Meta tags are one of the first elements you learn about when you study SEO, and they are usually the first element that pops up in the SEO analysis of a website. They are often misused by inexperienced online marketers, which can sometimes backfire on your SEO efforts. However, when properly used, they can augment the effect of the content that you put out and help increase your search engine rankings. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the various ways in which you can use meta tags, and split them into three categories: effective, ineffective, and useless.

Effective Meta Tags

There are several meta tags that are basically essential—they should be present on every page. These are very effective. However, as you will notice, they are not very numerous.

  • Meta content type – This meta tag will declare the character set for the current page. If you leave this one out, there may be issues with the way the browser renders the page. This tag is usually added by your web designer.
  • Title – The HTML <title> tag is not really declared as a meta tag, but it nevertheless is present in the header of a page, and the header contains information that is crucial to SEO. This tag should be unique for each page, and the more descriptive it is, the better.
  • Meta description – This is one of the most famous meta tags, because it is the description that shows up on search results. However, it doesn’t always have an effect on the way the search engine ranks a page. It should be regarded as ad copy, and its main goal is to encourage a user to visit the page. The tag should be 160 characters at most, and it should always aim to grab attention and encourage visits.
  • Viewport – The viewport tag is meant to specify the ideal screen for the page, and it is essential for a proper mobile experience.

Ineffective Meta Tags

You will see some websites try to take advantage of these tags, but in most cases, they are simply ineffective. They are:

  • Social meta tags
  • Robots
  • Tags related to specific bots (Googlebot)
  • Language
  • Geo
  • Keywords
  • Refresh
  • Site verification

The tags on this list are either artifacts of previous SEO best practices, or they work with one search engine, but not any others. Generally, they are meant to perform tasks and guide search engines in a certain direction. However, there are situations where these tags actually have a negative effect on Google’s crawlers, and some of the tasks are better handled through other commands nowadays.

Useless Meta Tags

While the tags in the previous list still see use by some SEO marketers (and there are some situations where they may be marginally useful), the tags on this list have no impact on SEO or website performance. These tags are:

  • Author/web author
  • Revisit after
  • Rating
  • Expiration
  • Copyright
  • Abstract
  • Distribution
  • Generator
  • Cache-control
  • Resource type

These tags are mainly descriptive, with some of them being outdated SEO tags. You also have several that are redundant, such as the distribution, resource type, and copyright tags, which present information that is better handled elsewhere already. All in all, you can skip these tags, or remove them from your site altogether.

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