HTML Web Design Tags and SEO

A picture of some website styling code

Even though HTML is still the bedrock of every website, it is not mentioned that much anymore. Instead web designers talk about Cascading StyleSheets and the like. However, the humble HTML tag and its sisters still have a lot of power and where possible (and it always nearly is) they should be used to gain a site that little bit more advantage in the battle for rankings on Google, Bing and Yahoo.

The HTML code on every website is basically split into two parts. The(Header) section which is mostly not seen by the user and the(Contents) which holds all the text and pointers to the images, videos etc used, this allowing the Browser software (e.g Chrome or Firefox) to render the page up on a screen.

What impact do these tags have on SEO?

There is quite a lot of evidence on the impact that these Tags have on SEO, and whilst this has in some cases decreased, it shows that it is worth getting this area right, if that is, you want to impress the Search Engines (and therefore get better rankings and traffic / sales)

What is an HTML tag?

HTML is normal ASCII text, but as it is enclosed in a set of brackets it is identified by the Browser software as something to do with the way the page should be built up, or rendered on a users screen. There are many different tags, all of them having a specific job to do.

Some of these tasks are of special interest to the Search Engines, and it is these are the ones that require some special attention to detail as they help search engines understand what your content is all about.

However, whilst they still highlight the most important parts of a page (to let it stand out from the rest of the copy), today, Google and the rest of the Search Engines have other ways of finding out / deciding what a page is really all about. This makes these HTML tags less powerful than they once were.

Do HTML tags still matter for 2018?

As mentioned above, the power of the HTML tag has been reduced over the years, but today, they still have an effect on rankings and therefore should not be overlooked. Some designers and webmasters don’t use them anymore, but overall, the inclusion of the ones that do help SEO can do no harm and perhaps a deal of good.

What are the useful HTML tags then?

Useful HTML tags are the ones that:-

  • Enhance user experience (something that Google is very hot on) by improving navigation and match with the queries being made on the Search Engines (Google is also very interested in providing the best possible answers to the needs of the Searcher)
  • Help the search engines so that they know what are the most important parts of every page and which parts of the site they can ignore.
  • Make SERP results look more attractive and provide the searcher with as much information as possible.

The <Head> section.

1. Title tag.

Title tags are most often used by the search engines as a way of deciding what a particular page is about, displaying the contents of the Title Tag in SERPs.

The HTML code looks like this:

<title>”What Your Page Is All About”<title>

In the old days of the web, Title tags were of huge importance to search engines being one of the few ways they could work out what a page was about. Because of this, these tags were often stuffed with keywords and it all got a little mad…

Today the search engines still use the Title tag’s contents to help it understand what a page is about, but it is now only one input and hence is not as powerful as it used to be, this mostly being down to the fact that some, like Google now use semantic search (which looks at the ‘meaning of the page’ by analysing ALL of the parts of the page).

Despite the drop in power, Title Tags still help by:-

  • Making it easier to pick out the right site in the SERPs
  • Allowing the user to identify the site amongst all the other tabs in has open in their Web-browser
  • Increasing the effectiveness on Social networks as the tag is used when the page is shared

There is however an issue with Google

It is an annoying fact that after all your hard work in picking just the right, the perfect text for your Title Tag that Google then often chooses not to use it, displaying a totally different one.

The reasons why this may happen:-

  • You’ve stuffed the title with keywords — it is NEVER a good idea to do this, and when you do and Google spots it (they are not perfect) they will replace it.
  • When the title does not match the query string — Sometimes Google may choose to show your page for a particular query even when your title (or for that matter the content) does not match the query in question. They do this as they ‘think’ (and yes it is ‘think’ thanks to Google Brain) that the page is the somehow connected to the query and may just be able to help. In cases like this, the title is often rewritten, but hey, do you care as you have got a SERPs listing and that cannot be a bad thing.
    However, if you see that Google is rewriting your title for high-volume queries, especially any of your target ones, then do consider revising it.
  • There are alternative titles in this section— As Facebook and Twitter have their own tags, it is sometimes possible for Google to use them instead of your chosen title tag.

