Meta tags and the head section of a website

Educate the crawlers

There are various parts that comprise a successful SEO strategy, and the meta tags of an individual web page are one piece of a much larger puzzle. However, these tags are critical for keyword targeting. Most meta tags are located in the Head section of the source code of your website. I suspect most of you just furrowed your brows and quickly thought, “What?” Each web page is built with code and each web page has three sections:
Meta Tags for Head Section

  • Head section
  • Body section
  • Footer section

Each section is identified in the code in the following manner:

  • The Head section begins with a <head> tag and ends with a </head> tag.
  • The Body section begins with a <body> tag and ends with a </body> tag.
  • The Footer section begins with a <footer> tag and ends with a </footer> tag.

We are going to discuss the various meta tags that are typically located in the Head section of your website.

The goal of Search Engine Optimization is to educate the search engine crawlers about the subject matter of a particular web page or digital asset (i.e. image, video or document). The Meta tags located in the Head section set the table by defining an individual web page’s subject matter or the page’s target keyword.

Some meta tags are more important than others, but it is crucial they all align with the page’s target keyword.

Title Tag

The Title Tag is part of the SEO Trinity. This tag must align completely with the page’s URL and content (The other components of the Trinity). It is one of the strongest signals that informs the search engines that a page is about X and directly impacts keyword ranking. There are a series of basic best practices for crafting an optimized Title Tag.

  • Use a maximum of 65 characters (including spaces).
  • The page’s target keyword should be at the beginning.
  • Each page must have one Title Tag.
  • Each Title Tag must be unique (never use the same Title Tag on other pages).
  • Branding always appears at the end of the Title Tag.
  • Separate branding with a hyphen or pipe.

A user sees the Title Tag on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). The user will not see this content on the web page itself.

Title Tag

Meta Description Tag

The Meta Description Tag indirectly impacts keyword ranking and greatly influences SERP click-through rate. SERP click-through rate directly impacts keyword ranking so the Meta Description Tag is very important. Here are some basic rules to follow when writing a Meta Description Tag.

  • Never exceed 150 characters (including spaces).
  • Utilize the page’s target keyword near the beginning of this tag.
  • Each page must have one Meta Description Tag.
  • Each Meta Description Tag must be unique (never use the same Description on other pages).
  • Use call-to-action language that will convince the user to click on your search result.

Users will see this snippet on the SERP, and it will not be visible on your web page.

Meta Description Tag

Meta Robots Tag

Use with caution. You really need to know how to properly deploy this tag and you need to clearly understand the various directives of this tag. Some directives instruct the search engines to index the page and some tell the search engines to pound sand. Meaning you do not want the search engines to index the page, which means that page will receive zero organic search engine referrals. Here are some of those directives:


The first set tells the engines to not include that page in the index, but to follow all the hyperlinks on that page. The second set tells the engines to index the page, but to not follow the links on the page that point to other pages. The final set of instructions tells the engines to ignore the page and all the links on the page. That effectively renders the page useless for organic referral traffic.

Open Graph Tags

Open Graph Tags (OG Tags) are used for crafting customized share messaging on some social network platforms. Facebook is the primary social network that pulls OG Tag information to create a user’s status update. Here are the typical OG Tags:

  • meta property=”og:title”
  • meta property=”og:description”
  • meta property=”og:type”
  • meta property=”og:url”
  • meta property=”og:image”
  • meta property=”og:site_name”

These tags do not impact ranking directly. However, studies have shown the top ranking pages for competitive keywords tend to have the most share totals from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other networks.

Meta Keyword Tag

The Meta Keyword Tag. What can I say? It really serves no constructive purpose for U.S.-based websites. Google does not give this tag any weight, but if abused it can lead to a penalty. Rumor has it, Bing relies on the Meta Keyword Tag if two pages are tied after Bing has analyzed the pages against 200-plus other ranking factors. Since it really provides zero benefit, but it can potentially harm your site, there is no reason to use this Meta Tag.

Other HTML Meta Tags

There are dozens of other Meta tags that can be utilized in the Head section of a website. However, I would not use them. Every line of code impacts page load speed and you want your web pages to load as fast as possible. A faster loading page is super important for improving your SEO. Since those other tags do not help with SEO and can negatively impact page load speed, it is best to avoid using them.

Image by: Stephan Geyer via Compfight cc

Garth O'Brien
Garth O’Brien is the Director and Global Head of SEO for GoDaddy. As a recovering attorney he began his Digital Marketing career while practicing law, but in 2006 he traded the courtroom for the world of online marketing full-time. Garth has owned the SEO programs for numerous small businesses and global enterprise companies, including IKEA USA, Hallmark, Windows Phone, Chevron and Xbox. He also has extensive experience with social media, blogging and paid search. Connect with Garth on LinkedIn and visit his website focusing on SEO, Social Media and Community.