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How to Write SEO-Friendly Meta Tags in 2020

26/10/2020

Meta tags (also referred to as 'metadata') provide search engines with key information about a website or specific webpage. Whilst this data is not visible within the main content of a page, it can be considered a foundational component to any Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy. The variety of meta tags in use and the range of advice around how to populate them has changed over the years as search engines have adapted their algorithms. Choosing which meta tags to use and how to construct the data that goes inside them can sometimes feel confusing, so this month we've reviewed current best practice for some of the most common and important meta tags that website owners should be aware of. 

Meta Title

The meta title – sometimes referred to as a 'title tag' – is the primary way of labelling a webpage for search engines. As well as forming the link name for the webpage on search results pages and social media posts, it also appears in your browser tab/window, informing users of the name of the page they're viewing. Since it's the first thing a user will see when deciding what result to click on after performing a search, ensuring the meta title is descriptive and accurate is both incredibly important for users and search engines. It's worth also pointing out that whilst the meta title can be distinct from other headings on the page, it should be somewhat consistent with the h1 tag and contain the same keywords.

When constructing a title tag, bear in mind that Google will usually show between 50-60 characters for a meta title, so keeping yours in this range means the whole title will show in search results. Titles are often formatted in this way – “First keyword - Second Keyword | Business Name”. This will provide search engines and users with a good overview of what the page is about. It's important to keep titles succinct and written as naturally as possible, since search engines don't look kindly upon 'keyword stuffing' and may penalise you for trying to cram too much information in here. 

Meta Title Example:

<title>Specialist in BMW Car Parts in Sevenoaks, Kent | Speedy Car Parts</title>

Do:

  • Keep the title under 60 characters
  • Make each title unique on every page
  • Include your main keywords for the page

Don't:

  • Keyword stuff
  • Leave it blank or use generic names such as 'Home' or 'New Page'
  • Make it confusing or irrelevant
  • Begin the title with your business name (unless it's the Home page)

Meta Description

The meta description is the snippet of text that appears underneath the meta title in search engine results and on social media posts. This string of text gives users and search engines additional information about what your page is about, and for this reason is seen as crucial in encouraging users to click on your page from the search results. Writing descriptions in a natural, concise way is the best way to deliver the most useful information to all parties.

Meta descriptions should be no longer than 150 characters, since longer strings will typically be shortened by search engines and important information could be hidden from view. It's also possible that search engines decide not to display your meta description in the search results, instead replacing it with alternative text from the page if they feel it relates better to your search query. This is another reason to ensure there is descriptive copy containing your keywords within your page content too. 

Meta Description Example:

<meta name=”description” content=”Looking for specialist BMW parts? We have the full range of car parts for all your repair and upgrading needs, based in Sevenoaks, Kent”>

Do:

  • Keep the description within 150 characters
  • Make each description unique on every page
  • Include your main keywords for the page
  • Write this in a natural and interesting way to engage the user
  • Answer the question as to why someone should visit your page

Don't:

  • Keyword stuff
  • Leave it blank or on a default description
  • Make it confusing or irrelevant

Meta Keywords

Considered by many to be deprecated, meta keywords have not been used by most search engines in their ranking criteria since around 2009 in response to websites stuffing this meta tag with hundreds of keywords in the hope of it improving their ranking position. There are still some instances where meta keywords may be utilised, which is why for best practice it's worth populating this tag on your website anyway. Some lesser-known search engines to UK audiences, such as Yandex (popular in Russia and Eastern Europe), Baidu (China) and Naver (South Korea), all reportedly still use keywords in their ranking criteria.

Similar to meta titles and descriptions, keywords should be unique and relevant on every page they exist. They can provide an opportunity to add words related to your business that you might not want to place in the main content of your page, for example, a common misspelling of your business name or services. 

Keyword Example:

<meta name="keywords" content="car spares, car repair, bmw, sevenoaks, 7oaks">

Do:

  • Keep the keywords relevant to your website
  • Make keywords unique on every page
  • Include any common spelling mistakes or alternative spellings

Don't:

  • Keyword stuff or use irrelevant keywords

Image Alt Tags

An image alt tag is string of text that should provide a description to both search engines and users of what an image is related to. This is an important tag for SEO purposes; as well as helping search engines to determine what your page is relevant to, it can also encourage your images to be displayed in the image search results, thus increasing the chance of additional traffic to your website. Whilst typically hidden in the code, the alt tag will be displayed publicly if an image fails to load or can't be located, and will also used by screen readers for users with visual impairments. 

For further information, read our recent article about optimising images for SEO.

Image Alt Tag Example:

<img src="bmw_3series.jpg" alt="Silver BMW 3 Series">

Do:

  • Keep the description relevant to the image
  • Ensure it makes sense if a screen reader was reading it to someone who is visually impaired
  • Use a descriptive name for image file itself
  • Keep the description under 50 characters

Don't:

  • Keyword stuff
  • Leave it blank
  • Make it confusing or irrelevant

Social Media Tags

When a webpage is shared on social media, unless social media tags have been added, the social media channel itself will control how your webpage is listed; for this reason, it can be extremely useful to use social media tags to curate the messaging and presentation of your content as it's shared online.

Social media tags work in different ways depending on the channel you are targetting. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn control the header, description and image of a web link using 'Open Graph tags', whilst Twitter cards use a different markup tailored to their platform.

Open Graph Social Media Tag Example:

<meta property=”og:type” content=”article”>

<meta property=”og:title” content=”TITLE OF YOUR POST OR PAGE”>

<meta property=”og:description” content=”DESCRIPTION OF PAGE CONTENT”>

<meta property=”og:image” content=”LINK TO THE IMAGE FILE”>

<meta property=”og:url” content=”PERMALINK”>

<meta property=”og:site_name” content=”SITE NAME”>

Twitter cards work in the same way, but have code which is slightly more tailored to itself:

<meta name=”twitter:title” content=”TITLE OF POST OR PAGE”>

<meta name=”twitter:description” content=”DESCRIPTION OF PAGE CONTENT”>

<meta name=”twitter:image” content=”LINK TO IMAGE”>

<meta name=”twitter:site” content=”@USERNAME”>

<meta name=”twitter:creator” content=”@USERNAME”>

Do:

  • Keep the titles around 60 characters long
  • Include your keywords at the beginning of the title and description if possible to capture peoples attention while scrolling

Don't:

  • Include hashtags
  • Make the descriptions too long as these may be cut off by different social media platforms.

If you'd like further advice on writing meta tags or any aspect of SEO, please don't hesitate to contact a member of the team today.

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