The best way to impress Google with your Title Tag

What is the ideal length for the Title Tag?

There is actually a very high character count allowed for the Title Tag, but it is best to keep them between 60 and 70 characters long. This does not mean that they won’t be truncated a bit in the SERPs listing, but most of your words will be included and you will also have made the best possible use of this precious resource.

Should you include keywords in your Title Tag?

You definitely should, but don’t over do it or you will find that Google will just re-write them all the time. You should include them, just be smart about it and endeavour to make it a ‘descriptive and unique title’. Above all else, write for your customers.

It has been found that including your keywords at the start of the title help, but do bear in mind that it should look sensible and readable. Never have lots of duplicate titles either and where it is not possible to avoid this, consider using the Canonical tag. If you don’t Google may think that you have lots of duplicate content and downgrade the overall quality of your website.

Should I include my Brand in the Title?

Where you have a well-known brand, there is some evidence to say that using it in the Title is a good idea. However, it is always best to use it at the end of the Title tag string as that way you are not ‘degrading’ those important keywords or the message you are trying to put across for that page.

2. The Meta description tag.

The Meta description is a short paragraph of text in the HTMLsection of the page. This is not visible on the page itself (unless you look at the source code) and is normally displayed in a SERP’s results after website’s title and URL.

In HTML it looks like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”Why people should visit your site”>

Does the Meta Description Tag have an SEO value?

The real purpose of the meta description is to entice people to click on the listing in SERPs and that makes it very important indeed. There is no doubt that the new ‘Semantic’ search methodology uses this data to determine what the a page is all about and thus whether the page matches any query. However the meta description is not really a ranking factor, but not using them can make Google consider that the site is not well run, as can duplicate descriptions.

Will Google always use your meta description text?

The answer is No, as in a similar vein to the use of Meta Titles, Google may decide that it is best using some other text that is used on the page. This to better match what is considered to be the intent behind the use of the query in the first place. Recent tests have shown that Google is making this decision in more and more cases, ‘query dependent titles’ being more and more common.

However, as a rule, Google will use the description specified in the, so it is worth taking the trouble to get this right. The best thing you can do in all cases is write a description that matches best the page’s content and what it can help users with.

How long should the meta description be?

For a long time, you had to use quite a short meta description length of 160 characters or less. However now, after years of this being slowly increased, it has now reached the heady length of 300 characters. However Google do not guarantee to show all of the words so it is still best to keep the Title as short and concise as you can.

3. Open Graph tags.

These tags in HTMLsection of a page are there to improve the power of the page in the many social networks that are in use today.

An Example OG tag:

<meta name=”og:title” property=”og:title” content=”The Rich Object For Your Social Media Postings”>

These OG tags allow you to control how the information about your page is shown when shared via social channels. This may help you enhance the performance of your links on social media, driving more click-throughs and possibly increasing conversions.

4. The Robots tag.

In some cases you may have pages that you don’t want Google to look at (index) and whilst you can also do this at a higher level with the robots.txt file, sometimes it is just easier to do this at the page level.

An Example to the HTML for the Robots tag is:-

<meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow”>

To be clear the use of this tag will not help your rankings per se, but it can help the site by allowing you to decide what Google sees and what it does not, this improving the overall quality score of the site by stopping Google thinking that you have some poor pages or duplicate content.

5. Canonical tag.

This is a very important tag as it allows you to decide what pages you want Google to consider as the best on the site, and which you want them to ignore.

An example of the HTML is:

<link href=”URL you want Google look at” rel=”canonical”>

As mentioned above canonical tag is important for SEO, there being two main ways it helps.

  • Most importantly, it tells the search engines which page out of a few similar ones is the most important, whilst also showing them that such pages should not be considered as duplicate content.
  • Secondly, it stops Google from getting confused about what page best matches a certain query string (so called ‘keyword cannibalization’), thus concentrating Google’s ‘mind’ on the best pages on your site..

There is also the BODY section of a page to consider, but we will leave that to our next post.

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