Get excited! We’re talking HTML meta tags. Yes, today these annoying details we love to ignore are front and center.
Metadata is not a sexy topic for most people, and HTML meta tags even less so. But they’re on our web content checklist — or they should be — so let’s have a plan.
HTML meta tags are used to inform search engines about your webpage content. What is this page about (meta description element), and what are the subjects (meta keywords element)?
While HTML meta tags don’t hold the value they used to — due to smarter search engines and spammy SEO practitioners — they are still an important consideration for your web content strategy. Here’s why.
HTML Description Meta Tag
The HTML description meta tag is intended to provide a brief abstract (typically 150–160 characters long) of your webpage for search engine results.
<meta name="description" content="While HTML meta tags don't hold the value they used to, they are still an important consideration for your web content strategy. Here’s why.">
While popular search engines don’t require meta descriptions for search results, they are useful and important for providing a clear summary of page content.
That said, Google and many other search engines don’t always use the meta description; sometimes they pull the relevant keywords and surrounding text from the body of the web page. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if it aligns with the user’s search criteria, a concise clear description is better for you and the user as it will more accurately convey your meaning.
Enhance Usability and Relevance
For Google, the meta description doesn’t affect search engine ranking. But it does affect usability and relevance, which is why Google uses it when it considers the description useful to viewers.
Good SEO goes hand-in-hand with usability. It doesn’t matter if your target search terms rank high if no one clicks on your page links. Meta descriptions support usability by enhancing clarity and relevance. They allow users to more easily understand if your search result is useful and relevant.
Metadata is often the first content people see on your website. It’s important to consider how other applications besides search engines — for example, Facebook — use the description meta tag.
HTML Keywords Meta Tag
The HTML keywords meta tag is intended to inform search engines of search terms relevant to your webpage.
<meta name="keywords" content="audience, branding, communications, content creation, editorial planning">
For its intended purpose, the HTML keyword meta tag is all but useless.
As Google software engineer Matt Cutts announced in 2009, Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking. And since then, other major search engines have revealed the same (with some dispute).
Most SEO and content specialists shrug their shoulders on this topic. The keywords meta tag doesn’t affect page ranking or improve usability. However, it doesn’t hurt those efforts either. If, for example, your CMS includes the keywords meta tag automatically, you don’t need to worry about it negatively affecting search.
Keywords Meta Tag: Pro and Con
Although the keywords meta tag has no apparent SEO value, here’s a pro and a con to consider.
- Pro: While Google and other major search engines certainly dominate the web search engine market, they are not the only search engines. It doesn’t hurt rankings to include the keywords meta tag, and it may improve rankings for some search engines or web applications. The keywords meta tag is still standard HTML and even the wisest SEO sage can’t predict how all search engines will determine and prioritize search results in the future.
- Con: Using the keywords meta tag may make it easy for competition to evaluate and "steal" your target keywords. This is a fair concern. However, people savvy enough to use this to their advantage also have much better research methods and tools at their disposal.
Why Assess Value?
Meta tags are potentially time-consuming to create and maintain. Assessing their value allows you to prioritize them in your content plan.
What do you think? Does your institution consider HTML meta tags, or does the topic get swept under the rug?
- HTML Meta Tag, by W3Schools
- Meta Description Tag – SEO Best Parctices, by SEOMoz
- Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking, by Official Google Webmaster Central Blog
- Meta Tags – Webmaster Tools Help, by Google