Jul 19

Google Warning: Using The Meta Refresh Tag Is Bad Practice

In the past, when it came to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), meta tags were one of the more essential components used to increase the rank of a given website in the search engines. Hidden in a web page’s code, meta tags are snippets of text that describe and manipulate the page’s content. They work very much like the tags we know from blog culture, and they help the search engines determine what the web page is about for indexing purposes.

Today, meta tags are still used, but it’s more important than ever now to know which meta tags the search engines are using and how to use them correctly. Not understanding how a meta tag works, misusing it, or using it try and trick the search engines into doing what you want can be harmful to your SEO marketing efforts.

What Does the Meta Refresh Tag Do?

Refresh

The meta refresh tag is used to reload a page the user is already on. It looks like this:

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”500″>

And it would be placed in the <header> tag of your web page’s HTML code.

The http-equiv=”refresh” is issuing a command instead of just providing text content. Here refresh is the instruction to the web server to reload the page. The content=”500″ portion is an instruction of when the web server should reload the page. The time specified is in seconds, so the instruction here is to reload the page in 5 seconds.

A meta tag like this might be handy for a website with an auction listing, for example. Every 5 seconds the page would be reloaded and the user would be kept up to date on what the highest bid was until time for the auction to end.

Unfortunately, some misuse the meta refresh tag to reload pages with ads on them which often results in frustrating the website’s visitors.

Redirect

The meta refresh tag can also be used to redirect the user from one page to another. It looks like this:

<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”2;url=https://google.com/”<

Just like the above example, it would be placed in the <header> tag of your web page’s HTML code.

Now, take a look at this version of the meta tag. Instead of reloading the page the user is currently on, it sends the visitor to another page entirely.

The content=”2;url=https://google.com/” in this version of the meta tag gives the web server the instruction to send the user to Google’s site in 2 seconds. The number means time in seconds and the URL is where the user is being sent in that space of time.

Someone with an online store may want to use a meta refresh tag to redirect a customer to a payment page from a product page. Using the meta refresh tag in such a way may not be a good idea if you’re working hard to improve your website’s SEO ranking, according to Google’s John Mueller.

meta refresh tag

Problems With The Meta Refresh Tag

Google’s John Mueller warns web developers against using the meta refresh tag calling it “a bad practice.” According to Mueller, the reason is two-fold. First, such a redirect will take away from the user experience. Visitors should be allowed to navigate websites on their own.

Secondly, when it comes to SEO, with the redirect in place, search engines won’t index the first page but the second. In the example above, if the visitor is redirected to a payment page from a product page, the payment page will be indexed for the search engine because it’s the one where the user ends up. The problem is the same online store would benefit much more from having the product page be the one indexed.

Meta refresh tags also have a bad reputation because they’ve frequently been used in the past by spammers. The use has been such that in the case of several meta refresh tags being used on one site, it’s possible that the search engine will decide the website is unsafe and delete it from its index.

Further, if the redirect takes place within 2-3 seconds, those using older browsers will be unable to use the back button. It’s also possible that if the user is sent to a page that doesn’t exist or the URL in the redirect is wrong, they could be trapped in a 404 error loop that will convince them to leave that webpage. Redirect can confuse, convincing the visitor that there is a problem with the website.

Not All Meta Tags Are Bad

Meta tags are still in the SEO game, just in a lesser capacity. Along with meta refresh, Google advises against the use of the meta keyword tag as it is no longer used in their algorithm. Google does encourage the use of the meta description tag along with a few others saying that if the description is good enough, Google might use the description text as the snippet it displays on the website’s search engine listing. A good meta description can be used to tell the search engines what the site is about and may have a positive impact on SEO marketing results.

In Conclusion

If there’s a need to redirect users from an old URL to a new one, use a 301 server redirect, not the meta refresh tag. This will ensure the best results. The 301 server redirect will inform the search engines of the replacement, transferring the link rankings from the old page to the new. The web page will be indexed appropriately thus protecting your SEO marketing efforts.

About The Author

Ajay Chavda is the co-founder of Weboptimizers, an SEO agency in Melbourne and has been involved with SEO for over 15 years. Between the digital properties and security forums he has managed, his articles have been read by approximately 50 million unique visitors.

2 Comments

  1. Patanjali Sokaris
    September 14, 2018 at 12:54 am · Reply

    I think there is a valid use for a delayed refresh triggered from the client side, and that is for those pages accessible after login. It is a non-javascript way of instigating a client-side timeout, so such pages are not exposed longer than the server would respond to them. The redirect would be back to the login page, or back to the home page if the login page has its own timeout.

    Of course, such pages would normally not be indexed, so no SEO loss there, especially if the link to the login page has a nofollow on it.

    • Ajay Chavda
      September 14, 2018 at 8:47 am · Reply

      Agreed

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