Site owners may overlook meta tag best practices in the rush to produce and promote quality content. Unfortunately, proper SEO and SEM techniques often get lost in the mix, making it difficult for even the best content to rank well. Search engine ranking is an ever-changing and increasingly complex thing; optimizing your meta tags is one of the easiest things you can do to help improve your odds. If you don’t even know what that is, or haven’t touched the meta tags on your own site, then you’ll be shocked at what you’re missing.
Basically, meta tags are what give both search engines and human searchers a “snapshot” of your site. Virtually every site has automatically-generated meta tags, but these are usually not the best form your tags can take. Meta tags determine how people see page names, the description of what’s on the page, and other pertinent information. Search engine bots glean keywords and other important information from these tags, making proper indexing easier and possibly faster.
Craft a clear, concise title and description
All meta tags are important, but your title and description are the real “hook” for human visitors. In the old days of SEO, some site optimizers simply crammed their keywords into these tags, one after another. Today, people want quality content. A title and description that just list keywords don’t say a thing, and they’ll likely get a negative hit from the search bots too.
Create a brief description that includes one or two of your keywords, but also tells visitors exactly what they’ll find on the page. Your title should also include your primary keyword and, possibly, one secondary or long-tail keyword to be as specific as possible. The desired character count varies, but the best “Google guess” in June of 2014 is about 65 characters or less for a title and 250 or less for a description. Make sure to proofread – this is what people are seeing in search engine results, and bad spelling or grammar might just convince people that the whole page will be low quality.
Don’t repeat yourself
Sure, you might try to say the same thing in more than one meta tag, but never repeat the exact wording. Your search results will be the one instance of that repeat that the search engines see as most relevant, and all others are hidden. Diversify your tags to include more keywords throughout the different pages in your site, as well as ensure that the search engines will see each page as worthy to show in a relevant search. Keep your page out of the dreaded “omitted results” portion of the page with just a little extra work and creativity.
Generic tags and defaults are not your friend
Yes, setting unique meta tags on every single page of your site can be tedious – but it’s absolutely necessary. Never, ever cut corners by leaving these tags as the automatically-generated default. Think of it as landscaping your storefront – you might get some weeds and grass automatically, but you have to work at the flowerbeds and neatly-trimmed hedges. People don’t want to click on something that clearly no one cares about enough to customize.
Bear in mind that you can also use tags to narrow down specific topics and locations relevant to your site. For instance, instead of describing your site as a “pet supplies retailer,” you can say you’re, “A Los Angeles, California pet supplies retailer that specializes in reptile supplies, saltwater fish, and exotic snakes.” Suddenly, you’re not competing with the PetSmart corporate site or the dozens of dog food retailers in your area.
Double-check your newly optimized meta tags
Every search engine provides some type of tools to help you gauge how well your site’s elements stack up in the algorithm. For instance, Google provides webmaster tools that ensure your tags are the right length, are targeting correctly, and meet basic quality standards. Once your page is indexed in the search engine – a process that may take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on how often the search engines crawl your site – you can see how it actually appears in search results.
Remember that search engine optimization is never a “set it and forget it” proposition. The algorithms change constantly, as do search behavior and competitor practices. Update your site regularly, and schedule time that you will devote to tweaking various aspects of it at least once a month. Finally, the internet is a crowded marketplace, so few sites can succeed by “accidental” traffic alone. Work on a marketing mix that includes improving organic traffic as well as encouraging quality backlinks, and well-targeted paid advertising.