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Metadata for SEO

The ultimate guide for your website

Metadata is the foundation of good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). In this in-depth guide, we’ll talk about all types of metadata and how you can write a good meta description, do solid keyword research, and structure data in a way that drives traffic to your website.

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What is metadata?

Metadata means “data about data”, an apt definition as it is data that describes other data. The term is used in many different industries. In search engine optimisation contexts, the term is used for descriptions of the content that is present on a page. The term is also used, as an example, in photography, where metadata is used to register the time you take a picture.

In this article, we will focus on the type of metadata that you can use for SEO on your website. This is metadata that describes your website, your articles, blogs, products, pages, and more. Let’s get started by describing the major types of metadata that are used on websites.

Meta tags

Meta tags are the tags that include your metadata. Meta tags can have different purposes and names but always include some metadata. A meta tag often has two parts: the name on the tag and the actual data present on the tag. The name on the tag simply identifies it, while the tag’s data is the metadata that describes the page. Almost all types of metadata come in some form of meta tag.

Meta title

A meta title can be described as a hidden title for a page or article. It’s found at the top of a page’s code but is not visible to visitors. The meta title does not have to be identical to the title that is visible in an article or on a page.

Even though a meta title is not visible, it can still be displayed by browsers and search engines. For example, the meta title can appear in the browser’s toolbar and be shown as the title in search results. Since it is displayed by search engines, it is the meta title that visitors see before they see any other part of your page. This makes the meta title the single most important type of metadata. It should attract visitors, describe the content well, and be optimised to rank high by search engines.

Meta description

A meta description is a short text that tells visitors what a page is about before they view it. Visitors can read the meta description before landing on the site because it is displayed as a short text under the title in search engine results. A web page doesn’t have to have a meta description since search engines can generate an automatic description, but when you provide a meta description, you have full control over it.

Meta descriptions have two audiences: search engines and visitors. Search engines analyse your meta description to understand what your article is about. Google, for example, looks for important words and phrases to understand which search terms your page matches. In this way, a meta description plays a similar role as a meta title. However, since meta descriptions are longer, it can provide more information to search engines to help the page rank for more search terms.

Meta descriptions can also be used to attract visitors. A good meta description should tell a visitor why they should click on the link and what they can expect from the page.

Canonical tags

A canonical tag is used when you want to publish several pages with the same or similar content. Canonical tags tell search engines which page you think is most important and which should appear in search results.

Without a canonical tag, a search engine might view duplicated pages as a way for you to cheat your way to more places among search results. When you mark a page with a canonical tag, Google can rank that page high, while duplicated pages are ranked low. Without a canonical tag, you risk having all pages being poorly ranked as the search engine might think you are trying to cheat.

Hreflang

Hreflang is a meta tag that tells search engines which region and language your page is created for. Search engines use it to target pages for people in different countries. Hreflang is not always necessary since search engines can often identify the language you write in. However, if your page has translations in many languages, it might still be good to specify hreflang to clarify which pages are written in which language.

Alt text

Alt text is short for ‘alternative text’, which is text that displays instead of images or objects. Alt texts can be used to describe a visual element that cannot be loaded. An alt text can also be used to identify the content in images for people with impaired vision and is used by search engines to understand how visual content is displayed on your page. Visual content can make a page easier to read and can be a reason for search engines to rank pages higher.

Alt texts are also used to rank images in search results. A good alt text can be a great way to draw attention to your images in image search engines such as Google Images.

Structured data, schema.org

Structured data is a collection of meta tags that describe a page or article in detail. Structured data is formatted according to a standard called a schema.

An example of structured data is schema.org. It is a standard created by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex in 2011. You have likely seen pages that use schema.org when you searching for products, recipes, or locations. Structured data can be used to describe the type of content that is on a page. For example, it could be a recipe, a person, a product, a review, a movie, or a book. When a page is marked as a recipe, the recipe can appear in a special recipe results carousel. There, users can browse through recipes they have searched for. Authors can write details for the recipe about, for example, how long it takes to prepare the meal, how many servings it makes, and what ingredients are needed. For recipes, there are a total of nine different meta tags.

