IDX plugin SEO settingsBoth of our WordPress IDX plugins now include an expanded set of SEO settings that give you more control over how search engines index the IDX listings on your domain.  We’ve had a few users ask for help understanding how (and why) they should optimize these settings, so we put together a couple blog posts to make things a bit easier.

In today’s blog post I’ll explain some SEO basics and show how our new meta tags and title tags settings play a role in getting your site indexed for MLS listings.

In part 2, I detail how to edit and fully optimize these settings for your IDX site.

Meta tags and title tags 101

Meta tags and title tags tell search engines what each web page is about.

puppies and rainbowsOnce upon a time in a faraway land, each web page had a title tag, a meta description tag and a meta keywords tag that told Google where to categorize, rank and display the page in search results.  It was all puppies and rainbows ‘til folks starting using these tags to game the system.

As a result, the importance and usage of these tags has changed quite a bit over time.

Here’s how these SEO tags are used today:

Meta Description tag

A page’s meta description tag is a bit of HTML code that search engine robots read.  Regular site visitors will not see this tag anywhere on the page.

As its name suggests, a meta description tag provides a description of the page content.  Usually just a couple of sentences, a meta description should summarize your page content and if possible, provide a hook to encourage people to read more.

To see how a meta description tag is used, just perform a search a Google, like this:

meta descriptions for IDX and listing pages

search results with highlighted meta description snippets

See the little snippet of text beneath each item in the search results?
That’s the meta description tag.  Well… sorta.

Sometimes Google displays your meta description tag.  Sometimes they change it up a bit and display an abbreviated or modified version of your tag.  And sometimes they display a random snippet of content from your page and disregard the tag altogether – especially if the tag is missing, too long or Google fells it’s inaccurate.  So while it’s not guaranteed that Google will display it, it’s generally a good practice to add a meta description tag to every page of your site.

Create descriptions that let searchers know that your page will provide exactly what they’re looking for.  Any terms they used in their search that are found in your description  will appear in bold (see below), so try including terms that homes buyers use, such as “homes in Chicago” or “Chicago foreclosures”.  If possible, incorporate a hook that makes your page stand out, like “free access to the latest Chicago homes” or “over 25 years experience selling Chicago real estate”.

search results with bolded terms

search results with bolded search terms in each snippet

There’s no guarantee Google (or any other search engine) will display the exact snippet you provide in your meta description tag, but optimizing this meta tag is easy way to cover your SEO bases.

Meta Keywords tag

Just like the meta description tag, the meta keywords tag is just a bit of HTML code for search engines, site visitors don’t see it.

This tag provides search engines a laundry list of the topics and search terms that you want to receive ranking for.  As you can imagine, spammers and junk sites that wanted to appear in Google for just about every search term began to abuse this system, so over time the meta keywords tag became worthless.

keyword stuffed

an example over-stuffed keyword meta tag

The best advice?  Ignore the meta keywords tag.  Simply don’t use it.  Google stopped using it altogether years ago and Bing only uses it to penalize sites.

Title tag

Similar to meta tags, your title tag is stored as a bit of HTML code – however your title tag will ultimately be seen by your site visitors.  Unlike meta tags, a title tag is a required part of any HTML page – so it’s simply a matter of how well you optimize them.

Your title tag is the first item visitors see when they find you through search engines:

title tags in search engine results

search results with highlighted title tags

…and it’s also what appears at the top of their browser window (or browser tab) when they are viewing your page:

title tag in browser tab

a page title at the top of a browser tab

Visitors use a page title to see if the content is right for them and to identify you and your company.  Unsurprisingly, search engines use this information in much the same way.

Your page title goes a long way in determining if a visitor will click on your site from a search results page, and deciding which search terms and phrases Google decides to rank your page for, so it’s worth your time to optimize titles for each page.

So similar to the meta description, try to incorporate language and search terms that buyers and sellers are searching for and give them a reason to want to click to view IDX on your site.  If you or your office are a trusted or well known company, you may want to incorporate that branding into your titles, ie: “Chicago real estate and home search – Coldwell Banker United” or “Irvine homes by Cindy Brady”.

SEO Tags Recap

To summarize, here are the tags we covered:

  • Meta Description Tag
    Not required, but recommended.  Lets you provide a snippet for Google to display in search results – but it’s not guaranteed they will actually use it.
  • Meta Keywords Tag
    Outdated and only used by spammers.  It is recommended that you omit this tag from your pages.
  • Title Tag
    A required tag that is vital to your SEO.  Controls how you appear in search results and what visitors see at the top of their browser window/tab.

Ok, now that you’re an SEO expert, check out part two tomorrow to learn how to use our IDX plugin to customize these tags on your site.