It always amazes me at the number of people I come across who equate SEO with “adding keywords to meta tags.” As if SEO is a bag of magic beans that when properly placed, grow your site to a #1 ranking—you know, where the goose that lays the golden eggs lives. I’ve seen that movie, and it’s called a fairy tale for a reason. It’s just not true!
Let’s go ahead and dispense with any magic beans misconceptions about SEO meta tags and clear the air. I’ll make this as short and painless as possible.
What are Meta Tags?
There are all kinds of meta tags, but only three that matter to an SEO. Two, if you don’t count the keyword meta tag in all of it’s useless glory (more about that below). And only one if you don’t count the title tag, which technically isn’t a “meta” tag. But for our purposes, we’ll call all three meta tags relevant to SEO since that is what most magic-beaners think about when it comes to their understanding of SEO.
Let’s start with the Title tag. It looks like this:
<title>Title Tag Text</title>
The purpose of the title tag is for you to give your page a succinct title. Think of it like a newspaper headline. Each page is its own “article” that deserves its own headline that describes the content to follow. I’ve written extensively about the title tag for SEO purposes, so you’ll want to read my Complete Guide to Mastering Title Tags for the non-simple overview.
Next up is the Meta Description tag, which looks like this:
The meta description is a short summary of your page content. This is your chance to explain what the title can’t. You have about 20 words to provide a compelling “description” of the content of the page.
Finally, the almost-entirely-useless Meta Keyword tag, looks like this:
<meta name="keywords" content="this, is, where, the, magic, bean, keywords, go">
The original intent of the keyword meta tag was to allow search engines to easily see what keywords your page should rank for. There was once a time that this worked. But there was also a time that a “personal” computer was as large as an entire room of a house. Those days are long gone.
I have also written a Complete Guide to Mastering Meta Tags, which will give you far more detail than I can simplify here.
Why Meta Tags Matter for SEO
I’ve said it before and at the risk of repeating myself over and over again, I’ll go ahead and repeat myself again: A web page’s title tag is the single most important piece of SEO real estate there is. But it’s still no magic bean. [tweet] The title tag provides the best on-site indicator of the content of the page, both to the search engine and the searcher scanning through search results, but rarely will a title tag alone push you above other competitors. Especially well-optimized competitors.
Like the title tag, the meta description tag also appears in the search results. Unfortunately for magic-beaners, from a true SEO standpoint, neither the meta description nor the meta keyword tag help get you search rankings. [tweet] Neither is an algorithmic factor. And since only the meta description tag gets any kind of visibility to searchers, it’s the only tag other than the title, that you really need to be concerned about.
Both the title and the meta description tag are important for generating clicks from your site from the search results, but only the title tag will help in any way with search engine rankings. So if you believe that those ten words in the title tag is the only thing an SEO does, then you’re in a whole other world. That’s kind of like thinking that the only thing a mechanic does is change the oil. Sure, that helps, but there is a whole lot more to making a car go zoom than changing oil! And, there is a whole lot more to making a website get ranked than editing meta tags. [tweet]
Now you know.