How to rank for search engines with HTML meta tags

Everybody wants to rank on search engines, but how?

You can’t just expect people to find you.

In order for your web pages to be found, they must be indexed.

The only way for them to get indexed is with the help of HTML meta tags.

Search engines like Google made a lot of changes and improvements towards how they reward websites. Over hundreds of changes are being made in its algorithms in a year, but the basics and foundation remain the same.

Do not get flaunt with new terms or by fancy guru advice.

Things are constantly changing, and I can’t stress enough the basics that people are getting to forget.

HTML meta tags are the basics for SEO. Learn these, these are the basics.

Lost those basics?

We are here to help you build up a solid foundation of what HTML meta tags are. And how these meta tags help SEO.

There are many meta tags you can use, but these 7 are the ones that work best and have the most significant impacts on your SEO effort!

What Are HTML Meta Tags?

HTML meta tags are little pieces of code that you intersperse in the HTML code of your web pages.

This code, like other HTML tags, is invisible to the human eye because it’s embedded in the page and is converted into a form that can be interpreted by the browser.

It can be inspect by technical audit service or done through manually by checking the source code of the page.

It defines how your page is to be displayed in a browser and sometimes how it will be indexed by search engines.

They also tell search engines what your content is all about and how best to rank it.

Why Do Meta Tags Matter?

You must be wondering “what is the big deal about meta tags?”

Well, in order to understand how meta tags really work and why they matter to search engine optimization, let’s see what a browser does when it visits a web page.

It first looks at the page’s content and then based on the keywords that are used in that content, it decides which pages match the same keywords.

There are several ways this process works but ultimately results in a list of pages that match your keywords.

Then the browser visits the other pages. This is called crawling.

A search engine spider or crawler is what the technical term is for this process.

And it depends on meta tags information to do this job correctly and even more matters, accurately.

It also helps a search engine in deciding what pages might be relevant to your target keywords.

These tags matter because they are the crucial elements that a search engine constantly looking for to have a better understanding of your content.

Now, let us look in-depth at these 7 types of important meta tags that can benefit you in your search engine optimization effort.

1. Title Tag

This tag defines the title of your page, so the browser can understand what it’s all about.

It is crucial in ranking because there are no other ways for a search engine or searcher to know what your page is all about and how it relates to its target keywords.

A good title tag is like a good book title.

You know you had to get the book just by having a look at the title, even though the book is wrapped and seal perfectly in a bookstore.

The same goes for a website title.

A good web page title will intrigue click-through from the searcher itself.

Find out more about how you can increase the click-through rate by optimizing your title tag here.

How a Title Tag looks like: {title}YOUR PAGE TITLE{/title}

2. Meta Description

A meta description is like a book description.

It too should go well with the title tag but is not as crucial.

You should at least use some text in your meta description that’s related to your page or what it has in terms of information.

Write them as you would read as well, do not keyword-stuffed them.

It’s not the year 2000.

A good example is something like the following: “Learn how HTML meta tag help in SEO so that you rank better from search engine.”

Since your content will be indexed by keywords, having your targeted keywords in a title and meta description that defines them helps visitors find you quickly.

Get used to our SERP Snippet Preview Tool to make sure everything fits in nicely for your SERP results.

How a Meta Description Tag looks like: {meta name=”description” content=”Your description over here. Best kept within 180 characters.” /}

3. Canonical Tag

Every SEO specialist will tell you that you must have unique content in order to stand out and be ranked, and they are right.

But in some cases when you have more than one page with almost the same content, then the canonical tag must be used.

This helps Google know which page is the original version of that particular content and which is the duplicate or new content that was derived from it.

In short, the URL you put in your canonical tag would be the most important version.

How a Canonical Tag looks like: {link rel=”canonical” href=”” /}

4. Alternative (Alt) Text Tag

Are you aware that a search engine cannot read images?

They see things in terms of keywords.

The alt text helps the search engine understand what’s inside an image.

For instance, if you use a stock photo or any other kind of image in your post and the search engine has no idea what’s actually there, it will have to go through all kinds of possibilities using its crawler and algorithms to find out.

If you stick a notice and say “a picture here” or “a screenshot of above image”, it will help the search engine understand what’s inside.

It would be better if your alt text is descriptive of what the picture is telling.

