An acquaintance of mine recently reached out because his company was just about ready to launch their new site. They mentioned they were ready to start “SEO tagging” and asked if I could point them in the right direction.
That phrase always makes me pause as I wonder what in the world they’re referring to.
Perhaps they’re referring to meta keywords (which Google announced in 2009 they don’t use anymore):
Or confusing SEO with blog post category and tags used in CMS’s like WordPress?
Regardless, I only wish SEO was that simple. Let’s “tag” a few pages and be done with it.
And I’m not saying this to be glib. A lot of people mistakenly think tagging is how SEO works.
This is not the first time I have heard this phrase being used, nor do I suspect it will be the last. In fact, I wrote about it a few years ago in a blog post on previous technical SEO controversies. I’ve heard this concept used by both web designers and marketers, so I know at some point it must’ve been a thing. Here is my best explanation for what SEO tagging is.
What is SEO Tagging Exactly?
SEO tagging refers to the action of utilizing HTML page tags to classify and organize content. It’s an activity that falls under both the technical and on-page SEO umbrellas as certain tags have proven useful to help Google and users better understand content topics and keywords.
SEO tagging often refers to selecting a keyword and writing and applying a title tag, meta description, heading tags (H1, H2s, H3s, through H6s), schema tags, and a few other tags. I often refer to this as “back end” work. Thanks to SEO-friendly CMSs (like WordPress) and SEO plugins (like Yoast), it’s no longer imperative to know how to code these directives in.
Here’s the thing though. SEO tagging is a small percentage of what you can do when you apply on-page optimization.
Let’s be clear here – I do not condone, nor would I wish to spread, the use of the term “SEO tagging” because I think the term is misleading. It oversimplifies this crucial SEO activity that requires a lot of forethought to do correctly and effectively.
I wish I could tell you that tagging and tagging alone is enough to move the needle. (It’s a rare case indeed when that happens.) It’s very hard to rank on Page 1 these days doing the bare minimum, unless you dominate your niche and/or are targeting a very long-tail keyword that doesn’t have stiff competition.
But we all have to start somewhere, right?
Best Practices for SEO Tagging: Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced
Here are the phases and progression of SEO tagging, from basic to advanced:
- Basic SEO: At the very minimum, you should always, always, write a unique title tag and meta description for each page. This is SEO 101. This is what I think most people refer to when they say “SEO tagging.”
- Intermediate SEO: next-level SEO is when you have done keyword research and selected a keyword that matches the content on the page. You may even be using a URL mapping spreadsheet that designates which keywords go to which pages. You’ve gone through and worked the keyword and its semantic variations in as best as you can to the most important places and have followed well-known on-page SEO best practices like optimizing images.
- Advanced SEO: advanced-level on-page SEO is when you have intentionally targeted a keyword. You’ve done the prep work to ensure it matches the relevancy and intention of the page. You’ve assessed the level of competition. You’ve also:
- Identified secondary keywords and semantic terms/phrases
- Completed your foundational/traditional on-page SEO
- Done a SERPS audit and know exactly what competitors are ranking, what content format is ranking best, and what goal is mapped to that page so you can track conversions and ROI. You’ve modified your content accordingly.
- Applied Schema as appropriate for the content assets on the page
- Linked in appropriately to the page so that it has internal links pointing in
Identified candidates you can reach out to who may find this page valuable and link back to it
- Written social media copy to promote the page in social media that links back to the page, encouraging shares and engagement. The page itself has social share icons to encourage sharing, if applicable.
- Ensured your page load time and overall performance is as speedy and optimal as possible, and the page is mobile SEO friendly
SEO tagging is the start, but you may find that you have to go well beyond the basic stage into intermediate and advanced.
SEO tagging may be a phrase we’ll see eradicated one day. But probably not anytime soon. Unfortunately, as with everything that has to do with SEO, nothing is ever quite as simple as we want it to be!
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