What is Meta data and how does it relate to SEO?

Published on 11th February 2017

Once upon a time, I used to do HTML coding for my mama’s place of employment. I also learned it at school and college. I can safely say that meta descriptions were kind of tricky because I would often leave them out and others would use the same words over and over again. Doing that was kind of a disaster but then I learned. Now I understand their purpose and they are most defintely worth the effort!

Let’s start from the beginning:

Basically, a meta description is the piece of text that is used to describe the content and topic of your website. This is hugely important for SEO since search engines use this snippet that is encoded on your website to create their search result listings.

Page titles and meta descriptions (sometimes known as “META Data”) are pretty important, especially if you want to rank well and improve traffic to your site from search engines like Google. META Data is like brain food for search engines because it helps them understand what your page is about and helps them decide whether to list your website in the results and what to display. This is done primarily by page titles and meta descriptions, and a lesser extent on keywords.

What does a page title and description look like?

Here is what meta descriptions look like on Google:

Pretty straightforward, right?

Bare in mind that page titles and meta descriptions need to be different for each page of your site. Search engines like Google does not like duplicate content and by having the same page titles and meta descriptions on mulitple pages, you will effectively hurt your rankings in search engines. So unique content is key on all pages of your site.

The Anatomy of Page Titles, META Descriptions and Other META Data

Keywords – these are the little guys you include on your website to provide search engines with the information they need in order to understand what your site is about. As I will explain, including these in your meta data is going to benefit your SEO and, happily, improve your chancecs of high rankings.

Page titles- probably the most important on-site SEO element to consider working on first. This “tag” is the key area that search engines use to help understand what your site is about. This is what you click on when conducting a search on the interwebs (the little blue clickable links). Typically, Google limits these to around 50-60 characters.

Meta description- this is a short explanation of what your page contains which should be written with the aim to engage and encourage people to click on your site. These are also generally limited to 160 characters and are not used by search engines for rankings.

The three elements above work together to help search engines rank your site but these are not all divided equally. Let’s take a look at this further.

What about the META Keywords Tag? I’ve heard this is good for SEO

When I did HTML coding (approximately 3,400 years ago), the keyword tag mattered. We were taught to use as many keywords as we could that were applicable to the website’s content. Example of keywords for a furniture store would be something like this:

Keywords: party furniture hire, event furniture hire, furniture hire uk

Boy, how things have changed.

Google no longer reads these keywords for search ranking so they’re not so important in terms of the keyword tag area of the website’s coding but they are still used by some people to help keep track of what keywords a specific page is optimised for.

Althought this can be helpful, this information is also available to your competition so beware if you are considering using it.

You still want to choose the right keywords for each page to target so choosing the right keywords to target is still important but placing them in the keyword tag is not.

Keyword research

Choosing the right keywords is an art in itself and I’ve written another article dedicated to that, which you can find here. (how to pick the right keywords every time)

Page titles

Just like keywords, page titles were important back in the day. And you know what? They are still super useful today!

Here is an example of a well-written page title:

Page titles: Furniture, Table and Chairs for Hire, Parties and Events, UK

This depicts what headline you’ll see in a search result. Page titles are tremendously important because it basically works like a library card for Google. Google will ultimately use this page title (along with the rest of the content) to decide whether or not your page is right for the search query. Without quality page titles, no one would click on your site then no one would buy your products and services, and then the world would be a less sunny place!

Fun Fact #1: It’s a wise move to place important keywords at the beginning of your page title for the best possible results. If you want to include a branding reference, that is best placed at the end. In this example, the desired outcome would be that the page returns for the searches “furniture hire for events in the UK” or “table and chairs for parties,” and so on. We always ensure to have a range of words to achieve these desired results.

Meta descriptions

Meta descriptions are what you see under the main link of a site when you conduct a Google search as seen in the example previously used:

While Google does not use meta descriptions to rank your page, they are still valuable for getting people to want to click on your website. Because of this, they must be written to engage and incite interest. Footprint Digital includes the keywords here too so that they turn up bold in search results, which help the keywords stand out more, which will make people more likely to click on your link!

Fun Fact #2: Search engines and social sharing sites like Facebook often time use a page’s description tag when the page is shared on their sites. If no meta description tag exists, social media sites will use the first text they can find, which, depending on what the first text is of your page, may not create the best user experience for customers encountering your site’s content via social media.

But wait, there’s more! – Beyond the Meta – H1’s and Content

When I was learning HTML coding, my teacher kinda-sorta didn’t tell us about two additional SEO elements that are super crucial for successful on-page optimisation (way to go, teach!). These are the header tag and actual content. Headings go from 1 to 6, with the main heading being caled an H1. Here is an example of two different opening H1s. Have a think about which one you think would help Google more in understanding what your page is about.

H1: Welcome to ACME!

H1: ACME Furniture, Table and Chairs Hire

Search engines like Google use meta data and headings to understand what your site is about so it’s important to include these elements as well as keywords (yes, even those dying keywords) because keywords are like friendly zombies and friendly zombies are cool. Plus, keywords will still help get people to click on your website.

If zombies looked like this, no one would be afraid of them…until it’s too late. Mwhaha!

The content is pretty much whatever you choose to enclose in the meta description such as seen in this example:

<meta name=”description” content=”Your meta tag description content goes here” />

The only rules for content creation is to write plenty and make sure that it is interesting. It’s really just a matter of making sure the content is informative, useful and appealing to people. Google themselves have said “Focus on the end user and all else will follow,” so following that piece of advice is probably a good idea!

But if you’re still struggling with creating amazing content that reads well, don’t worry! The good peeps at Footprint Digital love you and love making you money so we will make sure your content is right.

Remember, the trick to nailing meta descriptions is to focus more on gaining click-throughs and less on rankings.

If you want to learn more, chekc out these articles that discuss meta description further:

Meta Description
Meta Description Magic: Think Less about SEO & More About Click-Throughs
How To Use HTML Meta Tags

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