Meta tags for SEO used to be one of the best catalysts in getting ranked fast. They were so effective in the early days of Google that manipulating meta tags with tons of keywords was enough to get you ranked high, no quality backlink, or any rich content needed.
Today, however, their role is different and is no longer used for any quick ranking methods. But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore meta tags! Meta tags matter and remain to be a part of the many basic elements of having a solid SEO foundation for any site that wants to be ranked in the first place. Metatags are vital because they are a way to tell the Google search engine, or any search engine for that matter, what a web page is about, how to read it, who should see it, if it should be indexed, and many other “structural” information bits.
Having a solid metatags foundation is no guarantee of getting ranked. But having zero or bad and irrelevant metatags content is a guarantee to stunt any possible organic growth with various errors and problems!
So here are the 10 most important meta tags to know about for any website that you are promoting:
1. Title Tag
Fig. 1. Title tag
<head><title>10 basic meta tags for a solid SEO infrastructure</title></head>
Title tags show up in the SERP as a clickable link, as well as in the title of the browser tab.
Preferably, a title tag needs to feature at least one relevant longtail keyword and be well-phrased so that people will want to click it. Each page should have uniquely phrased titles and not duplicates to help prevent keyword cannibalization. To avoid title truncation, keep it under 60 characters long. A healthy practice is to include your brand name after a title, like this:
“10 basic meta tags for a solid SEO strategy | ProRankTracker”
Even if the title gets truncated, the search engine still reads the full title and will know to associate the brand with the content.
More about titles HERE.
2. Meta Description Tag
<head><meta name=”description” content=”Learn about the 10 best SEO HTML metatags to know about for any website. Having proper metatags is key for organic SEO!”/></head>
Meta descriptions provide search engines with a quick recap on what the web pages are about. They may be shown below the clickable title link on the SERP, so they too should be well-written to attract clicks and improve CTR, which improves ranking potential.
The description should include your main targeted keywords for that page and concise, relevant information about the page’s content. Each page should have a unique description with no duplicates. Google typically shows 150 characters in the description.
3. Header Tags H1-H6
<body><H2>3. Header tags H1-H6</H2></body>
Header tags are a sort of secondary title to the page. They provide content organization and infrastructure by being mini titles for paragraphs inside the page.
Search engines prefer a well-organized content layout and working correctly with H tags will help avoid any content structure issues. It also helps the reader navigate the content and find what they came searching in the first place, instead of having to deal with a huge clump of text. Remember to make sure the H titles are relevant, readable, and describe the paragraph below them.
According to Google, the main H1 title should closely resemble the title tag.
Whether it helps with rankings is debated to this day, but it is surely a key ingrained in user-friendly content design.
4. Image Tag alt Attribute
<img src=”women’s_nike_jacket.jpg” alt=”Girl in a Nike jacket” width=”500″ height=”600″>
The alt attribute describes the content shown in the image and is part of a proper SEO approach.
While neural networks are rapidly gaining an ability to “see” the image and understand its content with no descriptions, this attribute is still used to help search engines understand the image as part of the page’s content. It’s also needed if you want to rank in Google’s image search, be accessible to blind users, and as a backup if the image doesn’t load.
The image tag alt attribute is essential for content that relies on images such as product pages, how-to guides, and infographics. It’s also a great way to add content to a minimalist page that features more images than text.
Other than the alt attribute, search engines will also read the file name and use it to understand what the image is about, so make sure to include image files that are relevantly named.
The alt attribute and file name are good places to put descriptive and relevant keywords for your content.
5. Schema Markups
Schema is currently the most advanced and straightforward way to communicate to a search engine what the content is about. It’s a method to structure your content in the most detailed way possible with metadata.
There are hundreds of Schema examples on schema.org and Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper for virtually every common use case online, such as detailing recipes, events, how-to guides, and product listings.
Here’s an example of a product Schema markup from Google’s documentation:
Google uses schema markups for their rich snippets, so if you want your content featured in a rich snippet, start adding those markups to content. Also, check out our beginner’s Schema markup guide.
6. Nofollow Attribute
Fig. 2. Nofollow attribute
The nofollow attribute tells the search engine crawlers to ignore a link and not count it in the indexing and ranking process.
