For a typical query typed into Google’s search bar, Google’s search algorithm relies on more than 200 “clues” to guess what the user might be looking for and give them back exactly what they want. Meta tags are one piece of the Google algorithmic puzzle representing a fantastic way for webmasters to provide search engines with information about their sites.
But there is confusion among webmasters concerning the importance of meta tags with articles popping up over the web every now and then about how Google ignores meta tags. Perhaps it all started with the following video where Matt Cutts said verbatim “We don’t use the keywords meta tag in our search ranking. Other search engines might but Google doesn’t.”
Note that Matt Cutts only said that Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking. He said nothing more and nothing less about using meta tags as a proxy for information about a website’s content. The keywords meta tag had value at one time for SEO and that’s no longer the case. This does not mean that Google ignores meta tags altogether when it comes to search ranking. For example,
- The Meta Robots tag is still one of the most important tags, which lets you influence search engine crawler activity on a per-page level.
For example, you can control how Google and the other search engines treat a page with implementations like:
- index/noindex: This tells the search engines whether a page should be included or excluded from the index.
- follow/nofollow: This tells the search engines whether links on the page should be crawled or disregarded.
- noarchive: This prevents the search engines from saving a cached copy of a specific page.
- nosnippet: This prevents the search engines from displaying a descriptive block of text next to a page’s title and URL in the SERPs.
There are, of course, other tags that you can use as a way to store information within your site and describe its content for the search engines without being actually viewable by users.
- The meta description tag provides concise explanations of the contents of web pages.
A page’s description meta tag gives Google and the other search engines a summary of what the page is about in a sentence or two or a short paragraph. In truth, meta description tags are not important to SEO per se. Their merit lies in the fact that they are extremely important in gaining user click-through from the SERPs because Google might use them as snippets for your pages.
The best practices for creating a compelling description that a searcher will want to click include:
- Write a description that will both inform and interest users and ergo serve the function of advertising copy. The description needs to be readable, compelling and feature important keywords.
- Google and the other search engines truncate snippets longer than 160 characters. So while meta descriptions can be of any length, keep yours 150-160 characters long.
- Use unique descriptions for each page. This is important for both users and the search engines, especially in searches that may return multiple pages on your domain.
- Do not use quotation marks and non-alphanumeric characters in your description. Any time these are used in a meta description, Google cuts off the description.
Common meta description issues include:
- Writing a description meta tag that has little to do with the actual content on the page
- Writing generic descriptions like “Page about weight loss supplements.”
- Writing a description that’s nothing more than a composite of keywords and is therefore not readable
- Using the entire content of a page in its description meta tag
- Duplicate meta descriptions
In short, think like a customer. Write a description that gives extra information and use words that you think your customer will use to look for the things that you offer. Choosing the right words can determine whether a user clicks through from the SERPs to a page on your website, in particular because words in the snippet are bolded when they appear in the user’s query.
So here you go! In September 2009, Matt Cutts announced that the search engine does not use the “keywords” meta tag in their web search ranking. Does this mean that Google ignores all meta tags? The answer is no! Google supports several other meta tags including the “description” meta tag as the text for their search results snippets.