Meta-Tag Optimization Tips: A Search Usability Perspective
Meta tags are often dismissed as critical part of search engine optimization (SEO). Meta-tag content impacts how searchers interact with your search listings.
Seasoned search engine optimization (SEO) professionals might yawn and roll their eyes when the subject of meta-tag optimization comes up, as they might think, "Meta-tag optimization is SO 1990s."
In business, meta-tag optimization has a bad reputation because, in the past, many SEO professionals and website owners exploited meta-tags to achieve undeserved search engine visibility. As a result, the tags' content was devalued in favor of other criteria.
Nevertheless, meta-tag optimization should be a regular part of the SEO process. Here are some reasons why metadata should be optimized and 10 easy tips to implement.
Why optimize metadata?
Meta-tag content should be optimized for multiple reasons:
Some commercial web search engines use meta-tag content to determine page relevancy. Some do not.
Most of the time on a text-based document, meta-tag descriptions and keywords are not used to determine whether or not a page ranks. Search engines have long evolved to use other on-the-page and off-the-page criteria, as many SEO professionals know.
Due to blended search results, many SEO professionals need to re-think their meta-tag optimization viewpoints. What file types are appearing in search engine results pages (SERPs) for targeted keyword phrases? Images? Videos? Local listings?
Optimization strategies for text files differ slightly from optimization from non-text files.
Meta-tag keywords and descriptions become more important when the search engines are not able to determine (or have a difficult time determining) the "aboutness" of a file, such as a video file. In this situation, a keyword-focused meta-tag description can make or break search engine visibility.
If I am able to help implement SEO best practices at a company, I try to make metadata optimization for all file types part of a normal process.
Once copywriters, graphic designers, video and audio producers, and web developers make it a habit to produce high-quality metadata content, it does not seem like a daunting task.
Implementing Meta Data Optimization
Let's use video files as an example. Suppose a website contins 2,500 videos. Re-optimizing (or initially optimizing) 2,500 video files can seem like a daunting task.
People have to start somewhere, and 1 properly optimized video file is better than no optimized video files.
If everything goes as planned, within a few weeks, the meta-tag optimization for those files is complete. The optimization process has become a habit at the company.
Many major search engines use meta-tag descriptions when displaying a listing in search results. Therefore, is important to write meta-tag descriptions that accomplish the following:
Long vs. short meta-tag descriptions
How listings are displayed in search results is very, very important. Will a searcher click on a listing...or not?
Which pages on your site are better pages to display in response to navigational queries? When searchers wish to go to a site's home page or a specific page on a site, smaller snippets are often more effective.
Which pages on your site are better pages to display in response to informational or transactional queries? When searchers desire information irrespective of where the information might be found, longer snippets are more effective.
Therefore, know your target audience's intent with various keyword phrases. Accommodating searcher goals can produce more effective search listings...and rankings.
But also remember...
Search engines do not take always take listing content from the meta-tag description.
They might take the listing description from other content that is clearly visible on the web page. Or search engines might combine parts of the meta-tag description and other visible page content for a search listing.
For these reasons, ensure that meta-tag descriptions reinforce the most important keyword phrases on the web page. Reinforcing content helps retain a consistent information scent from search results to that content.
The commercial web search engines are not the only search engines in existence. Many websites utilize their own site search engine.
Site search engines often use the meta-tag description and keywords content to determine rankings within a specific website.
In other words, content in the meta-tag keyword attribute might not help with WEB search engine rankings. But they often are used by SITE search engines to make search results more accurate.
Therefore, if your site uses a site search engine, make sure your content and meta tags help the most appropriate content rank.
Here are some meta-tag optimization guidelines to remember:
Some meta-tag myths & misconceptions
Site owners still cling to the mistaken belief that meta-tag content alone can make or break a ranking in the web search results.
For text-based documents, meta-tag descriptions are usually not a ranking factor. For non-text based documents, however, meta-tag content becomes more important.
Heck, once, my When Search Meets Web Usability co-author had to persistently correct a university lecturer about this common misconception during a graduate-level class. I understand my co-author's frustration about the narrow view of meta-tag usage. SEO is always evolving.
Meta-tag optimization should be a regular part of the SEO process. Check how your website's search listings appear. If the listings are not converting, modify meta-tag content. Or create better content.
Web analytics data provides helpful information. But also observe searchers during search usability tests. Understand the how and the why of SEO. Understand the role of meta-tags in the big picture.
If you liked this optimization tip, here are more links to related optimization tips and search articles from Omni Marketing Interactive:
You can also read our articles from other online publications.
If you have any questions about Omni Marketing Interactive's search engine optimization (SEO), website usability, information architecture (IA), or web design services, please call us at 847-426-4256.