Meta tags are extremely important to search engines, they tell them what the page is (supposedly) about.
Notice that I said page there, and not site. This is something important to remember, that search engines rank web pages, not websites, and will give you a clearer picture of what each meta tag is for.
Think about Wikipedia and the tens of thousands of pages on just about every conceivable topic – when you see Wikipedia in the results it is the individual page that shows up, not the home page (otherwise the results wouldn’t be very helpful).
And this is how you need to think of your websites pages, that they are each about a different topic, and so they need meta tags that reflect this and the topic they cover.
We regularly get asked to look at websites where for example we find that the meta title is the same on every single page, often just the name of the company or the website.
This isn’t very helpful for humans or search engines, since when, or rather if, they see your web page appear in the results, they don’t have a clue what it’s about.
You can think about the meta title being a bit like the title you’d find down the spine of a book, so that when you look on a bookshelf you can easily find the title that you’re looking for.
Imagine if you went to the library to look for a book by an author who’s written 100 books, and all of the books had just the name of the author as the title down the spine.
Imagine how difficult it would be to find the book that you were looking for.
Well your website might have 1000 pages or more, and if you haven’t given all of those pages a clear title then this is the kind of problem that you’re creating.
Your meta title wants to be a maximum of 60 to 70 characters long including spaces.
The next meta tag is the description, which is a couple of lines of text that should describe what each individual page is about, and that appears in the search results under the title.
Carrying on with our book analogy, you can think of it as the blurb on the back page of the book that tells you what the book is about. If it isn’t there or is vague, then it again makes it very difficult to know whether we want the book or not.
You should think of the meta title and description as a mini sales pitch to entice people to visit your website.
Many people make the mistake of trying to jam them full of keywords thinking it’ll help them to rank better, but what’s the point if no one clicks through to your website because your title and description don’t tell them anything useful?
This is a very important thing to remember. There’s a great book by Jay Abraham that I highly recommend called “Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got”. You can get it on Amazon here.
In this he points out that there are only 3 ways to increase your business:
1) Increase your number of clients.
2) Increase the average spend per client.
3) Increase the number of times they buy from you.
The most powerful improvement to your income is when you can increase all 3.
Most people when they try to optimise their website get stuck at no.1 – they imagine that by getting higher in Google they’ll get more visitors, which will equate to more clients. And they’re probably right.
But they sacrifice the visitor experience and quality for that ranking.
If they concentrated instead on the quality of their website, the visitor experience, and the optimisation of the above, then they’d almost certainly find that they got more business from the visitors they already get. Plus they’d get more people clicking through to their websites in the first place, giving them even more clients.
And by doing this they’d lead naturally into no.2 & no.3 above, giving them the best of all worlds.
So that’s why you need to focus your meta titles and descriptions to your potential visitors, not the search engines.
Your description wants to be no more than 160 characters including spaces.
Finally there is the meta keywords tag. Most people will tell you that this is no longer used by search engines, and they might be right, but why not fill it in anyway, just in case?
Again, don’t try to jam it full of hundreds of keywords, just a handful that best describes the content on the page.