Meta tags are HTML or XHTML elements used in the structure of web pages to provide metadata about the page. They are placed within the section of an HTML or XHTML document and are usually used to detail a page’s description, its main keywords and other information not specified by other elements placed within the tags, which makes them invisible when displayed by web browsers.
However, meta tags exist not only to provide information about a certain website, but also to aid web pages achieve better visibility within search engines. The reason why meta tags are able to accomplish this is because, if properly managed, they are able to provide search engines with a way to easily categorise the site, which in turn results in better search engine rankings and more traffic to the websites who used those meta tags. This application in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has led to many online companies to offer specialised SEO services that focus on meta data.
Here are some of the most important attributes of meta tags when it comes to using them for SEO purposes:
Keywords: The keyword attribute is used by webmasters to indicate to search engines the different topics and subjects their websites deal with. It is a summarised way to effectively convey to search engines the “feel” for any given site’s content. Lately however, as more and more unscrupulous webmasters use them to mislead search engines into scam websites, search engines are slowly giving this particular meta tag less importance.
Description: Contrary to the Keywords meta tag, the description is widely used by most search engines to provide a summarised explanation of a website’s content. This allows webmasters to be creative and unique, which can give them an edge when it comes to getting their visitors’ attention.
Language: It states in what language a certain website is written in. This might not be absolutely necessary for SEO, but it helps search engines prevent targeting audiences a website is not meant for.
Robots: This attribute allows webmasters to be able to choose whether their websites are indexed by search engines or not, as well as if they should follow links from their pages or not. This provides more control to webmasters, which is always a nice thing to have.
Even if nowadays meta data might not have the importance it used to have some years ago due to the ever more sophisticated search engine algorithms, they are still an essential requirement for any website who aims even for mild success.
If anything, correctly implemented meta tags will at the very least serve as an indication to search engines that your website is correctly structured. This in turn can give the website that implements this meta tag strategy an edge over the hundreds of thousands of other websites out there that use meta tags to overload them with keywords and try to cheat search engines.