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7 Common Meta Tag Mistakes That Publishers Make

By Tom Pitts
Aug 5, 2015

Meta tags are one of the primary ways that publishers optimize their content for social and search success. Because we work with publishers on a variety of content management systems, we’ve had the opportunity to analyze many implementations of meta tags designed for content optimization.

While almost every publisher now recognizes the value of using meta tags to help optimize content distribution, we have noticed that a significant number of these custom tags are implemented in a way that negatively impacts their potential benefits.

Publishers who use popular platforms like WordPress and Drupal often use plugins such as Yoast SEO to generate meta tags. If used correctly, most plugins do an acceptable job of creating meta tags for search and social optimization. For publishers who have their own content management systems or more complicated requirements, meta tag implementations are often less universal, and common mistakes occur.

Which tags should be standard for article content?

Describing the uses and specifications of each meta tag is a massive endeavor in and of itself, so we’ll do our best to point out what we believe are the highest-priority tags and link to resources for each.

Search optimization meta tags

Page title—MOZ’s title tag documentation
Meta description—MOZ’s meta description documentation
Canonical link—Google’s canonical link documentation

Facebook Open Graph tags

Facebook introduced Open Graph tags in 2010. The tags let publishers determine how their content will look when it is shared on Facebook.
Here are the Open Graph tags we think are the most valuable for publishers:

  • og:title
  • og:description
  • og:type
  • og:image
  • og:url
  • article:published_time
  • article:author

You can read more about Open Graph tags on ogp.me and in the Facebook Developers documentation.

Twitter Card tags

In 2012, Twitter launched their own meta tags, which they call Twitter Cards. These tags help describe and mark up content for display on Twitter. You can learn more about Twitter Cards from their documentation.

What are the common mistakes publishers make with their meta tags?

1. Duplicate tags

We often see this mistake with WordPress implementations. Many WordPress plugins have some distinct features that warrant their use but also some overlapping features, like the ability to output social meta tags. Publishers sometimes install multiple plugins for valid reasons, but they should only have one plugin generate social tags such as the Open Graph tags. If multiple sets of tags are generated, they often pull in different values from different content fields. Editors may end up editing and optimizing content that is displayed properly in one set of tags but lost to the other set. Depending upon which set of tags is displayed first in the HTML, the edited copy may never be used for social sharing.

2. Lack of a hostname in URL tags

Tags such as canonical URL and og:url should always have a hostname and be absolute links. Sites that output these tags with relative links are not likely to get any value from the tags.

Use this structure:
http://www.example.com/article/article-headline

Not this structure:
/article/article-headline

3. Appending tracking parameters to canonical link and Open Graph URL tags

URL tracking, such as Google Analytics UTM codes, can provide valuable insight to publishers around their marketing efforts and traffic sources. When these URL parameters are used just for tracking and not to display different content on the page, they should not be part of the canonical URL or Open Graph URL tags.

Incorrect:

<meta property="og:url" content="http://www.trueanthem.com/blog/author-tags-facebook-story-previews/?utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook"/>

Correct:

<meta property="og:url" content="http://www.trueanthem.com/blog/author-tags-facebook-story-previews/"/>

4. Not encoding HTML quote characters

Article titles and descriptions often use quotes and other special characters in their copy. When you output these fields’ title and description tags, special characters need to be encoded to display properly in the HTML, or, in the case of quote characters, they will actually close the meta tag and cause share messages to be truncated.

Incorrect:

<meta property="og:title" content="This Title has "Quotes" used incorrectly" />

Correct:

<meta property="og:title" content="This Title has &ldquo;Quotes&rdquo; used correctly" />

5. Not stripping HTML tags

Sometimes it makes sense to stylize headlines with bold tags, italic tags, or other HTML elements. These tags should be stripped from data before the copy is HTML encoded and outputted to meta tags.

Incorrect:

<meta property="og:title" content="<i>Show Title<i> executive producer says show is a hit'"/>

Correct:

<meta property="og:title" content="Show Title executive producer executive producer says show is a hit'"/>

6. Using the wrong datetime format for Open Graph date tags

The Open Graph standard has a number of article tags with datetimes such as article:published_time and article:modified_time. These tags should be outputted in a specific datetime standard called ISO 8601. We often see the datetime values outputted in a number of standards that are not in the ISO 8601 format.

Incorrect:

<meta property="article:published_time" content="Mon Jul 27 02:16:57 2015"/><

Correct:

<meta property="article:published_time" content="2015-07-27T10:53:04+00:00"/>

7. Not using an Author Tag

Adding authors to your Facebook posts helps create richer story previews and lets you showcase one of your most valuable assets, your writers. You can read more about Author Tags in our recent blog post.

Content optimization and meta tag implementation can be complex, but optimization helps to distribute your content further and drive measurable results.

For more resources about implementing meta tags for content optimization, be sure to check out Google’s canonical documentation, the Open Graph protocol website, and the Twitter Cards website.

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