Why Meta Tags Matter
For all you non-geeks out there, meta tags are the descriptions that show up when you search for something on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. (Some people call these snippets, but in this blog, we’ll stick to the term meta tag.) Meta tags are content descriptors, usually created by digital marketers, that were designed to tell people what a web page is about.
There are two Ways That Search Engines Create Meta Tags
(1) If your programmer or digital marketer creates a meta tag, the search engine will usually display the content you provide.
(2) If you didn't create a meta tag, the search engine will grab words from your site, usually the first bits of text on your home page, and display them as a preview of the content. Some exceptions apply. Keep reading.
Why do Meta Tags Matter?
Once your page starts ranking on search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo, your meta tag is the preview that give searchers the information they need to understand what your site is about. Think about how you search. You put in keywords, a bunch of sites pop up, and then you scan the meta tags to decide which one looks most likely to have the information you need.
That’s why digital marketers take the time to write meta tags that create clear, easy-to-understand expectations for content. To create effective meta tags, write descriptions that are going to attract the most qualified people to your site. Write meta tags that appeal to your best customers, and you’ll get the kind of web visits that grow your business.
Meta Tags and Keywords
At some point, digital marketers were led to believe that loading your meta tag up with keywords would help your search engine ranking. Many people were creating meta tags that were just a bunch of keywords, often repeated over and over. Over the past few years, keyword stuffing in meta tags became popular as a way to boost search rankings. But search engines caught on, and some will actually penalize you if you use your meta tag to load up on keywords.
Google has been saying for years that they don’t use the content of meta tags as a ranking factor. That means that the use of keywords in your meta tag will not directly help your ranking on Google.
However, that doesn't mean that keywords are useless in meta tags. When people initiate a search, their results will highlight your selected keywords in the meta tags. (See the Caribbean resort example above. Bolded words are keywords we used to search.) That means that creating a compelling meta tag, and including keywords in that meta tag, can attract people to click through. After all, they are seeing the keywords as part of your site’s content. And click through and more site traffic are measurements Google, Bing and Yahoo factors into search rankings.
Length of Meta Tags
While Yoast and other SEO tools recommend you limit your meta tag to about 155 characters, SEO experts have recently noticed that Google has been publishing much longer meta tags. Without getting lost in the nuances of this situation, suffice it to say that search engine professionals have been reporting that Google has been publishing various lengths on meta tags, creating a lot of confusion and debate. At Cup O Content, we still recommend creating meta tags that are 155 characters or less in length. While you may miss out on longer messages, if you say what you need to say in the first 155 characters, you will usually find that search engines publish all of it…with exceptions. Keep reading.
Will Your Meta Tag Even be Published?
There’s also a lot of chatter out there (and by “out there,” we mean only in the SEO community) about Google’s proclivity to ignore programmed meta tags and publish content directly from the website. Google does seem to be ignoring programmed meta tags more frequently, but that is still the exception. Google is always stingy with explanations, but experts worry that Google will continue to pull more and more descriptions from sites, and not from meta tags. However, until we get more evidence that Google is ignoring accurate and helpful meta tags, Cup O Content will continue to write and program meta tags that are user-focused, include keywords, and write text that is designed to attract your best customer to click through to your site. And if we find that Google starts to ignore our meta tags, we’ll send you an update.
Digital Marketing Tips to Help You Write Effective Meta Tags
Why are some sites getting meta tags published “as is,” while other sites’ meta tags are ignored? In our experience, Google, Bing, and Yahoo tend to reward websites and marketers that use white hat SEO practices. Cup O Content follows white hat practices and writes meta tags that are brief, honest, accurate, and helpful to search engine users.
Want to Tighten up Your Meta Tags? Try These Tips:
Create meta tags for every page. Write unique descriptions for every page focused on the content of only that one page. Don’t use the same meta tag twice.
Limit your meta tags to 155 characters. That includes spaces and punctuation.
Use a call to action in the first sentence. Start by telling them what, exactly, you want them to do. Examples include “Click here to learn about financial planning” or “Visit us to learn about homemade peach jam.”
If location is key to your customers, include it in that first sentence, such as “Visit us to learn about homemade peach jam in Lancaster County.”
Use the second sentence to provide a broader view of what they’ll find if they visit your site or page, and try to include keywords. Examples include “Get tips on retirement and elder care planning” or “Learn where to pick peaches and get jam recipes.”
Give the reader tangible reasons to visit your page, such as “Learn 10 ways to repair a button” or “We outline IRS changes on 401k withholding guidelines.”
Avoid hype and spammy words like “Best” “Free” “Low Price” or “Unbelievable Offer.” While there isn't a lot of evidence that these words hurt or help SEO, they are words that tend to hurt credibility and diminish trust. If you use any of these words, you must deliver on them immediately upon click-through. If you're unable or unwilling to provide an immediate payoff to these types of words on your page, don't use them.
Want to Learn More?
If you want to find out how meta tags, search engine marketing, keywords, SEO, and digital marketing can help you attract more customers and grow your business, contact us for a free consultation.
Want to read more blogs about digital strategy? Check out these Cup O Content articles.