a (small) ranking factor.
But it’s growing weaker (that’s a paradox), and you’d be an SEO of yesterday to focus too heavily on it.
IF you can fit it in so it reads naturally – DO IT.
Otherwise – Don’t.
Always write with the user in mind.
And Google will love you for it.
Is it worth rewriting your title tags?
Yes and no.
Yes, if you have poor titles or no titles at all. Then, following best practices outlined above can give you some easy SEO wins.
No, if your title is already performing well. So if people click-through and you have some rankings already, don’t change a thing.
It’s because you can’t predict whether you will profit from it, or whether you’ll rush to make it the way it was.
You may also like: How to build internal links to improve SEO
#2- Heading Tags – Topical Pillars That Are Easy to Build
Really they are, just look at the image:
What are heading tags and why use them?
Heading tags are little elements that turn your page from a disorganized mess into a coherent whole
- Help you write better content by adding structure to your article
- Aid Google in understanding your page better
- Are hugely beneficial for the readers who can now use headings as anchors to prevent themselves from getting lost in a sea of text.
Plus, there is a small, but definite SEO benefit to having header tags within your page:)
Here’s how YOU can write world-spinning headers (like this one)
a) make it seem easy, with a benefit at the end
People don’t want to read your stuff!
They want help. They require help. And it’s your job to give it to them (or stop blogging altogether).
Folks online skim, and even if they stumble upon a page that can help them, chances are – they’ll miss it.
You have to prevent that.
By writing headlines that explicitly promise a solution or a benefit. (bonus if it’s quick and painless)
How about an example?
Take a look below:)
b) the easiest way to boost your SEO – include a keyword in headings (takes only a minute)
- The benefit? Boost SEO.
- Is it quick? Yes
- Looks easy and any newbie-friendly – Yes
It’s a good example, but I didn’t write it just to show off. You really can boost your topical relevance (and in turn SEO) by using keyword rich headers.
Helping Google understand your page better usually results in them ranking you better.
It’s simple – but it works.
Bonus – how to properly structure your page (3 tips)
First – your page must have just one H1 tag. It’s your master header, your headline and you need just one.
Second – One header for every 200-300 words.
This makes it readable with enough space for you to develop your points.
Third – Your article must have one h1 tag, several h2 tags and under them h3’s.
It’s the tag hierarchy.
Note– sometimes the theme makes the headers look too big.
For example, Omega Theme from ThemeHall has way too big h2 tags, so instead of h2’s you’d use h3’s for main sections, and h4’s for further division.
You may also like: The Ultimate Guide to Organic SEO Traffic Generation
#3-Meta Descriptions – Tell Me Why I Should Click on Your Listing
- What are meta descriptions?
- Do they help with SEO?
- How to write them correctly?
These nuggets of usefulness are what you’ll learn next.
What is the meta description tag?
Meta descriptions are short snippets of text that show up in the SERP’s and act as your ad copy. They describe what your page is about and their job is to entice the reader to click-through.
As such, they are insanely important to you, the honest webmaster who just wants his stuff read.
I mean, you write good content, it’s helpful and informative. Folks get real value when they read it.
So why wouldn’t you be read? There’s no real reason, but it’s your job to stand out and make it happen.
Here’s how to write SERP click magnets.
a) Length matters,.. a lot
When crafting meta descriptions, you must be mindful of length.
Too long, and it’ll get truncated, massacring your precious message. Too short and Google will find it lacking and replace it with their own.
Here’s a newsflash for you – Google sucks at rewriting meta d.
Plus, you lose control.
So, what is the best length for meta descriptions?
160 characters. And I’ve said it.
Google like to extend that number more and more, but by having it around 160 character range you make sure it’ll always be long enough to be included, but not so long as to be amputated or removed.
b) Use “special” words
I wanna ask you:
When writing meta descriptions…
Do you feel enthusiastic?
Do you feel like jumping from excitement?
Do you get jolts of adrenaline rushing through your veins and making you want to take action and nothing in the world can stop you?
If you answered NO to these three – then you’re doing it wrong.
And you meta d. will NOT get you the results you want.
What’s the solution then?
You must write to ignite, and excite.
