Meta tags (also called: meta elements) are used when creating pages in HTML or XHTML. These tags can describe the content of a website precisely. This element enables you to pass on structured metadata via the website. The meta data can vary depending on the description of the desired attributes. Meta tags can be used to describe a page in more detail.
A meta element can be used to mimic the HTTP response of a header or to anchor additional meta information in the HTML document, such as the author of a text with an author tag, or the way characters will be displayed through the content type tag.
In HTML5 there are a total of five valid attributes that are available for the meta tag:
http-equiv is used to imitate the HTTP response of the header.
Meta tags can be declared in the header of the HTML or XHTML document.
Meta tags are generally coded in the header of a HTML document.
The following example shows a meta tag being declared with the attributes
description, the value
content with the corresponding description:
<meta name ="description" content = "This is the description. It should be about 155 characters long.">
The search engine is given the description for this page: "This is the description. It should be about 155 characters long."
Another example is the attribute
content with the value
refresh and the attribute
content with the value in seconds. It would look as follows:
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”100”>
The meta tag passes the information to the browser, which will reload the current page every 100 seconds.
Meta tags provide valuable information about the website mostly to help the search engines to classify them correctly. For the users, Meta-tags are usually not visible although the description and title can be visible to the user in the SERPs.
In the 90s, the technology of search engines was not yet as advanced as it is today. At that time, search engines were more dependent on meta information and this was considered to be one of the most influential ranking factors. At that time, many webmasters were easily able to influence or even deliberately manipulate search results using meta tags.
Due to the continued development of the search engines, meta tags are increasingly losing importance. Some of the meta tags are still important, however, and should not be neglected (such as robots tag, title tag).
titleof the attribute
<meta name=”title” content=”OnPage SEO”>
The meta title tag is controversial. It has the same function as the title tag. That is why experts do not agree whether it is really relevant for search engine optimization. Some are convinced that it is benefitial to use them, while others dispute this. In the example above, the following heading was specified:
In practice, the Meta title tag will be equated to the title of the HTML document. Whilst the Meta tag is actually superfluous, the title is a ranking-relevant element of a website, which is moreover shown in the SERPs.
descriptionof the attribute
<meta name=”description” content=”You are on the ryte.com website and this description should be about 155 characters long.”>
In this example, the search engine would see the following description for the page:
“You are on the ryte.com site and this description should be about 155 characters long.”
Most search engines support the attribute
description such as Bing. Google, however, will only access the information in the meta tag if the information is requested via the page.
description provides a precise description of the contents of the website. This enables the website authors to describe the content more accurately. The description will often, but not always, appear in search results, therefore it is a factor in whether or not a page will be clicked on. It is not specified how long this description can be, but it is recommended to stay within about 175 characters.
The tags named with Meta Description are important elements in increasing the CTR in search results. Along with the title, they can be used for featured snippets.
keywordsof the attribute
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Meta, Attribute, Keywords”>
As shown above, you can indicate to the search engine which words are relevant to the content.
keywords became very popular in 1995. A decisive factor for this was the former search engines Infoseek and AltaVista.
It’s popularity grew so rapidly that this attribute was used quite commonly.
But by the end of 1997 it became clear that the meta tag
keywords could lead the search astray and it became obvious to the search engine operators that this had to be corrected. Therefore, the priority of the attribute
keywords dropped abruptly in the search engines algorithm.
By 2009, all the major search engines had abandoned support for the attribute
keywords. However, in September 2012, Google announced that the meta tag
keywords would be relevant again for news editors. Unlike the non-relevant meta tag
keywords, the new
news_keywords is now of importance for search engines.
languageof the attribute
<meta http-equiv=”language” content=”de”>
The “language” attribute tells the search engine in what language the page is written (such as French, Spanish or German). Usually, the language is then specified as IETF language tag (i.e. de for German or fr-ca for French in Quebec). That is of particular interest for operators of websites, which are written in several languages. Using the language tag, you can tell the search engine which languages are used on what pages.
robotsof the attribute
<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow”>
robots is supported by the relevant search engines. The tag tells the search engine crawlers (or spiders) what information should and should not be taken into account.
In the above example, the crawlers of the search engine are told not to follow the links on the page. In order to take the website off the index of the search engine, you can add the value
noindex, so that this page will not appear in the search results of the search engine. Other useful values would be
nosnipped, whereby the first directs the search engine not to save the page in the archive and the second specifies not to list the page in search results. Another way to block the search engine crawler or disallow an action is the robots.txt.
The “refresh” attribute can not only be used to reload the page, but also to direct visitors to another page.
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”10;url=http://www.ryte.com” >
In this example, visitors to the page will be redirected to the Onpage site after 10 seconds. The Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers have an option to disable redirecting through a meta tag. As some browsers have problems with the back button with this type of redirecting, it is scarcely used.
The fields of application of meta tags are diverse and are a good way to provide additional information for the search engines. The meta tags mentioned herein are only a small part of the total range. Unfortunately, their influence on the result in the search engine algorithm has been continuously downgraded. Today, they are no longer as crucial for the success of a page as they used to be. Today, the Meta-Description as well as the title of a website (often incorrectly called Meta-Tag) are important for search engine optimization.
In order to provide search engines with extra information, or to optimize for Rich Snippets, it would be worth using Markups in the source code or with JSON-LD instead of Meta-Tags.