December 26, 2017 / SEO 101

HTML Tags like the ProsAsk a website owner or designer what their ultimate dream is for the ranking of their website and they will say ‘number one’ – let’s face it we all want to be top of the list. That’s where the most traffic is, that’s where you find customers and build a loyal fan base.  But it doesn’t just spontaneously happen.

Let’s say you have this brilliant website that has great, responsive design and is filled with useful and well-written copy. This immigration lawyer website is a perfect example, it offers a good user journey, it’s has a clear message and CTA (Call To Actions).  

You may have done some minor SEO work to start building a presence, but you are a bit stuck.  You are one of 100,000 answers to a search query and you aren’t on the first couple of pages, let alone near number one.  The shame of it is if that when people do find you, they love what you offer, and you have a great conversion.

But you aren’t getting found.  You hide down the list of search engine results and this means no-one hardly ever sees what you have. This is because 93% of online experiences start with a search engine.  So we know that we need to rank in search engines in order to get traffic.  But how do we do this?

Many people start with paid search and get their website pushed to the top of the page.  And yes, there was an increase, but it wasn’t the flood of traffic they were expecting.  So their research continued, and they realised that organic, rather than paid results are the key to the big traffic.  In fact, organic results get 70% of those clicks.

So the question then becomes ‘how can we get organic traffic’ and this is where you start to enter the area of SEO that pros use to get them and their clients to the top of search page rankings. This is the realm of HTML and tags.  Come enter and learn.



Title tag

The title tag is arguably the most important of the tags and certainly the first one that you want to concentrate your attention on when learning about these things.  For any web page to rank anywhere, the search engine needs to know what your content is about – what every page is about as well as the site as a whole.

The title tag is used to describe the topic of each page or post on your website and does it in a way that search engines can quickly and easily understand.  You can also spot the title tag on a search results page easily – it is the bold title that comes before anything such as the link and a snippet.

Ok, so, I visit Canada a lot, so when I land in Toronto, I wish I could afford to travel in style, so I hypothetically google airport limo toronto. (I have linked to the site that I found). Now the title I found was this:

Airport Limo Toronto {Limousine Taxi & Transportation Service} Flat Rate

While this is perfectly fine, if simplified the title a little, by removing the } and separating the words with a – you will increase the chance of the click-through rate. Why, because it’s been simplified for the user.

Toronto Airport Limo Service –  Aeroport Taxi –  Limousine Service

Your title tag needs to contain your keywords in a natural way so that search engines know how to rank the content but also so that people know what it is about when they read that headline.  So if you had a title tag that read ’10 reasons you need a digital marketing strategy’ then you and the search engines would both get that this is an article about digital marketing strategy.

Not only that but the meta description below it and the link to the article also contain those keywords (more on that later).  So as I test, I googled,  

Finding your title tag

So how do you know that your website is correctly using the title tag and therefore passing on this crucial information to Google?  Let’s work with WordPress because so many websites out there do just that.

Go to your WordPress dashboard and click on Posts.  Select the post you want to add a title tag to – this is simple because it goes in the box that says, ‘enter title here’.  The joy of WordPress is this means you don’t need to do anything on the coding side to make this the title tag because it does it all automatically for you.  If you don’t use WordPress, then you might need to make sure that you designated it as the title tag manually for this purpose.

If you look at the text version of your post, the title tag should start with <title> and end with </title> the section between the two being the title of your post.


Meta description tag

Meta description tag

Alongside the title, the meta description is shown on search engine results pages to give a quick overview of the nature of the content.  This makes it another key area in your SEO strategy.  The meta description is a bit like the back of a book – it gives a quick, enticing intro into the nature of the post.

Not only does this help Google further understand what your content is about but also entices readers to click the link and continues to read more of the post.  On a search results page, it is the paragraph below the headline and link.

You need to make sure your focus keyword is in the meta description – so for example, dental marketing ideas need to be in the description to double up on the title tag and reinforce the nature of the content.  

If you don’t use the keyword in the meta description, Google gets confused as to which keyword from the headline you are focusing on.  And make sure it is an exact match – don’t use dental marketing ideas if your title says dental marketing idea  You need a like for like, to match.  You can use other variations of the keyword in the text and related keywords but ensure that these are a proper match.

You can spot the meta description in the text version of your page as it starts with <meta name= and ends with /> to close the tag.  

WordPress allows you to easily add a meta description to the box labelled SEO description.  If you use a plugin like Yoast, you can also add the meta description there and it will green light you if it contains an exact match to your focus keyword.

Meta descriptions need to be at or under 160 characters.  Any more than this and it will be cut off and therefore a waste.

Header tags

Many of already using header tags in our content without realising they do more than break things up nicely.  Header tags have a number attached to the ‘H’ starting at 1 and getting smaller as they go through.  H2 are one of the most common header tags used and with H3 beneath it and so on.  Each header gets smaller in size and looks a little less bold.  The ‘header tags’ title above us here is an H2.

Headers are a great way to break up your content and make it easy to read.  Because people scan, headers act like chapters, telling them what the following piece of content is about.  But they also have a lot of SEO value.

Header tags should tell Google what your blocks of content are about.  They can also lead to the content become featured snippets and appearing in that special box at the top of a search engine page.  By using a header and bullet points, for example, you can quickly answer a question that someone has, and this might become a featured answer.

