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What is meta data?

19 Feb, 2013 McKell Naegle

Meta data is the information within the code of a website that search engines use as a checklist to understand what your website is about. Great! Now that I just told you what meta information is there isn’t much reason to continue reading, unless, of course, you would like to give every page on your website the potential to rank on Google.

Generally, it is the meta data or on-page elements that SEO companies will “optimize.” In other words, without proper meta data, you are robbing your site of the potential of being on page one.

Since every page on a website is different and unique, all meta data should be also. If all the meta across the website is identical, crawlers will have a difficult time differentiating the information displayed on the page. In short, when search engines can’t understand what a website is about, it will never rank.

Here are some key components of meta data:

Title tag

If you were in a library looking for a good read, it would be difficult to make a choice if every book had the same title. Let’s say that I owned a website that sold bonsai trees. As you would expect, the title of the homepage should read “Bonsai Trees.” On the deeper pages, you should be more specific like “Juniper Bonsai Trees” or “Flowering Azalea Bonsai.”

Make sure to do your keyword research to find the best title for your pages. There are many tools available that can help you find the best words based upon relevance and overall search volume. Some of my favorites are KeywordEye, KeywordSpy and Google’s Keyword Tool. When researching keyword volume for your title, be sure to put all of your possible page titles into the tool and see which one you think will bring in the most relevant traffic to your website.

Keep the tag short and sweet. If it is longer than 70 characters, including spaces, chances are it will be cut off on the search engine results page and probably lower your click through rate.

 Meta Description

This is the snippet of code on each page that a crawler will look at for a description of a particular page. It’s another reason that all meta data on your website be absolutely unique to each page.

Generally, it is recommended that the description be under 160 characters, including spaces, or it will be cut off when it appears on the search engine results. Within the description, you should describe the content that is on the page. You should also make sure that your description includes a strong call to action.

Let’s return to the bonsai example. The title for the azalea section would be “Flowering Azalea Bonsai.” The description would be “Jonathan grows the most beautiful flowering azalea bonsais. They are both fragrant and peaceful. If you are looking for azalea bonsais, go to JonsBonsais.com “

 Meta keywords

We are in 2013 people! If your SEO expert/ninja/evangelist/nerd is wasting time on optimizing your keywords meta tag, then you should show him the door. Nearly a decade ago, crawlers judged pages solely by on-page content. They didn’t look at external links pointing back to the website. The keywords meta tag quickly became the place to stuff every keyword, which was often completely irrelevant. Since it was so widely abused, Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag, and now it isn’t even a ranking factor.

Image Tags

One of the last on-page elements that we can adjust for a higher organic success rate is the image tag or alt text. While search engine crawlers feel like a living breathing machine from “The Matrix,” they are still lacking in one area: the ability to see and translate pictures. Because of this, we are allowed to name our photos so that a crawler can come to the page, see the description you have given the image and understand how it fits with the rest of the page.

 

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