Search engine optimization has become increasingly complex, but one area of SEO best practices has changed little over time: meta tagging. Getting meta tags right can still significantly benefit a website’s performance and directly affect rankings, traffic, and sales. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the most important meta tags and how you should prioritize them for maximum SEO benefit.
What is meta tagging?
Meta tagging is the process of adding metadata to a web page in order to provide information about the page contents. Meta tags are HTML snippets that provide information about the document as a whole and how it relates to other documents. Using your content platform’s functionality, you can easily edit the meta tags of your website’s pages (more about that at the end of this article).
How does meta tagging work?
When you add a meta tag to a web page, you add information to the HTML code, always within the header section between the opening and closing head tags. These HTML tags are used by search engines to index and understand the page’s content. They should always be used, even if you use other forms of markup, such as schema.
A simple example of meta tagging as written for this blog post.
From the search engine's perspective
Search engines use spiders to crawl web pages for indexing purposes. When bots crawl a page, they read the meta tags to get an understanding of what the page is about. They then index the information in those meta tags and use it to return relevant search results for users.
By using and optimizing specific meta tags, you can directly improve search rankings and affect click-through rate (CTR). Additionally, you can tell search engines which version of a page to index, to remove pages from the index, as well as to make sure that the correct page shows up in the search results when a website targets an international audience with country or language-specific pages.
Types of meta tags
Let's dive deeper into the most common types of meta tags and how they affect page SEO.
1. Title tag
The page title tag is a meta tag that appears in the browser tab and in the search engine results pages (SERP) as the title of a listing. The title tag can be optimized for SEO, independent of the on-page headline (or H1), but ideally they are very similar or identical.
The meta title tag should be around 55 characters long, including spaces, and should include the page’s main keyword or keyword phrase. Putting the keyword at the beginning of your title tag will give it more weight.
Optimizing title tags can make an enormous difference for your SEO performance. Once you put your site on a solid technical foundation, especially when it comes to Core Web Vitals, and you determined the primary keyword phrase of each of your core pages, changing the title tags will give you the quickest ranking improvements because the content of the title tag is still one of the most important ranking factors in the Google algorithm.
2. Meta description tag
The meta description is a meta tag that provides a brief summary of the page content in the search engine results. The meta description should be 155 to 160 characters long for Google Search, including spaces.
Including your main keyword or phrase in the meta description tag can help improve your click-through rate (CTR), which of course will improve site traffic and potentially sales. Although Google denies it, many SEO professionals believe that increasing CTR will also help improve rankings over time. Therefore, don’t neglect your meta descriptions and treat them like ad space. Tell users why visiting your page will be beneficial to them. Always keep in mind that people use search engines to find the answer to a question or the solution to a problem.
3. Robots meta tag
The meta robot attribute is a meta tag that tells search engine crawlers whether or not to index your website and its content. In most cases, the meta robot tag is set to "index, follow" or "noindex, nofollow", although other combinations, such as “noindex, follow” can also make sense in certain circumstances.
If your page is not indexed by Google, the robots meta tag is the first thing you need to check. Especially after site migrations, an incorrect robots meta tag setting is a problem that is encountered often. The meta robots tag is also far more effective than the robots.txt file, especially if you want pages to be removed from Google’s index.
4. Canonical tag
The canonical tag is a meta tag that tells search engines which version of a web page to index if there are very similar pages, which is often the case with ecommerce websites that use pagination or product filters as well as sort orders on category pages. Using this tag will avoid any duplicate content issues.
The canonical tag should be set to the URL of the web page you want to be indexed. Every page should have a canonical tag, even if it contains the URL of the page that it is on, which is actually most often the case. This will help to canonicalize URLs that have added parameters, for example, for ad tracking purposes, and also help Google and other search engines to understand if you prefer your website with or without the www.
Please make sure that your XML sitemaps only contain canonical URLs. If they don’t, Google might completely dismiss them.
5. Hreflang tag
If you target an international or multilingual audience, the hreflang tag is your most effective tool to show different versions of a page to the correct audience. It allows you to specify the language or a combination of language and country. This will prevent a page from showing up in the wrong country and therefore significantly improve user experience.
Get started with meta tagging in Contentful
Setting up meta tags in Contentful is easy! Learn how to implement meta tags and other optimization tips in our headless CMS SEO post, or sign up for a free Contentful account to start building today.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Would you like to learn more about meta tags? Here are some helpful answers to start you on the right track.
Q. What are types of meta tags?
The most common types of meta tags are title tag, meta description tag, robots meta tag, canonical tag, and hreflang tag.
Q. Why are meta tags important?
Meta tags are important because they provide information to search engine crawlers and can be very beneficial for SEO.
Q. Which meta tag is most important for SEO?
The content of the title tag is one of the most important ranking factors. If it aligns with the page content in targeting a specific keyword, it can significantly improve rankings for that keyword.