You don’t always need to input structured data. Many Content Management Systems (CMS) can automatically fill in details or generate structured data. As an example, let’s say you have a recipe that your readers can rate on your site. Your CMS can then generate an average rating that can be listed as structured data. When your recipe appears in a search result, the average rating of the recipe can be shown below the title.

As mentioned, there are many applications for structured data. Here is a list of topics that you can consider if you are thinking of including structured data for your website:

  • Books
  • Movies
  • TV shows
  • Music
  • Podcasts
  • Recipes
  • News articles
  • Reviews
  • Events
  • Diseases
  • Organisations
  • People
  • Places
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • Tourist attractions
  • Landmarks
  • Products
  • Rentals

If you want to learn more about how to use structured data, we recommend this article from Google. On this page, you can read about all types of structured data that you can use.

Open Graph

Open Graph can also be described as a type of structured data that is primarily used for social media. Open Graph can be used on your website to customise how your page appears on social media channels, for example, on Facebook. It allows you to create a unique title, description, and image for Facebook. Along with a meta title, you can have one title on your website, one on Google, and a third on Facebook. All titles can be customised based on where they are displayed and the audience on each platform.

A good way to use Open Graph is to change which image is displayed on social media. On Google, images have very little significance since most results do not display an image. On social media, however, an article image can be at least as important as a title. What and how you want to display images can also differ between your website and social media. With the meta tag ‘og:image’, you can display a customised image on Facebook to attract more readers.

Open Graph can be used for all types of pages, but there are specific meta tags for describing videos, music, articles, books, and personal profiles.

Sitemap

A sitemap is a map of all the content and pages on your website. The purpose of a sitemap is to make it easy for search engines to find and index all parts of your website.

A sitemap is formatted in XML format and is created to be easy for machines to read. A sitemap is thus never meant to be read by a person. Technically, a sitemap is not a requirement for smaller websites, but they can be necessary for larger websites, for example, those with thousands of products in their online shop.

If you want to learn more about how a sitemap works, you can read our article about them here.

Robots.txt

Robots.txt is a file that tells search engines which pages on your website you do not want to be visible. For example, do you have pages that require login? They might not necessarily be secret, but since they require a login, they are irrelevant for visitors who visit your website directly from Google. If you create a list of pages in your robots.txt file, these pages will not be listed by Google.

It is recommended to have a robots.txt file even if you do not have secret pages. However, there are no technical issues if you don’t install a robots.txt file. When a robots.txt file is missing on your website, search engines simply assume that all pages can be indexed.

If you want to read more about robots.txt, we have an article here.

Other metadata

There are many other types of meta tags and metadata that you can include on your website. Not all tags are related to search engine optimisation, but you might still want to check them out:

  • Viewport is an important technical meta tag that gives websites the correct width for mobile phones.
  • Keywords can be used to list keywords for SEO but are generally not considered to have significant importance.
  • Copyright can describe who owns the copyright to a page.
  • Generator can be used to confirm AI has created a page.
  • Rating lists a recommended age limit for pages.

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Using metadata for SEO

Now that you have learned what metadata is and what types exist, it’s time to learn how you can use it for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Keyword analysis

When you’re writing an article or creating a page, it’s important to know what makes the page interesting. What is the essence of your article, and what do visitors get from reading it? This must, of course, be in your article. Beyond that, it’s important to consider how your article topic can be expressed and what your potential visitors are looking for. Say, for example, that you want to write about Swedish hockey. Then, a keyword analysis might show that you should use the keyword “SHL” because those interested search for “SHL,” not “Swedish hockey.”

The purpose of keyword analysis is thus to find the words your potential visitors search for and which you should search engine optimise for. Another important part of keyword analysis is identifying search terms that you can compete with. If you have a small blog, you might not have a chance to appear on the first page of Google for certain keywords. Consider if you can find a related keyword that still has enough interest but lower competition.

