The most important HTML Meta Tags: An overview

The most important HTML Meta Tags: An overview Thumbnail
Published on 1. May 2020

In the general structure, every website has a head area in which HTML meta tags, i.e. properties about the current page, are described that are “invisible” to the user. An overview of the most important HTML Meta Tags can be found here!

Every HTML page has a predefined, mostly uniform HTML structure. This includes as large sections, the body and the head area. This is the head area we will be talking about today. This section contains important information about the page. Besides external changes, like the integration of <script> and <link> tags or the title with the <title> tag in the tab bar, there is a lot of information “invisible” to the visitor. These are called Meta Tags and give especially search engines important information. Therefore they are very important especially for SEO (search engine optimization). Which these are, we clarify now! :)</p>

0. Structure of HTML Meta Tags

In general, the basic structure of an HTML page is as follows. The selected line is an example of a meta tag. KEY stands for the keyword with which the respective property is addressed. VALUE, on the other hand, is the value that this meta property should have.

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="de">
<head>
	<meta name="KEY" content="VALUE">
	<!-- ... -->
</head>
<body>
	<!-- ... -->
</body>
</html>

The following meta tags are not in any order, so they have nothing to say about their valence or importance. I have also left out “Basic Tags”. Tags like description or keywords will not be found in the list. If you want to get an overview, you are welcome to have a closer look at the source code of this page! 😉

Did you know: even in CSS there are certain “guidelines” that you should follow, these CSS No-Gos you can find out here.

1. Theme color

The theme color is a nice feature that many web developers unfortunately don’t know (yet). If the corresponding meta tag is set, the URL line (tab bar) can be displayed in mobile browsers in any color. On this page (webdeasy.de) the color of the URL line is adapted to the color scheme of the website.

Screenshot from webdeasy.de

To determine the color, you use a hex color code, since you usually use this in your stylesheet. The matching tag looks like this:

<meta name="theme-color" content="#3d50a7">

2. Open Graph Information

Open Graph information is important when sharing posts on social networks like Facebook & Co. But Open Graph information can also be displayed via Messenger Slack or even via WhatsApp. The example of this WhatsApp message shows what the tags do.

Popup of a Whatsapp message

The most important options here are the title, the description and a preview image. In addition, you can specify further options such as language or type of page (article, video, …).

<meta property="og:locale" content="de_DE">
<meta property="og:type" content="article">
<meta property="og:title" content="Nextcloud 17 ist da! - So bekommst Du das Update » webdeasy.de">
<meta property="og:description" content="Am 30. September 2019 wurde Nextcloud 17 veröffentlicht! Hier erfährst Du, wie Du schon jetzt auf Nextcloud 17 - trotz Beta - upgraden kannst.">
<meta property="og:url" content="https://webdeasy.de/nextcloud-17-update/">
<meta property="og:site_name" content="webdeasy.de">
<meta property="article:published_time" content="2019-09-30T16:46:53+00:00">
<meta property="article:modified_time" content="2019-10-17T08:45:24+00:00">
<meta property="og:image" content="https://webdeasy.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/nextcloud-17.png">
<meta property="og:image:width" content="1400">
<meta property="og:image:height" content="600">

If you are using a WordPress page, the plugin Yoast SEO can do this job directly. In general the plugin is highly recommended! 🙂 If you want to have detailed information about the integration and the individual tags, you can also read this article from Ryte magazine.

3. Twitter Card Tags

Twitter Card Tags are especially useful for Twitter users and sites that are often shared on Twitter. These meta tags change the appearance of a shared page in the Twitter feed. Thereby you can adjust the data exactly to the target group.

If the Twitter Card Tags are not set, the link will be displayed completely without further information. By e.g. a meaningful picture, the user is of course additionally made aware of the post and the post gets (possibly) more coverage.

The meta tags of the post shown in the Twitter post look like this:

<meta name="twitter:card" content="summary_large_image">
<meta name="twitter:description" content="This tutorial is for all developers who want to program with Node.js but don't know much about Node.js yet. Here you will find the Basics!">
<meta name="twitter:title" content="The Ultimate Node.js Beginner Tutorial » webdeasy.de">
<meta name="twitter:image" content="https://webdeasy.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/node-beginner.jpg">

For detailed information, there is a corresponding documentation directly from Twitter. If you have a WordPress website, the plugin Yoast SEO can also do this job.

4. Canonical URL

The canonical URL is tagged with the Canonical Tag. This is important if there is a website with duplicate content. If such pages appear, they will be penalized by Google and other search engines in the ranking and get less visitors.

A page with duplicate content is created when the content of a page appears on several (at least one additional) pages. This can happen when content is copied 1:1 from other websites. Even in online shops where a product is offered in two colors, for example, the URL is slightly different, but the content of the page is virtually the same. It is therefore important to use the Canonical tag correctly, in order to show search engines that a page is not duplicate content.

This happens over the following day. **URL** must be replaced here with the original URL of the post or page.

<link rel="canonical" href="**URL**">

If we start from our online shop example, the page tags and URLs could look like this:

  • #1 https://webdeasy.de/shop/product1.php (no canonical tag)
  • #2 https://webdeasy.de/shop/product1.php?color=green (Canonical tag with href value at #1)
  • #3 https://webdeasy.de/shop/product1.php?color=red (Canonical tag with href value at #1)

It is the same product, which is why they all have the same description texts, etc. Only the image or a heading, i.e. minimal changes are present.

Note: The Canonical Tag should also be used for AMP pages.

5. Indexing for web crawlers (robots meta tags)

The robots meta tags can be used to tell the web crawlers of the search engines which links and thus pages of yours may be indexed, i.e. included in the search results. You can also determine whether the current page should appear in the search results or be excluded. So you make the rules 😉

Normally, if all links on the page may be indexed and the page is visible in the search engines, the meta tag looks like this:

<meta name="robots" content="index, follow">

Search engines differentiate here basically between two characteristics:

  • Indexing of links available on the page (a-tags)
    • follow: all links are followed (default value if no value is set)
    • nofollow: no link is followed
  • Indexing the current page
    • index: the current page is indexed (default value if no value is set)
    • noindex: the current page is not indexed

As shown in the example above, you can specify both properties separated by commas. If you only want to exclude single links on a page from indexing, you can set the rel attribute to nofollow the corresponding link.

<a href=“https://webdeasy.de/top-10-php-string-funktionen/“ rel=“nofollow“>Top 10 PHP String Funktionen</a>

For a more detailed overview of all possible values, Google has published a specification for robot meta tags.

6. Character coding (encoding)

The appropriate character encoding should be set on every website. If this is not done, it can happen that german “Umlaute” (“ä”, “ü”, “ö”) and special characters (e.g. “ß”) are not displayed correctly. This is a very important day, especially in the German language.

<meta charset="UTF-8">

In addition to the appropriate meta tag for the website, the encoding can alternatively be set on the server side. For this purpose a corresponding .htaccess entry can be made, for example:

AddDefaultCharset utf-8

The most used encodings for websites are these two:

  • UTF-8
  • ISO-8859-1

Of course there is a lot more meta information, the listed meta tags are the most important ones in my opinion. What else do you know that should be on every website? 🙂

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