How Important is Meta Information on a Business Website?
It’s no secret that search engines don’t place a lot of stock in meta information on a website. When the web was first becoming popular and search engines were still taking shape, meta tags were very important to your business site’s SEO. But that was back in 1995. Even in 2001, SEO writers were already scoffing at web developers that placed too much emphasis on meta tags, particularly the keyword tag.
But when you run a web business, you have to avoid getting tunnel vision on what search engines would like you to do. Your goal is to get traffic to your website and convert those visitors into customers. Search engine traffic is can only satisfy a portion of this goal. While the meta title and meta description can still be optimized to draw site visitors, and are actually vital to establishing a strong Internet business presence, one tag can actually do you more harm than good, and should be left out of your website’s code at all costs. We’re speaking, of course, of the keywords tag.
Why Delete the Keywords Tag?
Open up any web page in your favorite browser. If you use Google Chrome, you can simply right-click on a blank spot on the page and click “View Page Source.” Web savvy readers can also extract the page’s code source using a variety of free tools. Near the top of the document, you’ll see the section dedicated to meta information. As an example, here’s what the source code looks like for one webpage:
As you can see here, the meta information follows directly after the page declaration, and only the meta title is actually filled in. In this example, search engines would choose a meta description to display when the page is present in search engine result pages, and would not use the keywords tag.
The big problem with the meta keywords tag is not only does it not factor into search engine rankings, but it also gives your competitors an easy window into your keyword data. Competitors can easily click on “View Page Source” just like you. Although some keywords will be obvious to your niche, others that you might include in the keyword tag may reveal your SEO strategy all too readily. It’s best to not give your competition this window, and simply leave the keywords tag blank.
As a side note, it is possible to cloak meta information from peering eyes, or even use a WordPress plugin to automatically generate and manage meta descriptions. At one site I worked on in the past, an online payday loan service site, we used the Yoast SEO plugin to custom manage all meta data, and it worked well as you can see in the source code.
What About the Meta Description?
It’s true that the meta description also doesn’t hold any sway when search engines are concerned. But the meta description is a vital portion of your business strategy, and should never be ignored. There are a couple of reasons why:
- Meta descriptions offer a glimpse of what your page is about — it’s what potential site visitors see when they read about your site in search engines.
- A well-written meta description can stand out above other search results, possibly taking up more valuable first page results in search engines.
One notable example of a meta description lacking much substance but taking up a huge amount of first page real estate in search engines comes from the leading SEO blog, SEObook.com. According to the article, one web developer took advantage of both ASCII art and creative meta description listings to create this:
You certainly don’t have to go as far as using ASCII art in all of your meta descriptions, but it is worth thinking about for some pages.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the meta description for business websites is the call to action. One of my first marketing teachers made an important point about the description when I was first starting out in SEO. I was working on a rather large website when my teacher asked me why I wasn’t writing custom meta descriptions. When I replied that they don’t factor into search results and are generated automatically by Google, my teacher flipped out on me — “Why would you, as a marketer, let someone else present your message to consumers? Shouldn’t you be controlling as much of your business message as possible?”
And he brought up a great point. Why let Google automatically generate your meta description when you can choose the message your potential customers see when they come to your website? Since then, I’ve written my own meta description for every web page I’ve ever published. When writing meta descriptions for your own sites, keep the following in mind:
- Write about two lines per description, or about 25-30 words.
- Keep the description under 70 characters — most search engines cut off descriptions after 160.
- Make sure the description is relevant to the content on the page.
- Keep your language short and punchy. You have to make the right first impression, which doesn’t start with a long-winded history of your company.
- If you’re struggling to come up with good meta description content, remember the order of operations for calls to action — Services, Value, Timeliness, Relevance.
Finally, the meta title should be a no-brainer — use it! To a web visitor, the meta title is displayed on each window tab at the top of your browser, usually cut off. Effective meta titles typically consist of the business or website name, followed by the title of the content on the page. For Epic Launch, this might be the name of the site followed by the name of the blog post:
- Epic Launch | How to Start a Business
- Epic Launch | 99 Ways to Make $1 Million Tomorrow
Remember that the keywords tag should be deleted, and you should never ignore your descriptions or titles for a business site, and most of the meta information work is already done. Taking the two minutes or so to write a proper meta description can be the difference between falling flat on search engine results, or standing out among your competition — even if they’re beating you in the SERPs.