- power words
- action words
- trigger words
There’s a lot of overlap among these three types, but some examples are:
- do it
- Click here
All of these force you to do something… And reading them makes it painful not to take action:)
Alternatively, you can copy the ad-words copy and use their research to your advantage (find the common words they all use).
This is what I get above the fold for the query “website builders”
c) Use a keyword, but make it natural
Meta descriptions don’t influence where you rank, so never write them with SEO in mind.
However, if there’s a logical place to include your keyword AND make it more useful for the reader, then you should include it.
Because Google bolds the exact keywords that you search for, and that appear in your description.
And this can increase your CTR, which then boosts your rank.
By writing better meta d. you’ll increase CTR. And by having more people visit your site you’ll:
- Boost your SEO
- Earn more money
- Build up your brand
- Earn future mentions and links through content exposure you get today.
In case you missed it, here’s a description for this post.
#4 – Image Alt Tags – Small Thing That Can’t Hurt, Even Helps a Little
Just like the title says, image alt attributes are those small SEO elements that are unlikely to move the needle.
So have them, or have them not – it’s almost the same.
I said almost because there’s value in spending a few minutes filling these out.
Well-written alt tags:
- Add context and relevance to your page so Google understands it better (Google can’t “see” images)
- Help you rank in Google Images
- Help visually impaired people consume your content
Finally – they’re easy to do.
Choose an image and enter the edit mode:
enter your alt tag (Mr. obvious I know)
The real reason why your image needs to have alt attributes (It’s not SEO)
It’s UX (user experience).
Blind and visually impaired folks also like to read on the web. And they do it with the help of a screen reader.
So when that device reads the text to them, it also reads the image… if it has the alt attribute in place.
And if there isn’t… uncomfortable silence ensues.
I trust you see how this impacts the person in question, so I won’t dwell on the topic anymore.
Bonus – How to write helpful alt attributes- a few tips
- Include your target keyword only once, and in your first image. The first image in this blog post has an alt attribute “meta tags for SEO”. That’s enough. Other images will have keyword variations and synonyms.
- Make sure you never have the same image file name and alt tag. You don’t want Google to think you’re keyword stuffing.
- Don’t go overboard with length – 6-9 words is plenty.
My final advice:
Image alt tags are low-level SEO activity.
This means that it is worth doing it… but only once.
NEVER go back and make your alt tags more “optimized”. It just isn’t worth your time.
Also, if you have a bunch of images that don’t have attributes, its’ worth hiring someone to fill them out for you. Because your time is better spent on high-level SEO activity (keyword research, link building, content promotion).
Related article: Should You Still Be Using AMP?
#5 Meta Robots Tag (noindex and nofollow) – hot stuff, handle with care!
The robots meta tag tells the search engines how you want them to crawl your website and whether to index (or not) your pages and posts. This will affect how your site will perform in the SERPS.
The robots meta tag goes in the head section of your page.
There are many different values you can add to the robots tag. Most useless to you.
And that’s why I will only tell you about the two that you should know about.
Can you guess which one I’ll cover first? 🙂
What is it?
It’s a parameter that is added to the robots tag, in the content element of the tag. It instructs Google to bypass your page/post.
Here is how it looks in the page’s code.
When to use it?
This tag is super useful when you want to prevent Google from indexing and showing a page in the SERPS. By default, the search engines will index your pages.
For example, let’s say you have a page on your site that is really low quality and offers no value to anyone. Such a page will quickly get you on Google Panda’s radar.
Or perhaps you host a duplicate of some other page and it has no unique value.
Or it’s simply a work in progress, meaning not yet ready to be consumed by Google.
All valid reasons to slap a noindex tag on it.
Because it’s duplicate, boring, and again – boring.
It offers no value to the readers, causes index bloat for the site and it’s not a page you want to appear in the SERPS.
Nothing. It isn’t there
How to set it up?
If you’re using WordPress, it’s very easy to do with the SEO plugins Yoast or All in One SEO.
Open the page or post you want no-indexed. In edit mode scroll down to SEO plugins settings for that page.
In Yoast – click the gear button and you’ll see “Allow search engines to show this Post in search results?”
Then in the drop-down menu select NO and update the page.
In All In One SEO all you have to do is tick the box “NOINDEX this page/post”
If you’re not using WordPress you can add this code directly in the head section of your page or post.
<meta name=“robots” content=“noindex”>
What is it?