Furthermore, if the image does not load due to whatever reason, the “alt text” will be displayed.

How an ALT Tag looks like: {img src=”YOUR IMAGE URL” alt=”Alt text in here” /}

5. Robots Meta Tag (directives)

This meta tag is an important entry for search engines to have the right information about your web page.

To put it simply, this tag helps search engines decide how they should handle your page content in terms of crawling and indexing.

It gives clear instructions to the bot on how to handle information found in your content.

For example, should they follow or no-follow links found on the page?

Should this page or post indexed or no-indexed?

Some of the PARAMETERS: noindex, index, follow, nofollow, none, noarchive, noimageindex, and many more.

For greater details, you can check out the Google documentation here.

How a Robot Meta Tag looks like: {meta name=”robots” content=”[PARAMETER]”}

6. Heading Tags

The heading tags, which include H1, H2, H3, etc., are important because search engines use them to understand what’s the main theme of your page.

In a way, it also defines how important the part of the section of content is.

H1 tags bring more weight than the rest and are used for the page title, H2 tags are used for subheadings, and so on.

Headings are a good practice to segment your long-form article into easily navigable pieces.

How a Heading Tag looks like: {h1}YOUR H1 Tag{/h1} {h2}YOUR SUBHEADING HERE{/h2}

7. Responsive Design Tag

Responsive design had been standard practice in the web industry not so long ago.

People are moving from desktop to laptop and to mobile and moving backward again.

It’s impractical to design a different version of web pages for all the different sizes of devices.

Thus, the need to create a responsive web design.

A responsive web design is simply a website or webpage that can be viewed on all kinds of devices from desktop to mobile gadgets and everything in between.

But this doesn’t mean that you will have the same content for all devices.

It has parts or sections of the content that are updated depending on the screen size and resolution of the device used.

A search engine will know how to interpret this information by looking at your “meta viewport”.

It’s kind of a catch-all meta tag that’s suited for displaying images or other elements in different ways.

For instance, on a laptop or desktop screen, it will display differently than the iPhone.

It says to search engines that they should display the page content in a more responsive manner based on the device upon which the page is accessed.

Mobile-friendly is the term to assess whether your web page is up to todays’ web design standard.

Here’s a mobile-friendly test from Google itself.

How a Responsive Design Meta Tag looks like: {meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1″}

How to Check a Website’s Meta Tags

In order to identify the meta tags used on your website, you can either go with an easy or difficult way.

  1. The difficult way: On the web page itself, right-click on the screen and you should be able to see the “view page source” option. Click on the view page source and start going through the source of your HTML code. Use the find function and type in the exact command of those meta tags for easy identification.
  1. The easier way: Installed an SEO Meta Chrome Extension. The extension enables us to extract all meta information in one click.

JustRank is using the “SEO Meta in 1 Click“, you can use others that you feel comfortable with.

With the extension, you’ll be able to view all the 7 meta tags that we discuss above in one view.

A word of caution: you need to be aware of the data or information these extensions will be collecting, use it at your own risk.

Do Meta Tags Help in SEO?

It depends.

In my humble opinion, meta tags are one of the first things a crawler will see and interpret when it visits your website.

I concur that meta tags do not matter as much as they used to but they still help in improving the ranking of your website on SERPs.

It certainly helps the search engine to understand the content of your page better.

It helps them to understand how important that particular part of the website is.

In general, meta tags do matter in SEO.

But I caution you not to overuse it and to mainly use it for additional information.

It’s a good practice to use “meta tags” but it’s not a good practice to exploit them.

Get a better understanding of our beginner’s guide to SEO to have a better grip on the general view of SEO.

So my advice is if you want to squeeze out a little bit more for your SEO efforts, then you should start paying attention to meta tags.


We need to change the way we think about SEO.

It’s not just keywords, links, or content though those are still the most important part.

We need to maximize our reach by getting everything there is to offer on our end, especially for small businesses that need SEO but lack the resources.

This is why meta tags are essential for gaining a little edge over others and to have the maximum benefits or effects.

Need a second opinion on your technical SEO?



Joe is passionate about SEO and has been working in the digital space for more than 10 years. Founded JustRank and aim to share his knowledge and passion about search engine optimization. Most love phrase - "David vs Goliath". Connect with me on Linkedin.