<a href=”http://www.example.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Link text</a>
Crawlers follow all hyperlinks unless a nofollow is used. Since Google uses outbound and inbound links to evaluate the authority level of a website, proper usage of the Nofollow attribute is key for avoiding linking to anything Google deems low quality, spam, or harmful. A website deemed as harmful by Google becomes “cursed” linking-wise. Linking to a cursed website and getting links from one are simply bad for ranking. For example, if a website has user-generated content, it’s good practice to put a nofollow on any user-added link by default.
Google also hates wasting crawling budget, so if you are linking to internal content, you don’t even need crawling, you should also nofollow those links.
7. Content=”noindex” Meta Tag Value
Adding this value to a robots meta tag will tell search engine crawlers not to index that page.
<head><meta name=”robots” content=”noindex” /></head>
The meta robots tag is important to avoid using a crawl budget on pages you don’t want search engines to see. Pages with thin irrelevant content, inner pages that aren’t meant to be found (such as user profiles or special/secret deals), draft pages that are still being developed and optimized, custom inner-site search result pages, and anything else that you don’t want to be evaluated should all have a noindex value added to the meta tag as shown above.
8. Rel=”Canonical” Value Inside Link Tags
The rel=canonical value tells search engines which version of a page is considered the main or source version to be indexed and found by people.
<head><link rel=”canonical” href=”https://example.com/wordpress/seo-plugin/” /></head>
Google doesn’t like duplicate content, so this value is mostly used when there is similar content across multiple pages and URLs. For example, two blog posts discussing the same topic and targeting the same keywords, or different versions of the same product on eCommerce sites. Basically, any two pages or more that compete for the same SERP spot should have a single canonical version, preferably the one with the best conversion potential.
Adding this value is also crucial for preventing SEO page keyword cannibalization and maximizing a page’s full ranking potential since ranking signals from all versions are consolidated into the canonical version.
Here is more on the importance of canonicals in our full article.
9. Rel=”alternate” Value and hreflang Attribute Inside Link Tags
This attribute is used when there are translated and several international versions of the same page. It tells the search engine which page version belongs to which region and language.
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-US” href=”http://example.com/” />
In the example above, the link meta tag is telling that that page’s version is aimed at English searches for the US area.
It’s one of the key ingredients to a successful international SEO campaign and getting ranked in the designated location. For example, an online store that ships internationally and has translated versions of product pages will likely want these translated pages rank for their respective countries and languages. This will also prevent page consolidation if the “duplicate” pages are aimed at different areas but use the same language (en-US vs. en-AU, for example).
Find out more on how to set up and track your translated pages on international search results here.
10. Social Media Meta Tags
Fig. 3. Social media tags
This is the only tag on our list not aimed at Google but towards social networks. Social Media tags let you control how your page would look when shared on social media.
Facebook and LinkedIn support Open Graph protocol meta tags. For example:
<title>The Rock (1996)</title>
<meta property=”og:title” content=”The Rock” />
<meta property=”og:type” content=”video.movie” />
<meta property=”og:url” content=”https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117500/” />
<meta property=”og:image” content=”https://ia.media-imdb.com/images/rock.jpg” />
Twitter supports Twitter Cards meta tags which offer more customization than Open Graph. For example:
<head><meta name=”twitter:card” content=”summary” />
<meta name=”twitter:site” content=”@flickr” />
<meta name=”twitter:title” content=”Small Island Developing States Photo Submission” />
<meta name=”twitter:description” content=”View the album on Flickr.” />
<meta name=”twitter:image” content=”https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5510/14338202952_93595258ff_z.jpg” />
This might seem like a small tweak to make, but it makes quite a CTR difference if your shared link is shown as a boring line of text or a rich title + description + image combo (or even more than that on Twitter).
In 2020 having social network brand presence is part of a basic marketing strategy that also includes SEO. Getting traffic to your website from social networks will improve your overall traffic, which will also help your website rank higher.
These are the HTML metadata basics anyone doing SEO should know about. It might be a bit time consuming to learn and implement correctly, but in the end, it’s part of a proper SEO strategy. Some of these will help you rank directly while others indirectly by improving CTR and user experience. Neglecting these meta tags is a good way to ruin your ranking potential, so start adding those meta tags!
If you liked this guide, check out our article about how Google crawls websites and how often.
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