Tags and tagging help with SEO

By James Florence, Contributor

The term “tag” may be one of the most common in the SEO lexicon, but its meaning is far from homogenous. While most tags are basically HTML code attributes that describe webpage content, it can be hard to distinguish between meta tags, title tags, header tags and others. And then there’s the practice of “tagging” your posts, which is something else altogether. To cut through the confusion, we’ve defined the most common types of tags and provided a brief explanation of each one’s function.

Meta Tags

It’s bad enough there are so many different types of tags, but with meta tags, things get even more confusing, as there are numerous types. In a nutshell, meta tags provide search engines with information about websites via keywords, descriptions and other attributes. Meta tags aren’t actually seen on a website; rather, they’re hidden within its code, although they sometimes show up in other places like search engine results pages (SERPs) and social media.

Meta tags came about early in web development and were once a key search engine ranking factor—that is, until people started abusing them, mostly in the form of keyword stuffing. Google has since stopped using meta tags as a ranking factor, which is why many consider them to be more or less extinct in terms of SEO value. However, others say some meta tags are still beneficial, even if they don’t directly impact SEO. MOZ published a nice summary of which meta tags are worth bothering with and which aren’t.

The meta tag that probably holds the most value today is the meta description, which shows up in SERPs beneath a page’s title. Its value is two-fold: it not only attracts search engine crawlers, it also attracts users browsing the web. On a list of search engine results, meta descriptions give users an idea of what each page is about. In all likelihood, the pages that feature the most interesting and relevant meta descriptions will get the most clicks. In this way, your meta description can (and should) function as a kind of sales pitch that makes your site stand out in the SERPs marketplace.

Keep in mind that search engines generally have a 160-character limit for meta descriptions, so you’ll want to keep yours within that range. If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need to add a plugin like Yoast SEO to create a meta description.

Title Tags

A title tag can also be known by its more common name: title. The only reason it’s considered a “tag” is because it’s part of a website’s code, set off by <title>these things</title>. In WordPress, you simply use the big title bar at the top of your post.

Though as basic as it gets, a title tag is one of the most important kinds of tags in terms of SEO. Not only does it help search engines determine a page’s topic, it’s prominently displayed in SERPs, which is why you should write your title tags with both SEO and readability in mind. You should also include your company/brand name in each post title; even better, get specific about the product or service you’re advertising, and use your targeted keywords. If applicable, you can include the town or region where your business is located.

Here are a couple of examples of good title tags:

The Boss – The Biggest, Baddest Pie in Sonoma | JJ’s Pizza

5 Ways to Improve Your Move – Minotaur Moving Co.

Notice the line/dash separating the post title and company name. This format helps maximize the amount of information provided while maintaining a clean presentation. Also, consider the length: search engines generally have a 60-character limit for a title tag, so try to keep yours within that range.

Header Tags

When you’re reading an article and the text suddenly gets big

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it usually means the author has inserted a header tag. Header tags give structure to a page or article by emphasizing divisions and particular sections within its text. They function in a hierarchal fashion, with “h1” at the top and “h6” at the bottom, in descending order of importance, reflected by the successively smaller size of the text. Like other tags, headers can be denoted with code (i.e. <h1></h1>) or selecting from the “Paragraph” menu in WordPress.

Header tags provide a couple of benefits for SEO. First, Google puts a high premium on readability, and one way its crawl-bots determine this is by assessing an article’s structure. By denoting a coherent structure, header tags (as well as things like bullet point lists) make it easy for crawl-bots to do this. That’s why it’s important to use header tags in proper sequence. Secondly, header tags can signal to search engines the significance of a particular section of text, such as a bullet point list, which can influence the page’s performance in SERPs.

Time for an example: Let’s say you own a plumbing supply business and you’re posting a blog article about plumbing fixtures. First, you’d use an h1 header tag to emphasize your title (“Best Plumbing Fixtures for Your Home”). Within the piece, there might be a section about toilets, which you’d denote by using an h2 tag for its title. Within that section, there might be a bullet point list of the best toilet brands, which you’d denote with an h3 tag (ex.: “Here are the top 5 toilet brands:”) The use of a header tag here lets search engines know that what follows is a list of toilet brands. If you’re lucky, your list could wind up being the featured snippet at the top of Google’s SERP for the query “top toilet brands” or “best toilets”—a coveted position for any plumbing supply business.

Alt Tags

The term “alt tag” is actually shorthand for the alt attribute of a non-text element on a website, such as an image or video (it’s also known as “alt text”). When you upload an image or video to a site, you have the option to add an alt tag to the code. If you’re uploading an image of a water-saving toilet made by Universal Rundle, you might insert the alt tag “universal rundle water saving toilet.”

While users can’t see alt tags, search engines can. In fact, it’s the only part of a non-text element they can see, since search engine crawl-bots can’t index visual media. For this reason, your alt tag may be the only thing letting crawlers know your toilet image is relevant to your toilet article. In this way, alt tags are a simple yet useful tool for further improving site SEO. Keep in mind that an alt tag should describe what’s in the photo/video; it shouldn’t just be your company name or an unrelated keyword.

Blog Post Tags

Unlike the tags we’ve looked at up to this point, blog post tags aren’t a part of a webpage’s code; rather, they have an organizational function (we talked about this at length in our previous SEO for SMBs entry). In a well-designed site, the content is organized within a hierarchy of categories, subcategories and individual posts. Whereas categories and subcategories are organized by default, the only way to keep individual posts organized is to tag them with specific keywords that describe what they’re about. For example, if a user is visiting your plumbing supply website, they may be looking for information on water-saving toilets. By tagging all related posts with the term “water efficient toilets” or “water saving toilets,” you’ll make it easy for that user to find what they’re looking for. This is why blog post tags shouldn’t be used haphazardly (as they often are), but in a deliberate, organized fashion.

While blog post tags are primarily used to organize content and improve user experience, they can also impact SEO by helping search engines better understand what a website is all about. If you have several pages linked to the tag “water saving toilets,” this is a strong indicator to Google that water-saving toilets are an integral part of your site. Furthermore, a well-organized site structure makes it easy for search engine crawlers to navigate its pages, which can go a long way toward improving SEO.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of tags and their functions, take some time to look at your website and make sure you’re utilizing them properly. To learn more about SEO basics for your business website, check out the other entries in our SEO for SMBs series.

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