What are Meta Tags? The 411 on Meta Data

Published: Feb 25, 2020
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Meta tags are snippets of "hidden information" found in a webpage's HTML code, usually in the "head" section. These tags do not appear on the actual page, but they inform search engines about the site's content and when used well, help improve a website's on-page SEO.

While creating original and captivating content helps you gain readers, effectively utilizing meta tags drives traffic to your site. Of course, to use meta tags effectively, you need to know what they are and how best to put them to work for you.

What do meta tags do?

Many meta tags exist, but only a handful are worth your attention. Specifically, the "meta title" and "meta description" can help you dial in your optimization process.

Meta titles are simply the title tag or name of a webpage. Meta description tags, on the other hand, are the bit of text that appears on search engine results page (SERP) below each result's meta title. Your meta description provides a quick summation of your content. While it is longer than the title, your description is only about 155 to 160 characters, so you want to use it efficiently, incorporating your target keywords without it feeling forced.

Why are meta tags important?

Meta tags like title and description may not be visible on the actual webpage, but they do appear on SERPs. It isn't just your site's position on Google that draws traffic—interesting and well-written titles and descriptions are more likely to grab users' attention.

Google's search results page example
Websites fight for readers’ attention with their meta titles and descriptions—so for less interesting topics, that makes them that much more important. Which one of the above would you click?

If you haven't added a meta description to your page, search engines like Google will often choose a snippet of text from the page itself. Depending on what text is chosen, this may not be helpful for giving users a sense of your product or your company.

Here are a few things to keep in mind while writing your meta descriptions:

  • Focus on writing a compelling description that includes target keywords
  • Using a call to action in the right instance can be helpful
  • Include information that explains the page, but keeps the reader curious—you don't want to give away the answer to a question before the user clicks on your page

Remember, if your description is too long, it will be cut off by the search engine, so plan wisely.

4 Common Approaches to Meta Descriptions

There are different approaches to meta descriptions and, depending on your goal, any one of these may be helpful.

1. Preview Information

Depending on the nature of your web page, you may want to use your meta description as a sneak peek of the content it contains. For instance, for its history page, Coca-Cola highlights a major event. This acts as a preview of the information on the page.

2. Unique Selling Point

If you're selling a product that has a distinguishing feature, you may want to draw attention to that specific quality in your meta description. For example, Snapple uses its meta description as an opportunity to emphasize the fruitiness of its drinks.

Similarly, TomboyX manages to show how it differs from other underwear sellers. The brand also succeeds in getting its attitude into the description.

3. Focusing on Keywords

If there are specific keywords driving your website's traffic goals, be sure to utilize those words. If you want to bring in consumers for your specialty coffee, for instance, using meta tag keywords that signal what type of coffee you provide will draw the attention of your target audience. Be wary of overusing them, however—exaggerated or unnatural-sounding language can end up driving potential users away.

4. Offers and Calls to Action

When you want to draw attention to a specific event, such as a sale or convention, you can do so through your meta description. For example, office supply company Staples tells users what it sells and invites them to shop its selection.


Meta tags may seem overwhelming, but they are a helpful tool in increasing traffic to your website. Learning to use the right, concise description won't just help the search engine understand where your page belongs, but it will grab the attention of potential users and consumers.

This article was written by Compose.ly writer Tamar Chalker.


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