If you’re using a WordPress SEO plugin such as Yoast or SEOPress, you have the option to easily add meta tags to every blog post or page you publish.
But what exactly do these meta tags do, and why should you use them?
Here’s what you need to know.
What are meta tags?
Meta tags are short snippets of text that help search engines (and users) better understand what’s on the page.
There are several types of meta tags, but the most commonly used tags are:
- Meta description
These tags are generally not visible to users. Rather, they’re inserted within the HTML code of the page. However, some of the text may be shown in search engine results pages (SERPs), and a page’s title tag is usually visible at the top of the browser window.
Other tags can be used to guide web crawler bots (i.e. follow / nofollow), designate viewports, languages, authors, copyrights, maturity ratings and more. But most of these don’t have much of an impact on SEO, if any.
What’s the purpose?
Meta tags are intended to give hints to web crawlers about the content of a page. Of course, web crawlers can easily determine what the page is about on their own. But adding meta tags helps to provide some additional clues.
In the past, search engines like Google would use the meta description for the snippet that appears in search results. But these days, Google makes that decision based on the user’s search, sometimes pulling text from the meta description or the page content.
How do they help WordPress SEO?
Meta tags were commonplace long before WordPress. And they used to pack a bigger SEO punch than they do today.
In the early days of SEO, webmasters would stuff long lists of keywords into the meta tags. And in many cases, it worked. Before Google began frowning upon keyword stuffing, sites that crammed their pages and meta data with keywords sometimes ranked pretty well.
These days, SEO is a much more complex strategy that needs to be more focused on user engagement than keywords. But your WordPress SEO meta tags can still play a critical role in helping your pages get seen in search results.
Some keywords are better than none
Web crawlers still look at meta tags like title and description. And while adding your core keywords there won’t guarantee that your site will rank higher in Google, it can help ensure that your site does appear when someone searches for those keywords.
In other words, if your page is all about “red dog leashes,” and you want to improve the chances of somebody finding your page when searching for that phrase, then it’s probably a good idea to add that keyword phrase to your title, description and keyword tags.
No stuffing please
It helps to think of these meta tags in two ways: 1) as basic descriptors of what’s on the page, and 2) as ads. In other words, your title and description serve two purposes: describing the content and also compelling searchers to click your result, instead of others.
Don’t resort to keyword stuffing! This will hurt your rankings, not help them.
Plugins like Yoast help you keep your titles and meta descriptions at the proper length (around 60-70 characters for title and 155 characters for description) and optimize them with the proper “density” of your focus keywords.
Adding meta tags, by itself, will NOT skyrocket your site to the top of Google. But if you want your pages to rank at all, you should absolutely be customizing these tags every time you publish new content.