Lee Odden

Meta Tag Optimization: Baloney or Good SEO?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO

While perusing a new social network for the advertising industry, I noticed an interesting question posted regarding whether meta tags were relevant to search engine optimization. With all the hype about subjects like Google Universal search, personalization and social media, it’s fun to revisit some of the basic “textbook SEO” topics like meta tags.

As long as SEO experts have been publishing advice about things like meta tags, it was interesting to see perceptions of proper meta tag use were as varied as the respondents.

It’s sort of like asking how to treat the symptoms of the common cold. Ask 100 people that question and you’ll get a wide variety of responses ranging from chicken soup to Sudafed. Which one is the right answer? Which advice is obscure, unfounded home remedy? (Not that all home remedies are obscure and unfounded) 🙂

With the meta tags question, I do think it’s an easier task to find the “right” answer or at least one many professional search marketers will agree upon.

Anything you can do to make it easier for both users and search engines (bots) to understand a web document has benefits. While often abused, meta data does provide a small signal in this regard.

For example, most title tag writing efforts focus solely on being accurate. Some sites pay a slight homage to keyword use, but most title tag writing efforts do not consider the user, intent and outcome. Title tags should be a focused indication of the on page content with most important keywords on the left, yet written in sentence form and if relevant, with a call to action. This is both an art and a science.
As far as the meta description tag goes, it should be an elaboration of the title tag with the consideration that it’s use as a link description in the search results will influence clickthrough to the web site.

After working with literally hundreds of site optimization projects since 1997, the most common mistake I see is the non-use of any kind of meta or title tag, or more often, hard coding the exact same title/meta information on every page of the web site. This is akin to naming every chapter in a book the same thing. It might save the web developer and content editors time on site maintenance, but it does very little to distinguish one page from another. Especially to search engines.

Dynamic web sites can automatically populate title and meta description tags from other on-page content elements from the database. When used in combination with hard coded “broad keywords”, dynamic insertion of keywords and descriptions can provide a reasonable way to “have your cake and eat it too” in terms of having relevant information and site maintenance. This is not ideal, since the creative writing and call to action may not be present, but it’s much better than no tags at all or exactly the same tags on every page.

What are some of the common misconceptions you’ve seen with title and meta tag optimization?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. I had the same misconseptions like you.
    In my country (Hungary) a lot of webdevelopers have made the same mistake.
    I don’t know the reason. Maybe they just said:
    “I don’t give a shit. I have been paid for building a site, not to optimize it.”
    Optimization in Hungary is a quite new service, and a lot of homesite owner doesn’t know a service like that is exsisting at all.

  2. All meta information can be useful. Titles for direct ranking purposes, descriptions to increase your CTR from the serps. Keywords to use in PPC campaigns etc. But do you really have to use all of them everytime?

    But yes, there’s still al lot of misconception about it. There’s a whole floor of programmers below me thinking that I stuff meta-keywords tags for clients all day 🙂

  3. My favorite ‘type’ is the one I like to refer to as the Metatag Warrior.

    Usually, these are people associated with the site who read a bit about SEO and decide that it’s all about the meta-keywords tag: “You only gave me 36 keywords in the keywords tag! I want to show up for more than that!”

    Keeping in mind that in our environment, we write optimized and relevant title tags pre-release, these people are also those who, two weeks after launch, are asking if we can’t ‘change the title tags or something so we show up better.’

    I think metatags are important. I think the title serves as both an SEO element and as a conversion-oriented call-to-action on a SERP. But it’s not a magic bullet. The people who ‘read something’ tend to think SEO is all just meta-tags, and don’t see all the other components that make this a far more intricate and skilled practice.

  4. Meta tags are one area where SEO opinions will vary in part because it doesn’t really matter what people think. You can optimize with or without them. One myth is that the search engines don’t look at meta tags any more. In fact, they all look at meta tags (and at least two major engines still use Keywords to help with scoring for relevance).

    The real test for the meta tags is to ask SEOs what, if any, effect they believe the tags have on search results. You can safely ignore anyone who says “none” as someone who doesn’t bother to even do minimal testing.

    All you have to do is place a few meta tags with unique expressions on a page and see where you can find those expressions on the various search engines. Then the diversity in opinions will become less important.

  5. Thanks for the great post Lee. I totally agree that ignoring the title tag is by far the most commonly neglected opportunities for search engine optimization.

    We produced a video called “The Simple Secret to Search” about optimizing title tags and the “long tail” of search. It can be viewed off of our home page (www.newfangled.com) or linked/embedded to via YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4obmGdh7rA).

    Thanks again!

    Eric Holter
    CEO – Newfangled Web Factory

  6. I think the big illusions people have with meta tags go between the two extremes. Either the meta tags are nothing or they’re capable of amazing things for your on page optimization.

    I prefer a middle ground. They do some, and are worth adding, but not worth wasting too much time perfecting. I like to have the description be something I would want people to read since it can be used by the search engine.

  7. Thanks for the article. Your examples and comparison makes a lot of sense. We do a great deal of meta tag optimization for our clients and we know exactly how much work and research is involved, especially sites with hundreds of pages. And like the previous post, I also believe that there is a middle ground. Writing a call to action title for every page is a bit excessive, may be good for the homepage but impossible to implement for a site with hundreds of pages. But, we make sure that there’s always relevant tags on each page, as it is better than having nothing at all.

  8. Matt Cutt’s said that Google doesn’t pay too much attention to meta tags, but with meta description being used as creative in search engine listings, it must still be critical.

  9. I think is becoming less and less important but i feel good title tag and description are still good practices to do and i believe still carry weight. The only way to determine this is to do research and test this. I agree with Michael that alot of SEOs will just say it has no effect at all without doing the necessary research to back up that conclusion.

  10. I also notice about meta tags, that how many keywords or description you type really does not matter. but what was important is the content of the page. I notice lots of website made to top 10 or top 1 even if they only have 10-15 keywords but contents of their pages are flooded with useful keywords that will make them top in the rank.

  11. Agreed, it certainly does no harm to have them in place. We service a large number of clients and see a significant drop in the serps on the sites who’s tags get overwritten when design changes are made. I myself prefer to use them but use them in conjuction with other factors rather than base everything on them.

  12. Thanks Lee for such a hard-thought posts :)Like, as a content writer/editor, Meta Keywords are No No for me! I believe Meta Descriptions works in improving Search engine Rankings but Meta keywords are of absolute no use for now.Keyword Optimization is all about your talent on adding keywords in the content of the webpages. We have a very interesting post on “Are Meta tags still relevant to big search engines? But why are they still using it?” The Url is http://www.profitimo.com/Default.aspx?tabid=54&forumid=-1&scope=posts&threadid=26

    Would like to have the comments all who posted their commnts here! Thanks!

  13. I think this is an excellent question and one that certainly has many answers. Even though meta data is not trusted as much now as it once was, I still believe that optimization of meta-tags/title tags etc. undoubtedly helps search engines accurately categorize the site correctly, thereby making a site more “search engine friendly”. This being the ultimate goal, I consider meta-tag optimization to be good SEO. As mentioned earlier, however, other meta data including title-tags and description-tags are often neglected, despite the fact that they too contribute to the accurate explanation of a web site’s content and certainly affect rankings and click-thru rates.

  14. Great post!
    Also, don’t forget 2 more meta tags that can make or break your seo efforts:

    The new “Unavailable After” META tag
    The “ROBOTS” META tag



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