What Are Meta Tags?
I Want Waffles.
Imagine you're at a library and you're looking for a book about waffles. Now, you're not looking for any kind of waffles, but gluten-free waffles with dairy free whip-cream and strawberries. That is pretty specific so the first step is to find the cooking section and then find a book about waffles.
If you're scanning a bookshelf and you see something that says "Waffles R Us", you're going to pick that one before you pick "Cooking for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle". You're looking for waffles, so when you see something that says "waffles" -- even if something else could give you what you want -- you're going to pick it first.
Now imagine you're looking for a website about waffles. If you google "waffle", you're going to find something with the word "waffle" in the title. This is because the title of the website -- much like the title of a book -- contains the word "waffle". The difference between a library and Google is that Google can give you 1.2 million results, while the library can maybe give you 50. While Google weighs various other elements of the website when deciding search result position, the title of the website is one of the most important.
Is <title> A "Meta" Tag?
Yes and no. A website's title is done via the
<title> tag. While this isn't a meta tag, it's still very important. Chances are whatever CMS you're using has this pre-built in so you don't have to worry about it. If you need to change it -- like if your fellow web developer forgets to include it for the 7,000th time -- you'll want to look in the
<head> of your website for something like this:
So What Are Meta Tags?
Meta tags are HTML tags that assist in the description of your website or its content. After titles, search engines look at your meta tags. Over the years the weight of meta tags keywords have lessened, but they still have an impact. OG meta tags have taken their place instead, and are now used for social media previews:
Meta tags look something like this:
Meta tags aren't generated to be seen by the user. Instead, they are shown to the search engine. Think back to the library example we had before. The library knows they only have 1 copy of "Waffles R Us" on display, but they have 45 copies of "Cooking for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle". The library knows this is because "Waffles R Us" is in limited supply, and that their placement on the shelf has maximized sales. They aren't going to get anymore of that book and instead hope to shift the popularity over to "Cooking for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle".
This hidden information is exactly what meta tags do to websites.
Meta Tag Examples
Here are some common meta tags more websites have. If you use YOAST for WordPress SEO, it'll generate a lot of these same meta tags:
Visual Meta Tags
Another type of meta tag has recently come out, and it's to apply a "theme" to your website in the form of a colour. If you save a website onto your phone so you can access it easier, it'll generate a thumbnail based on the colour you choose. It'll also change the colour of the URL bar, depending on your device.
To add this to your own site, you'll want add this code anywhere in the
<head> of your site.
With YURHEX being replaced by the hex colour that best matches your website.
8-Legged Librarian Robot Spiders
Imagine a librarian. Now give her four arms and four legs. Now make her out of metal. Now digitize her. What you have is a Google "spider". These "spiders" crawl websites and check for meta tags and website content. If content don't change frequently, it doesn't crawl frequently. If you have frequently updating content, either because you post a lot of blogs or you have some social media feeds, the spiders will visit your site more often. Spiders only go where there's something moving, after all.
If you want to slow Google from reading your site frequently, you can meta tag like this:You might want to do this if you're revamping your site, migrating hosts or doing some changes and you don't want Google to index a broken site (thus losing your SEO). If you don't want Google to ever come back, you'll want to add a meta tag like this:
The noindex means not to index the current page, and the nofollow means not to follow any of the links on this page.
Meta tags are great at getting your content out there, or from stopping it to get out there. They're very helpful for SEO and can help people better find your website. Even though meta tags are invisible, they're very useful.
Do you have any meta tag tips or tricks? Tell me about them in the comments!