What is meta data and why is it important?

What is meta data and why is it important?

What is Meta Data?

Meta data is basically data that describes other data… fascinating, we know!

Okay, so it might not be the most exciting topic in the World, but meta data is used in a variety of different applications to make finding and working with particular instances of data easier - SEO is one of them.

If you’ve read any of our other posts, you may be familiar with our librarian analogy. Well, since Google is essentially the World’s biggest library, it makes sense to apply it here, too.

In the same way that a librarian would assign books to categories, such as author, publish date, and genre (making it easier to locate Dan Brown’s newest thriller novel if ever it is called upon), Google considers the meta data on a webpage when adding pages to its search index. This means that the relevant webpages are much more easily retrieved whenever someone submits a certain search query (click here to learn more about how Google works).

If you were not familiar with meta data before reading this blog post, it’s probably because you’ve likely never seen it. Meta data is immediately invisible to the average website user, existing only in HTML, and speaking directly to the search engines to help them understand what a website is all about.

However, if you want to find out whether a web page is using meta data (also known as “meta tags”) or not, you can do so fairly easily. Just use your mouse to right-click anywhere on a web page, and select “View Page Source”.

How to view source code

Doing so will give you something similar to the below:

How to view meta tags

From this snippet of source code (found in the webpage’s < head > tag, we can identify three different types of meta tag:

•    Meta Title
•    Meta Description
•    Meta Keywords

These are the three major meta tags worth knowing about, though some of them are not as important as perhaps they used to be….

Meta Title

Title tags are the main piece of text for describing a page’s content, and have been long considered one of the most important elements for on-page technical SEO.

While title tags can have a real impact on search engine rankings, they can also be seen by your website visitors, and for this reason should be user-friendly. Here are the three places they can be found:

1.    In your browser:

What is meta title

Because title tags are shown in the tabs of your browser, they should be clear enough that when a user has multiple tabs open, it’s obvious which one would take them back to your website.  

2.    On search engine results pages:

Meta description in Google

Title tags also appear on Google’s search results pages, usually if they contain the same keywords that were entered by the searcher.

3.    In external page links

Facebook link description

For example, on Facebook and other social media sites that generate a visual link preview.

The best title tags consist of around 60-65 characters, and begin with the most relevant keywords for that particular webpage (Google places slightly more weighting on the first 2 or three words in your title tag, so make sure to place your primary keyword/phrase at the beginning). For maximum SEO value, each web page should have its own, unique title tag – do not just copy and paste from one page to the other. 

While there are hundreds of different recommendations out there for how your title tags should be formatted, here’s an example of one formula put forward by the SEO experts over at moz.com:

•    Primary Keyword, Secondary Keyword | Brand Name

For MA Design, this would look like the following:

•    Web Design, SEO Consultants | MA Design

At MA Design, however, we generally don’t recommend including your brand’s name in your title tags. The reason for this being that if the people searching for your products/services don’t yet know of your brand, they won’t be using your brand name in their search. Therefore this space could be better optimised using other keywords, or, if you are looking to attract local traffic, geographical tags that will help to target your specific area, such as “Gloucester”, “Cheltenham” etc.

If you do want to include your brand name in your webpage title tags, we would suggest doing so on pages that are not as frequently searched, such as your “About Us” or “Contact” pages. You could also include them in the title tags of your legal docs, such as “Terms and Conditions” or “Privacy Policy”.

Meta Description

The description tag is no longer used by search engines as a ranking factor. However, since it is visible in most of the same places as the title tag (apart from in your browser tab), it can help to increase customer click through if it’s engaging enough. The more traffic that comes to your website, the better your PageRank will be. So, in a backwards kind of way, the description tag can still have an impact on your website’s SEO. 

As with the title tag, the description tag must be unique to each individual webpage – simply copying and pasting across all pages is a definite SEO no-no. In order for the description tag content to be displayed on Google’s search results page, it must contain at least 11 words, but any content past 150 characters may not be displayed.

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords have had no impact on search rankings in Google since 2009 (other search engines such as Yahoo may still read them). They are also never visible to the end user unless looking specifically at a webpage’s source code. Google does however use keywords as a spam signal, and for this reason many businesses have stopped using them altogether - probably to reduce the risk of appearing “spammy”.

However, we would strongly advise that you do make use of the keyword tag. Google is constantly making changes to its search algorithm, so who knows when it might decide to reintroduce keywords as a significant ranking factor? We believe it’s better to be safe than sorry!

As long as your keywords are relevant to the webpage they are assigned, reflecting the products and services you provide, and unique to each webpage on your site, there should be no risk of you being penalised for having spammy keywords. Make sure to stay away from “keyword stuffing” – the practice of overloading your meta tags/page content with as many keywords/keyword variations as possible, as this will most probably result in your website being penalised.

There are several suggested ways to format your keywords (e.g. with commas, with spaces, by limiting the amount of characters/words used etc.), but what we would recommend is for you to combine both words and phrases, and separate with commas. For example:

"Web design, web design Cheltenham, responsive website design, website design services, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, web designers" etc.

To conclude, adding meta data to your website is one of the things you can do yourself in order to optimise your website for search. While some meta tags may not carry as much weighting as others, Google search is now so competitive that we believe it’s better to cover all bases possible in the effort to get onto Google’s first page. Obviously, much of what we have described above relies on knowing what your money phrases are, which will require some in-depth keyword research and planning. For more information and advice about keyword research, please feel free to contact us.

We’ll be back soon with our next post of this series which will focus on optimising your page’s body content, so keep your eyes peeled for that in the weeks to come!  




Search Engine Optimisation, SEO, Meta Data, On Site SEO, Meta Tags


Web, Search


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