Calling Bullshit on SEO “Experts” Who Say Meta Tags Don’t Work

Traditional SEO tactics still matter

The trouble with reading blog posts about SEO is that everyone believes they know what they’re doing. Argumentative about it, even, as we all fiercely defend our little podium of truth.

But like many things in life – which we conveniently forget – everyone’s truth is different, especially when it comes to SEO. It’s deeply intertwined with levels of experience in an infinitely complicated field. It’s also a matter of semantics and context – something often lost in translation when we write.

“Truth” is actually opinion and perspective.

If you have two years of experience in SEO, your truths look very different from someone with ten years of experience. If you are a writer who wraps basic SEO into content, your SEO truths look very different from that of a programmer concerned with technical aspects.

Here are a few things that I know to be true, based on my own experience.

1. Any given website page or piece of content is a moving target, influenced by a dozen factors at that single moment of search. The content might be static, but the algorithm that finds it is constantly in flux, interpreting it differently from search to search.

2. What works today might not work tomorrow.

3. A first page result in Arizona might not be a first page result in Nevada, or even from city to city within Arizona.

4. What ranks when you are logged into your Google account might not rank when you aren’t logged in, so it’s always better to show results logged out.

And my personal favorite that inspired today’s rant…

5. A single fact spoken by a Google representative will be taken out of context by a hundred SEO professionals at varying levels of experience, or misquoted as fact in a single blog post then syndicated by ten other sites.

Whoops. Before you know it, that single misunderstanding is multiplied by a reach of thousands, adding to the confusion and misperceptions. The internet is a swirling cesspool of bad content that people don’t realize is bad content, with social media shares and comments piled on by people that didn’t read the article.

Content marketing is aggravating this, because everyone is suddenly a writer… no matter what level of real experience they have. If they don’t have experience, they do some quick Google research and spout off best practices everyone ELSE is writing about.

Every time you read an article, it’s important to remember it’s opinion, not fact. The only facts are what you can prove – and since that proof changes with every search, even proof is suspect! Today’s proof might be gone tomorrow, or look different to someone living in another city, state or country. Ha!

It’s a conundrum.  Kind of funny, when you think about it.

My favorite accusation to read online: “you claim to rank on page one for ‘_____’ (keyword phrase), but when I look, it doesn’t rank at all! You lied!!”  That person probably didn’t lie (hopefully?), it’s because of location specific signals and user context. My results will not match your results for the exact same search query.

Even SEO software struggles with this, pulling rank data by averages. If you rank on position four according to SEMrush or Moz, for example, that actually means you have AVERAGE RANK of position four, not an absolute rank.

Talk about shifting sands, right? No wonder so many newbies get their facts wrong. I feel a bit sorry for the business owners trying to learn it, and taking those erroneous “facts” as gospel. Double whoops.

Calling Bullshit on Meta Tag “Truths” 

But there are certain things you can call bullshit on, because they are just plain wrong. This is one of them that I found today in an article about cringe-worthy SEO myths. (Oh, the irony of an article about myths that is full of myths.)

The myth: Meta tags don’t matter.

What the article says: “The meta tag includes the title tag, meta description and keywords of a page. Many experts believed meta tags went the way of the dinosaur after the Hummingbird update. Sure, Google doesn’t use them as a factor in its page rankings anymore. However, they are still important as they not only tell search engines what your site is about, they tell users what your site is about. Without them, users are less likely to click on your link if it shows up in their search results. This means that even if they don’t matter as much as they used to – they still matter and they shouldn’t be ignored.

This mixes up terminology and is packed with partial truths, and it’s not just in this one myth, it’s in the entire article. Meta tags are a collective term for ALL forms of meta tag data – not just keyword tags.

Here’s what I might have said.

The (edited) myth: all meta tags don’t matter. (or alternatively, All keyword meta tags don’t matter.)

What the article could have said: “Forms of meta tags include the meta title, meta description and meta keyword. Many experts believed meta keywords went the way of the dinosaur after recent algorithm updates. Sure, Google doesn’t use keyword tags as a factor in page rankings anymore, so adding meta keywords doesn’t help. However, use of keywords within your content is still important. It gives Google and your readers context for what the article (and your website) are about. Two other meta tags still remain very, very important: meta titles and meta descriptions. Without them, Google decides what titles and descriptions to use, often generating less compelling snippets that users are less likely to click on, if it shows up in their search results. They shouldn’t be ignored.

Keyword tags don’t matter, but meta titles and descriptions are still essential tags

1. Meta keywords no longer matter, but other forms of meta tags absolutely do!  It is true that the specific meta keyword line of code that used to be in a page source code went the way of dinosaurs, but meta tags did not. Meta keyword tags did. Just meta keywords. Other meta tags remain important lines of code, so keep them.

The above paragraph in the article makes it sound like “a meta tag” is one thing – but it’s actually three independent lines of meta data: meta keyword, meta title and meta description.

If you use an SEO plug-in (I recommend Yoast), putting keywords into the keyword field makes absolutely no difference. (Yoast now calls it the “focus keyword,” instead of “SEO keyword” or “meta keyword.”) People stuffed this field with so much garbage that Google had to discount it. Instead of an important SEO signal for context, it had become a spammers nightmare.

2. Do keywords matter? Abso-friggin-lutely, people! You should be writing a blog post around one central topic, even if you don’t call it a keyword and haven’t the foggiest idea how to do SEO. That topic or keyword should be in the name of your page or post title and used throughout the content. But putting one or more keywords into the specific meta keyword portion of the code no longer matters.

2. Fill out your meta titles and meta descriptions for every page and post. It’s VERY important. These fields are what shows up in Google Search results. Also, including your keyword in both of them makes a HUGE difference in ranking. Using the above image as an example for this recent post, which happens to rank #1 on page one for “media list quality”, you can see what I used for the title and description.

This is a screenshot of what the fields look like if you use a current version of the WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in – it’s immediately below the content area when you are logged into your WordPress dashboard to make edits or create a page/post.

SEO example

 

Here’s what the Google snippet looks like (below), when I search for “media list quality.” It’s exactly the same, although Google added a date, making the page description cut off the last few characters. (I was not logged into Google when I captured this screenshot.) The snippet is the meta title and meta description that I created for that blog page.

SEO example

Not only did the meta data work, but it ranked on page one because the consistency of using the keywords in all three places. It gave Google the right information.(Adding a transcript for the video also helped, boosting keyword repetition and giving context.)

If you don’t give Google these meta tags, it will create its own. They are rarely good, costing you click-throughs!

These three fields are what matters: (1) your meta title, (2) your permalink and (3) your meta description. I call this “the magic trifecta.” Put your keyword in ALL THREE of them. It’s like magic SEO fairy dust for ranking, I promise.

Some meta tags still work, and BRILLIANTLY SO; keyword meta tags don’t.