What Is an HTML Meta Tag? Definition and Meaning

An HTML meta tag is a small piece of information embedded in the source code of a webpage that provides information about what’s on that page. HTML metatags are among the many types of metadata that search engines and web browsers use to understand, classify, and index website content.

The term “meta” is rooted in the Greek language, in which it means “beyond” or “after.” In modern English usage, though, “meta” has come to mean “referring to itself.” You can think of metadata, therefore, as “data that refers to itself” or “data about data.” 

Since HTML meta tags are part of a webpage’s source code, they’re not visible to you as an end-user unless you elect to view them. For online business owners, though, meta tags are crucial to maintaining a functioning website that receives consistent organic traffic because they’re essential for helping search engines and users understand the information they can find on your site.


How Can You See a Webpage’s Meta Tags?

You can see any webpage’s meta tags by viewing the page’s source code. If you’re using the Chrome browser, for instance, you can view a page’s source code by right-clicking in the browser window and selecting “View Page Source.” You’ll see the page’s meta tags near the top of the source code. All of the meta tags must be enclosed within the page’s header, which is the section beginning with “<head>” and ending with “</head>.” We’ll discuss the most important meta tags next.

What Is the HTML Title Tag?

When you view a page’s source code, you’ll find the title tag in the section beginning with “<title>” and ending with “</title>.”

The title tag is arguably the most important of all HTML meta tags because it expresses the main idea of the entire page. That’s just as important for search engines as it is for you as a user, and you can see the importance of that by searching for any term on Google. The title of each search result – the link that you click to go to that website – is that page’s title tag. No matter what term you search for – whether it’s “vape juice,” “running clothes” or “vegetarian recipes,” you’ll see that term in virtually every title on the results page. Clearly, this indicates a strong link between title tags and the keywords that people use when searching for content online.

How to Construct a Good Title Tag

If you’re a website owner, constructing effective title tags is absolutely crucial if you want your site to receive organic traffic from search engines. You can search for just about anything online, and you’ll see that same search term in the title of nearly every item on the results page. Therefore, if you want a page on your site to have a chance to be shown on Google for a certain search term, that term needs to be in the page’s title tag. The title tag should also include your business’s brand name. If there’s space remaining for additional text, use that space for secondary keywords that further describe the page’s main idea.

TIP: In order to ensure that it won’t be cut off on search results pages, a title tag should be no longer than about 60 characters. 

What Is the HTML Description Meta Tag?

When you view a page’s source code, you’ll find the description meta tag in the section beginning with “meta name=”description”.”

The purpose of a page’s description tag is to summarize the content of the page in one or two sentences. When you search for a term on Google, the information shown below each title on the results page is often – but not always – that page’s meta description. Opinions vary as to how important the description meta tag is in helping a website achieve a high ranking on Google. It is certain, however, that description tags can make a difference in helping people decide which links to click when they view search results pages. 

How to Construct a Good Description Tag

Before you click any link on a search results page, it’s almost certain that you read that page’s description. If you’re a website owner, you should always write the meta descriptions for pages on your site with the knowledge that your potential customers will read them before visiting your site. A good description tag should summarize what’s on the page, and it should also be written in a way that encourages people to click through to your site and learn more. Do your best to make your site stand out on search results pages. Give people a reason to choose your site instead of the others.

TIP: In order to ensure that it won’t be cut off on search results pages, a description tag should be no longer than about 160 characters.

What Is the HTML Keywords Meta Tag?

When you view a page’s source code, you’ll find the keywords meta tag in the section beginning with “meta name=”keywords”.”

Are you unable to find the keywords meta tag in a page’s source code? There’s a good reason for that. The keyword meta tag is often discussed because it’s an important part of the history of the web, but it’s rarely used today. In fact, Google has explicitly told website owners that it ignores this HTML meta tag completely.

During the early days of the web, search engines didn’t have the ability to read, understand and index the full content of every webpage as they do today. Doing so would have required far more storage and computing power than what was available at the time. Instead, search engines only scanned and indexed pages’ metadata. Website owners used the keywords meta tag to tell search engines what the most relevant search terms were for pages on their sites. People quickly learned, though, that it was easy to abuse this meta tag by stuffing it with unrelated keywords. Abuse of the keywords meta tag reduced the quality of search results, so search engines largely began ignoring it as soon as their indexing capabilities improved.

Interesting Related Article: “HTML – definition and meaning