Well…yes, and no! This article will explore which <meta tags> help and which hinder and are obsolete.
Traditionally, meta tags used to be placed in the head section of a webpage, hidden away from the public, they were used to help bots find out about your website contents. An example of such is given below.
With advances in search engine optimisation technology (SEO) the importance of meta tags has been superseded by the relevance of the page contents, rather than what the developer thought were the best keywords. Often, a website could receive a higher ‘click-rate’ than it should because the developer included popular keywords in the meta tags. If you wanted to drive traffic in ‘the good old days’ you would simply include keywords popular at the time – even if they had absolutely nothing to do with the site content! Wack “Spice Girls” in as a meta tag and you would get a higher ranking. This eventually became a real issue, with genuine websites ranking lower than those with irrelevant keywords. The search engines soon developed better algorithms that searched keywords within the page and marked up with – <h1><h2><section><article><strong><em><id=> -etc. In fact, it could now be argued that keywords hinder your ranking by restricting what people are actually typing to find your site. It can also have a detrimental impact on your website if your rivals can see the keywords you are using to try to attract customers.
<meta name=”description”> however, can be a very useful tag. In using the meta description tag, you can directly control what is displayed in the listing for each page displayed in the search engine results. Without this tag, the search engine will return what it thinks is a suitable description of your site.
You don’t need to restrict this tag to just a site description either, you could include phone and contact details so they are shown without the need to access your page. This can be very useful for a GP surgery were someone just quickly needs to find the phone number to book an appointment. It is also the quickest way to impact on the searcher. It is an easy way to tell prospective clients (in less than 155 characters) what you are about before they click. If your description better fits their need than a competitors description, you are more likely to get the clickthrough. So the description tag is not mandatory, but it can help you control the description of the site and potentially drive traffic.
The robots tag is invaluable if you want to “hide” certain pages or content from public search engines by telling the bot what not to crawl and what to crawl. You may have an employee or student area that you do not wish to include in a public search for instance. In which case you would just tell the robot to ignore those pages with a <meta name=”robots” content=”no index, no follow” /> in the header of the page you want to hide.
The Open Graph (OG) meta tag enables a web site/page to “become a rich object in a social graph”. In other words, sites like Facebook will use the OG tags to better understand the site content and display images and information about it. These tags are crucial if you want to control how your site looks when shared on social media. Although this may seem regressive- having to rely on meta tags again – they are based on RDF protocols and, if used, have 4 mandatory tags. If we use IMDB as an example, the following then is a list of required tags to create an open graph object =
- og:title – The title of your object as it should appear within the graph, e.g., “The Rock”.
- og:type – The type of your object, e.g., “video.movie”. Depending on the type you specify, other properties may also be required.
- og:image – An image URL which should represent your object within the graph.
- og:url – The canonical URL of your object that will be used as its permanent ID in the graph, e.g., “http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117500/”.
This would translate in HTML as
<html prefix="og: http://ogp.me/ns#"> <head> <title>The Rock (1996)</title> <meta property="og:title" content="The Rock" /> <meta property="og:type" content="video.movie" /> <meta property="og:url" content="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117500/" /> <meta property="og:image" content="http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/rock.jpg" /> ... </head> ... </html>
So then, in conclusion, it can be said that with the exception of the description meta tag – meta tags are dead? I would reluctantly answer – “if the purpose is to aid SEO, then yes. The meta tag is dead. However, if you want to control its description in a search engine, or the way it displays on social media then you still need to use them. OK, so the OG meta tag is not a meta tag in the traditional sense, it still needs to be placed in the header. This is something WordPress will not allow without the use of Plugins and trickery – but please, do NOT get me started on WordPress! WordPress is to Web Dev what “nighthawks” are to archaeologists!
So if you want great SEO, write well-formed code utilising the power of HTML5 with a sprinkling of meaningful <meta tags> that described its content, directs bots and creates Open Graphs for social media inclusion.
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