SEO is NOT dead, neither is Meta

Andrew Birkitt

Lead Technical Engineer
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Reading Time: 6 minutes

We quite often hear in the world of digital marketing that things are dead, SEO is dead or Meta is dead, there is always something. Well I can honestly say that neither is this the case now, nor will it ever be, like many things in the world of digital, it is constantly evolving and always will.
In the case of Meta and on-page elements it is true that they are not viewed by the search giants as being as important as they once were but they are still significant. Think of the on-page elements of your site as the foundation of your bricks and mortar store, if this foundation wasn’t strong or even in place then that store would come tumbling down around you. The structure of your site is the same, everything from the url itself through to the on-page elements.
So what is best practice when it comes to these elements of your digital campaign?

Meta Data 
Page Title <Title> Tags
This is still an extremely important part of your page in terms of the on-page factors that impact your rankings, but first of all let’s not confuse this element with the actual visible title of your page which is generally the H1 element or heading (although these may be the same). The page title in question is the text that shows up in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) as shown below and in the tab of your browser for the page you are on. The title tag has long been considered one of the most important on-page SEO elements there is, but in today’s arena it takes second place to content.Page TitleThe Search Engines at present will typically display the first 50 – 60 characters, or as many as will fit into a 512 pixel display in their search results, after that you will start to see an ‘ellipsis symbol …’ as can be seen in the above example. We use a pixel width measurement now as well as character count as the search engines changed the way they measure this sometime ago.
If you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95% of your titles to display properly. Keep in mind that search engines may choose to display a different title than what you provide in your HTML. Titles in search results may be rewritten to match your brand, the user query, or other considerations.
Your page title must be as accurate and descriptive as possible. In the past excessive use of “|” was a popular technique as it allowed web-masters to list multiple keywords or keyword variants. Start with your main keyword that is relevant to the page and be as descriptive as possible in the following characters in order to help capture long tail searches. It is also fine and a common technique to use a single “|” at the end of your page title and add your brand name in order to increase brand awareness in the Search Engine Results (SERPs).
Remember we are primarily writing for the user and not the search engines. Remember also that each page should be targeting a single keyword and we don’t want to be using the same keywords on lots of pages as this will cause a canonicalization issue and the search engines will struggle to determine which page is targeting which keyphrase.
So let’s take a look at an example. Let’s assume you are in the business of selling hot tubs you are going to be using the term hot tubs on a fairly regular basis, this term needs to appear in different ways throughout the site and in different areas of the sentence. 

Code Sample

<title>Example Title</title>

Optimal Format
Primary Keyword – description | Brand Name
Page Title Example:
Keyword + description/further detail | brand
Portable Hot Tubs, Plug n Play & Inflatable Hot Tubs
(52 Characters)
Keyword + description/further detail | brand
Marquis Hot Tubs, the ultimate hot tub experience
(49 Characters)

Meta Description
The importance of this on-page element if often overlooked as it doesn’t have a direct impact on your search engine rankings. However, neglecting the meta description is a mistake as it is your main advertising copy.
Meta DescriptionAs with the page title, the meta description should make use of your keyword research. The  keywords should be employed intelligently, however the copy should be created in such a way that the description is compelling enough to make the end user click through to your site. The stronger your meta description is and the more stand out it is among the myriad other returned searches the more likely the user is to view yours as the best. With the meta descriptions of the site you must maintain uniqueness between each page while ensuring to maintain page relevance.

The technique that we find best is giving a general insight in to your pages content and then making sure you end it with a clear call to action. Having a call to action helps make your result stand out. Search Engines will only display the first 150-160 characters, so your message needs to be concise and to the point, we generally aim for 155.
It is recommended that the language you use for your meta description copy is ‘action oriented’ as the meta description is telling the searcher what they can expect from the landing page they click through to, which is why you need this type of call to action.
Use verbs in the beginning of your meta descriptions such as ‘Learn’, ‘Discover’, then follow this up with some content that describes the page you are clicking through to. Don’t forget you can also use a call to action at the end of your description with such terms as ‘learn more here’, ‘buy now’ and ‘click for more’.

Code Sample
<head> <meta name=”description” content=”This is an example of a meta description. This will often show up in search results.”> </head>
Meta Description Example:
An inflatable or portable hot tub is an affordable way to enhance your outdoor living, fun to use and then pack away – find out more here!
(138 characters)

N.B. if you don’t provide a Meta description on your pages the Search Engines will create their own from the content on your page.
The previous two items are perhaps considered the main elements of on-page but there are a few others that still warrant a mention or even as you’ll see a warning.

Meta Keywords Tag
Perhaps one of the most dangerous areas for anyone new to on page optimisation, is that the meta keywords tag is still a relevant feature.
The Meta keywords tag once had some impact on a sites search engine rankings, but over time this feature was abused and used fraudulently, but this is no longer the case. The only thing that this will do is give your competitors a quicker insight in what you are trying to rank for.
It is also worth noting that since 2011 Bing has been using the Meta keyword tag as one of the indicators for search spam. As early as 2009 Google went on record with Matt Cutts, their then Head of Spam stating “Google doesn’t use the ‘keywords’ meta tag in our web search ranking”, he even took to YouTube to create a short video of the same name and you can still see that today here

H1 Header
Although there are various header elements available in html (H1 through to H6) the H1 header is the most important visual header on the page and is used to label the main content on your page. There is no specific limit to this element, but it is recommended that you keep it short and concise, similar to your page title. They have less value than they used to but they do still help the search engines to understand the key elements in a long topic on a webpage.
Under HTML5 you can technically have multiple H1s as it makes use of sectioning tags and each <section> and <article> start with their own H1. While this works in theory it is more difficult to understand and most in the industry still recommend a single H1 element per page and then utilise the other header elements to structure your document.
There is no real advantage to using Headers further than H2 other than making your code neater. When optimizing your site you may want to consider using the H2 element to highlight your sub-headings. On larger e-commerce sites you will often see that they have their main product categories in the navigation set to H2 headers, just giving them a little more weight.
There are some bad practices when using the H1 element and they are often created by the designers of the website, one is the practice of wrapping the H1 element around your company logo. This is generally in the header of your website and as such is an element that appears on every page. This has the effect of meaning you either end up with multiple H1s on a page (because you use them in your articles) or you end up with every page having the same H1 thus creating a duplication issue.
Another is an old school practice of hiding a H1 element on the page, this stems from the old days before CSS allowed you to style the elements and make the look much more appealing from a design standpoint. However, it was also used to hide keywords on a page and in this sense it would be seen by Google as spam and you may end up being penalised by the search engines.
It is still imperative that you use Meta and the array of on-page elements available to you to make you stand out online. These explanations and how to make them work for you should help, if you have any more queries please get in touch or leave us a comment and we will get back to you.

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