Tom Nason Team : Project Manager Tags : Web Development SEO

Meta tags in 2016 – Do they matter at all?

Tom Nason Team : Project Manager Tags : Web Development SEO

There was a time when hidden meta tags played a big role in the way search engines ranked pages. Web masters would spend hours obsessing over title, description and keywords tags, with the time invested often paying big dividends.

Is this still the case in 2016? In an age of machine learning, artificial intelligence, hover boards and self-driving cars, are Google, Bing and Yahoo! still reliant on such primitive snippets of information?

The short answer: No.

Search engine optimisation today has far more to do with the relevance and reputation of high-quality content, overall user satisfaction and popularity than the contents of meta tags. In fact, experiments show that even expertly optimised meta tags generally have no positive impact on a pages ranking.

So can we retire them completely? Not just yet.

Which traditional meta tags still matter?

  • Title – In years gone by, the <title> element, though not technically a meta tag, defined the heading under which your page was listed in search results. It’s still highly recommended that you include a unique title, though Google and Bing will often generate their own to ensure results are relevant to the user’s specific query.
  • Keywords – Google and Bing have both confirmed that they no longer consider the meta keywords tag. Despite its deprecation you'll still find corresponding fields in many Content Management Systems, though these will likely disappear gradually over the coming years.
  • Description – The meta description tag is still important, though modern search engines now use it only for display purposes. Google will often generate its own description, overriding yours entirely if it doesn’t feel it relates directly to the users search term. This might include a mixture of content from your website as well as external sources such as the Open Data Project. They do however still recommend that you provide your own as it may still be used in certain situations. Bing takes a similar stance. Sadly, experiments show that Yahoo still uses the tags for ranking purposes, though it is worth noting that their market share currently sits at roughly 8% globally and 1% in Australia.

Other considerations

  • Optimise for mobile Google is averaging 500 algorithm changes a year with most directed at improving user experience. Websites with a solid mobile layout are viewed in a more positive light than their outdated competitors.
  • Make use of Structured Data – Leverage Structured Data to annotate your articles, events and products. This helps machines categorise your content and allows you to take advantage of enhanced presentation options in result listings.
  • Buy an SSL certificate – Google actively penalises sites that aren't served over the HTTPS protocol and others are likely to follow suit.
  • Conduct regular health checks – Use Google Search Console to check in on your index health. Spikes in errors, incorrectly handled redirects and other crawler level issues are quick to undo your hard work.

Key takeaways

Focus on user experience by creating engaging content that presents well across devices. Continue writing unique title and description tags as they may be used to display your listing but don’t be alarmed if they are ignored. Don’t waste any energy on keywords. Instead, use the time to ensure that you’re making the best possible use of Structured Data and other emerging standards.