It is easy to select a heading to become a header – WordPress lets you do it from the editor and it should appear with, for example, <h1>header tags</h1> for an H1 header in the text.


Image alt tags

Image alt tags

We all use images to help illustrate a point and to make our posts more visual and pleasing to look at.  But there is also an SEO potential within images that can often be overlooking – this is the image alt tags.

To understand these, first you need to know that Google and other search engines may be clever, but they can’t understand what is in a picture yet.  However, if you do a search and click on images, there are pictures there.  So how do search engines know these are pictures and what they are about?

The answer is the image alt tag.  This is a tag included in the image details that tells Google what the picture is about.   It might tell Google that the picture is of the Moon or a crescent moon necklace.  It does this through the alt tag.

When you upload an image to your post, you can see data on it.  If you use WordPress, there is even a box that is called ‘alt ext’ and this is where you put a description of the image.  It will then appear in the code with alt= before the tag that you have given it.

Of course, like everything, there’s a bit of strategy involved.  You can use the keyword from your post if this is a relevant description of the image.  Or you can couple it with the description – ‘digital marketing strategies funnel examples’ could be an image for our earliest example.  The description needs to be relevant though as this means the image itself has a chance of ranking in search results.

Nofollow link tags

There are a couple of situations where the nofollow tag is required.  Nofollow tags tell search engines not to take any notice of this particular backlink or use it for ranking purposes.  Normally, backlinks increase the SEO ranking of a site unless you use the nofollow tag.  The link does still function though.

Nofollow links will have rel=’external nofollow’ at the end of the normal link.

But why do you need to use them?  The majority of times, you don’t because you want to get the boost to your SEO that comes from backlinks.  That’s why dofollow links are more common than nofollow.

But if the website you need to link to has a poor domain authority, some experts advise that you don’t use a dofollow link as this might have a negative effect on your DA.  There are also some rules around if you have been paid in connection with the post (but that’s another topic entirely).

To see if the link has been made a nofollow, go to the text option on WordPress and look at the link.  That snippet of code at the end makes it a nofollow link that won’t harm your SEO but still makes the link clickable for readers.

Links and anchor text tags

A big part of creating great content is linking it to other sites and other posts within your site.  You also need to credit things like sources, images and information and this is done with a link to the original site.  Sometimes you might just put the actual website address into the article but other times you are better off using an anchor tag.

An anchor tag will look something like <a href=””>. And the anchor text is directly after it: This is a link to my website.</a>

So why does the anchor text matter?  For starters, it helps to improve the ranking of the link by using a relevant keyword phrase as the anchor.  This also works when you use internal links.  It also makes the website more organised.  No point linking to an article on SEO with the anchor ‘WordPress’ – it makes things a little confusing for search engines and they ignore that they don’t understand.


Canonical tags

Canonical tags

The final tag is called the canonical tag and is used to organise and prioritise one page on the site over another that is the same.  We might all think that everything on the website is unique and therefore we don’t need this tag, but this isn’t usually the case – from a search engine viewpoint.

For example, this list of URLs all look different:

But they all lead to the same website page, the homepage of the site.  To a search engine, however, these are each a duplicate.  This is just a small idea of a website can have duplicate content to search engines, even though we humans can see the difference.

This matter because it confuses search engines as they don’t know which one to rank first.  That’s where the canonical tag comes in.  You can spot it as <link rel=”canonical” before the normal website address.  By adding this to the version of the link that Google should pay the most attention to, you avoid the confusion.

Pro tip – software to add tags

Tags can sound like a lot of work and they are an important part of your SEO.  If you are good at coding or understand how it all works, they are simple.  But most of us (SEO experts included) often don’t know how to code a website.

There’s always the fear that you change something in the code and ‘break’ the website.  It is a fear based on reality.  The good news is that there is software to help handle the process.  One of these we’ve already mentioned – Yoast for WordPress.

Yoast is a plugin that focuses on the SEO of your post and tells you a host of useful information or highlights problems in your content.  MOZ also have a similar system that let you runs checks on your page or post to spot any issues with the tags.

These are two examples of using software to help with tags and not having the concern of breaking your website by putting a misplaced letter or symbol in the code.


For marketers and website owners, there’s nothing more satisfying than reaching that coveted first place on search engine rankings.  But it isn’t a quick thing and can take months or even years working on a website to get that kind of lofty position.  One of the key steps to making that upward progression is the use of the right HTML tags.

There are two main reasons for this.  One, because search engines need these little signposts to best understand your content and therefore categorise it.  And two, because many people don’t do it, and this means your website can get a boost above theirs by employing these methods.  Pros are known that the right HTML tag can be the difference between number 10 and number 1 on those SERPs.

HTML is the language used to talk directly to search engines and this means that they can best understand your content.

By not using these tags, you are missing out on a number of potential ways to put your content ahead of other websites on the same topic.  You are also missing the chance to win in other areas of SEO such as through featured snippets or image searches.

Start with the title tag and meta description then start mastering the rest of the tags to ensure your website has the proper tags in place.  And don’t be afraid to grab some software to help you do this – in fact, even if you are good at coding, it can ensure a more reliable result.  Plugins like Yoast offer a lot more than the advice on tags and this can help to improve your content in lots of ways.

Put these measures in place and your website will start to move up through the rankings towards that desired top spot.

Paul Gordon (author)

Freelance SEO Expert, with over 15 years experience in digital marketing.

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