A meta element is an HTML element that provides information about a web page. It is used to describe the content of the page, such as its title, description, author and other related metadata. Meta elements are not displayed on the page itself; instead, they are used by search engines and other services to better index and understand the content of the page.
Meta elements commonly include meta tags, which are snippets of code used to provide information about a web page. Meta tags are typically placed in the header of the page, although they can also be used in the body of the page. Meta tags enable web developers to provide additional information about the page that is not visible to visitors. For example, a meta tag might describe what the page is about, its source, or the language it is written in.
Meta tags can be used to improve a website's visibility in search engine results. By including specific keywords in a meta tag, you can signal to search engines which keywords you want your page to rank for. This improves your chance of appearing in the top results when someone searches for those keywords.
While meta tags can be beneficial in certain scenarios, they should not be overused. Overusing meta tags can actually have a negative effect on your website. Search engines may view too many keywords in a meta tag as spam and may penalise your website as a result. It is also important to have a meta tag with the correct syntax. Most meta tags have a specific format and you should include them in your page correctly to ensure they are correctly interpreted by search engines.
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Meta elements also include meta robots tags. These tags control how search engine crawlers interact with your website. By including this tag on a page that you want to exclude from search engine indexes, you can tell crawlers not to index the page. This can be useful for excluding pages, such as thank you pages, that are part of a website but are only meant to be seen by users after an action has been taken.
In addition to meta tags and meta robots tags, there are also Open Graph and Twitter Cards tags, which are tags used to format content when it is shared on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. The Open Graph protocol lets you control how your content appears when shared on social media. For example, you can include a specific title, description, image, and other things to make your content stand out when it is shared on social media. Similarly, Twitter Cards help you to control the appearance of your content when it is shared on Twitter, providing a richer experience for user who come to your website from Twitter.
Meta elements are a crucial tool for web developers and should be included in every website. If you are not using meta tags, your website may not be properly indexed by search engines and may not appear in search engine results at all. It is also important to use meta tags and meta robots tags properly, as incorrect usage can result in your pages not being indexed or may result in being penalised by search engines. Finally, if you want to take advantage of the possibility of having your content appear on social media networks, the use of Open Graph and Twitter Cards tags is essential.