To succeed with your keyword analysis, you can use tools such as Google Trends, Google Search Console, SEMRush, and Ahrefs.

Truth and relevance

The metadata you provide must be true and relevant. It’s important to refrain from writing a meta title or meta description that doesn’t match the content on your page or article. This creates a bad experience for your visitors and risks giving you a bad ranking.

Your meta title and description should be enticing. The purpose of a title is to attract readers to click on your article, so feel free to write an engaging one! Just ensure you can deliver on your promise and that your readers are satisfied with your article.

Metadata for accessibility

Metadata can be used to make your website more accessible. For example, you can specify alt texts so that people with impaired vision can read about your images. Meta descriptions can also be important for people using screen readers. A screen reader is software that reads what’s on the screen. Since it takes longer to jump in and out of search results when using a screen reader, it can be valuable to understand the content on a page before clicking. A good meta description can be very valuable for that.

Hreflang can be especially important for screen reader users. Screen readers can read metadata in hreflang and automatically adjust to the correct language. An English screen reader trying to read a Spanish text can be very difficult to understand.

Headings: h1, h2, h3

Headings are not technically a type of metadata, but they are important to mention as part of your SEO strategy. Headings provide a structure for both readers and search engines. You should use headings appropriately while including your keywords. There’s no good reason to overuse headings, so stick to what feels relevant.

Tools for metadata

As you’ve probably understood, there are so many meta tags that you can’t manually enter them all for every article or page. Fortunately, much of the metadata is handled by your CMS. Otherwise, you can use custom tools to add metadata. Here are some examples of tools you can use:

  • RankMath is a complete SEO tool for WordPress that makes it easy to add metadata. You can enter meta titles, meta descriptions, and keywords. It also has built-in support for structured data to add information about recipes, movies, books, and much more. If you’re not using WordPress, you can use RankMath’s free tool to analyse your meta tags for search engines.
  • Meta Tag Manager is a WordPress plugin that lets you take full control over meta tags. Meta Tag Manager is unique because it gives you full flexibility to add custom meta tags.
  • Google Trends is a free tool that you can use in your keyword analysis. It’s easy to use to compare different keywords, and you can get clear overviews of how popular keywords have been over the last day, week, month, year, and all the way back to 2004. It makes it easy to find the right keywords and ensures you have the right metadata in place for your search engine optimisation.
  • Hey Meta is a website that helps you visualise the metadata you have on your website. Just paste the address of a page, and Hey Meta shows you what your metadata looks like. You can edit it on the spot and copy the code that Hey Meta generates.

Metadata checklist for your website

When creating a page or article, getting all the metadata in the right place is important. To make the whole process easier, we’ve created a checklist that you can use to make sure you have filled in all metadata.

  • Conduct a keyword analysis and choose 1–3 keywords for your page.
  • Write and use appropriate headings that include your keywords.
  • Provide descriptive alt texts for all images.
  • Write a meta title that is suitable for search engines.
  • Create a meta description for search engines.
  • Choose a heading for social media.
  • Select an image suitable for social media.
  • Provide structured data for a book, movie, recipe, or similar.

When creating your website or when you have time to optimise it, you can use this checklist to ensure you have the right metadata in place.

  • Do you have duplicate content, and does it have the correct canonical tags?
  • If you have a larger website, check that your sitemap is functioning properly.
  • Check that you have a robots.txt file and that it includes the correct pages.
  • Check alt texts for static images that recur on multiple pages of your website.
  • If you have pages in multiple languages: check that hreflang is correctly specified.

Summary

With the right metadata you can improve your search engine optimisation, resulting in increased traffic, improved visibility with structured data, and making your website more accessible to people with, for example, impaired vision. We hope you have learned what metadata is, why you need to use it, and which tools can help you on your journey. If you want to learn more about search engine optimisation, you can continue reading here.

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