There are numerous ways of increasing traffic to your website, and writing effective meta tags is one of them. They can often be overlooked among the larger SEO tasks when building or expanding your business website, but these small bits of text are key in encouraging people to click through to your site from search results.
So what exactly is a meta tag?
A meta tag is a piece of text that describes or provides information about a web page. While there are a few different types, the main one in use these days is the descriptor meta tag – a HTML or XHTML tag that explains in summary form what a site or a web page is about.
Search engines use the tag to display the summary information to users when they are doing web searches. Google refers to this summary as the ‘snippet’ – it’s the couple of lines of text that appear under the title of a web page in search results. This text is important because it gives you an opportunity to explain what’s on the page, and to persuade people to click through to your site.
How does it work?
The description tag is added to the header section of the HTML code of a web page. For example, the tag for a home page might provide information about the site itself, while one for a product web page might give information on a product or service, prices, or a call-to-action. In addition, the tag for a blog might contain the name of the author, the date and a brief description of the content.
Where should they be used?
Meta tags should be inserted between the open and close tags in the page’s HTML code. They can be up to 200 characters in length (including spaces), but since only the first 155 characters will be displayed as the snippet, it’s important to either make them only this long, or at least make this section rich in information. Description meta tags are optional, however if you don’t write one yourself, the search engine may insert an automatically-generated one. Creating your own meta tag therefore gives you more control over what is displayed when people are doing web searches.
Do they affect search engine rankings?
Strictly speaking, the description tag does not affect rankings. However, this does not mean that inserting common search terms or keywords in the text is not useful. When people are searching the web they are more likely to be attracted to snippets that contain terms that closely match the ones they have entered, so it’s important to include keywords and phrases in the summary.
In addition, a poorly-written description tag may cause a page to be demoted by search engines, so it’s vital that they are of a high quality. They should also be written in a way that is very readable and easy to understand, and highly informative. Over-use or stuffing of keywords or search terms, or using such words or terms in unnatural ways, is not recommended.
Writing effective meta tags
- Start from a position of knowing and understanding your audience well. By doing this, you will be in a better place to write in a way that entices your target audience to seek more information from your site.
- Since each page on your website provides different information, write a separate description tag for each one. A whole site description summary could be written in the code for the home page.
- Make your tags rich in useful, easy-to-follow, descriptive information. Write them in plain English, and avoid clichés. Remember you are writing your descriptions for real people and not computers or machines.
- Including primary and secondary keywords is a good idea, but make sure to do so in a natural way in the context of the whole description. Avoid using keywords or terms in an artificial way and certainly avoid overusing them. Including a call-to-action is also a good idea.
- Descriptions do not have to be in sentence format – they might for instance list the author of a page, date, price and other information. The important thing is that the information provided is useful, succinct, easy-to-understand, and truthful.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with different tags to see if your traffic improves.
Finally, consider enlisting the services of an SEO expert to assist you in making use of appropriate keywords and search terms for your website. Professional copywriting services or SEO article writers can also help to ensure that your site content, including your meta tags, is high quality and appropriately targeted.