This is a value that also goes into a head section of the page and tells Google not to follow ALL links on the page.
What’s the value of this?
Honestly, I don’t know.
I really don’t.
You generally want to flow link equity to all parts of your site. This is so you can rank better.
And the nofollow tag disrupts that flow big time.
I mean even a page that is noindexed but followed still contributes to your site’s overall link power.
My advice – never use this.
Google states you should use nofollow links for content you link to that you don’t trust, paid links and for crawl prioritization. But you shouldn’t link to sites you don’t trust or pay for links!
So, for most websites, there won’t be any pages to set to nofollow.
Note – I have another reason why it’s dangerous to use this tag.
Recently Google stated that they treat pages that have noindex/follow as noindex/nofollow (read about it here).
Why is this important?
Because now we have a slight problem.
Are we now to assume that links on that page are sterile?
They must be, Google says so themselves.
And if you think that’s a small loss, just one page – you’d be wrong.
What are the options here?
I have two:
But it’s not ideal.
Plus the links become stronger because that page now has unique content:)
This is the ideal solution.
How to set up nofollow tag?
In WordPress, it’s almost the same way you set up the noindex directive.
If you’re using Yoast, you will see the phrase “Should search engines follow links on this Post?” Just click NO!
Again if you’re not using WordPress you can add this code directly in the head section of your page or post.
<meta name=“robots” content=“nofollow”>
#6 – Canonical tag – You know what “canon” means, right?
The last meta tag for today, I promise:)
What is it?
It’s an element that goes into a page header and tells Google that THIS here is the original, and all other copies are just that – duplicates.
In other words:
Canonical tags can help you protect your work against all the content thieves out there;
They are also a legitimate way for you to duplicate your content, without fearing a penalty.
Before I show you how to set it up, I want to break down what the canonical tag can do for you.
Whenever you publish a new piece, the canonical tag is automatically added to your post.
This means Google can see you’re the originator of the piece.
If someone scrapes your content (it happens) and posts it on their website, you will have to contact them and try to get them to add a link back to your website.
But the best way to make sure the search engines understand it’s your content is to get the thief to add a canonical link back to your website. If they have no bad intentions they will be willing to do this.
Plus in WordPress, if they’re using Yoast or All in One SEO, it’s very easy!
b) Let’s you syndicate the piece
Content syndication is an awesome way for you to get in front of a new audience.
What is content syndication exactly?
It’s you republishing content elsewhere.
Some very big and authoritative websites live on content syndication.
They need content to thrive, to grow, to sustain their growth.
And that is where you come in. You can publish your post on their site and in front of their large audience.
This gets you exposure and links, and they get your article.
“But it’s duplicate content”- I hear you say
As long as you have a canonical tag you’re safe. Google knows that it’s your content.
c) An awesome hack – how to build links to your money pages (content flipping)
I learned this from Matthew Barby.
Let’s say you want to rank for a really important page. For LWO, that would be the Wealthy Affiliate review.
But it’s hard to build links to a review.
So instead, what you’d do is:
- Write an article on affiliate marketing (with a lengthy section that talks about Wealthy Affiliate)
- Then you’d build high-quality links to that page (editorial and guest post links)
- Final step – You’d put a canonical tag on the piece that points to your Wealthy Affiliate Review.
This would then funnel all authority to your review because in the eyes of Google, your review will have backlinks, and not the affiliate marketing article.
This tactic is pure diamond and often enough to nail yourself to the top.
How to set up the canonical tag?
If you’re using WordPress with the Yoast or All in One SEO plugin – select the post you want to edit and scroll down to your SEO plugin’s settings for the page/post.
- with Yoast click the gear icon to go to the advanced settings and you will see a box where you enter the URL that the page should point to, if left empty it will default to the permalink of the post
- with All in One SEO if you have selected canonical URLs and enable custom canonical URL’s in the general settings you will see a box that allows you to enter a custom URL this overrides the default permalink of the post
Conclusion – Meta Tags for SEO (necessary, but not enough)
Yes, you’ve read it.
Using them intelligently will let you participate in the race, but to win, you need:
And in that order or importance.
Thank you for reading.
I hope you found value here. I know that was my intent from the beginning.
If you have a question, don’t be shy.
Ask away in the comment section below;