Page Tagging – Understated or Overrated?

In recent months, there has been a good deal of discussion related to basic SEO practices. In my opinion, part of the reason for the recent revival of basic SEO is because our strategies and practices have taken a variety of paths, specializations and tactical decisions. SEO can now combine strategies within technical web development, copywriting, public relations and general marketing strategy. I would argue that SEO should be a component of the complete, integrated marketing communication strategy.

Basic SEO Practice – Page Tagging
Part of an SEO strategy is the integration of a keyword strategy in key components of the web page. Most SEO consultants refer to these components as the “Page Tagging” of a website, meaning the key HTML-based variables that keyword strategy needs to be present within. Dave Pasternak wrote a much debated article stating that “SEO is not rocket science“. At it’s heart, Pasternak’s comments ring some truth. You do not need a special degree, certification or educational accreditation to effectively integrate SEO into your website strategy. But you do need to have an understanding of the components associated with search engine optimization, and what factors help influence and improve search engine rankings. One of these concepts is Page Tagging.

Page Tagging traditionally involves three components:

  • HTML Title Tags
  • HTML Meta Tags for Descriptions and Keywords
  • Page Headings

This blog post is not meant to be a stand-alone tutorial on page tagging, but these three SEO factors are the first things that the small business website owner should consider and evaluate when they want to improve their search engine rankings for strategic keywords.

The HTML Title Tag
The HTML Title tag is the single most influential component to search engine rankings for desired keyword rankings. The Title represents the “main idea” that should be found on any given web page. When the Title is found on the home page, it can also represent the main idea or theme of the entire website. HTML Title Tags are visually present on the top of the browser window, traditionally white font on the blue browser border. In addition to it’s on browser window, HTML Title tags are also visible as follows:

  • It’s the default text visible when someone bookmarks a website
  • Search result hyperlinks are traditionally derived from the Title tag

To put it plain and simple, if you want a web page to be seen for a given keyword, it’s a pretty good idea to have that keyword in the title tag. More information on the value of HTML titling can be found here.

Meta Tags
Back in the dark ages, meta tags were the original drivers for enabling keyword rankings in search engines. But because website owners abused the system, meta tags have become significantly devalued. Effective meta tags can be valuable for internal search engines (site-specific search), so there is still a good reason for having them. In addition, effective meta descriptions will often be visible as the supporting text in search results. Here is a post I wrote on how effective meta descriptions can help improve click-thru’s in search results. The meta keyword tag has limited (if any) impact on search engine rankings, but (as stated before) internal site search engines may utilize them.

The Page Heading
Finally, the page heading represents what the user reads as the main idea of the web page or website. The heading is usually bolder, larger font and should always contain the primary keyword a website owner is trying to optimize for that particulat web page. Headings can also incorporate the HTML parameter for headings, namely “H1″>, “H2”, etc but it’s in the actual definition of a keyword-specific “page heading” that is important.

Why Page Tagging is Understated?
Page tagging is the first component of a website that website owners should evaluate when beginning SEO. As visible as SEO has been in the past few years, many website owners do not know what the HTML Title is, or how to edit/modify this component. I consistently come across instances of bloated Meta tags which contain nonsensical lists of keywords and web pages that do not have headings outlining what the page is about.

Recommendation: Make sure to evaluate your Page Tagging first and keep it in line with your overall keyword strategy. In addition, take a step back and consider if the specific text in place for your titles, headings and descriptions will make sense from the user’s perspective.

So What Makes Page Tagging Overrated?
I say that page tagging is overrated because when businesses look to SEO consultants to solve their lack of visibility in search engines, many times the first and only thing that they do is look at the website’s page tagging. While it’s true that someone wanting to appear very high in rankings for “Cape Cod Vacations” should probably be including that keyword in their Title, Meta and Home Page Heading, that alone won’t bring them long-term results in search. Quality search engine presence over the long-term involves much more focus and development than that. Aside from the “tags” on a webpage, Search Engine Optimization requires a long-term link building strategy and the development, or maximization of quality content (depending on if there is content already present on your website and what that content is) as well as other search related factors (some more difficult to explain than others, and too long to write about in this post).

Be careful when an SEO consultant explains that they can get you top rankings, and their answer to what they will do for you exclusively involves “Page Tagging” and little else seems to be on the table for deliverables and/or implementation. Page Tagging is the initial step in building a search presence, but it is by far the only one. If you determine that your small business really needs a solid SEO strategy, I would recommend having a small business SEO firm do the heavy work of keyword research – meaning, what terms and phrases are the most searched for that pertain to your business and industry – and offer guidelines for how to build quality title tags, meta descriptions and headings. Don’t get stuck paying a high priced contract for someone spending hours of time writing HTML Titles and Headings and doing little to nothing else. In the end, there is much more to SEO and building better search visibility than that.


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