What Is Metadata?

Updated: February 24, 2024

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When you publish pages on your website, search engine bots will comb your content and determine its purpose. You want your pages to be clear in purpose, but bots can’t read images or always see the main theme. So, using metadata, you can tell the bots what your page is about and improve your search ranking.

Remember Charlotte’s web? She used keywords to save her friend. Yep, you are the spider thinking of some memorable and defining words to help classify the pig. The right words in the right places will help catch the attention of passing bots and get them to pull up your content for relevant search queries.

What Is Metadata?

So, what exactly is metadata, and how does it impact your site? There are three types of metadata according to NISO’s definitions:

Descriptive Metadata: This is the most common form of metadata that you are likely planning to deal with. These are the tags and keywords that will change from page to page. Those descriptive words that provide a succinct title, summary, author or keywords are all considered descriptive metadata.

Structural Metadata: Search engines are set up to consider what content will lead to helpful resources and not dead ends for the user. Structural metadata will indicate how your pages interact, connect and are ordered.

Administrative Metadata: Information such as rights management (intellectual property rights), creation date, acquisition, location and preservation are technical types of metadata that explain how the resource is managed.

Descriptive Metadata Elements You Should Be Writing

Choosing a focus keyword for each page is recommended to help make the purpose of the page clear. Then, relevant/related keywords are also included to support that focus. This is not keyword stuffing, but providing descriptors in specific places for the user and search engine. The most common metadata description tags that you need to focus on are going to include:

Meta Title: A condensed and keyword-focused title to help the search engine understand the purpose of the page.

Meta Description: This shows up under your page title in the search results, and if it is not filled in, the search engine will select a random segment of your page to include. The meta description should not go over 25 words and should be an enticing summary of your content that will get users to click on your site. Include your focus keyword for the page in this description.

Image Tags (or ALT Tags): Always provide your images with keywords, so the search engine bots can see that the visual resources you are including help support the content. Writing keyword tags for your images also helps them pop up in image search results and will be what automatically pops up as the description if your image is pinned to Pinterest from your site.

Content/Page Keywords: Tags that help users search for specific content within your site.

Canonical Tags: They can be used to consolidate similar pages and reduce the possibility of getting penalties from the search engine for duplicate content.

Using Metadata for Better SEO

There are a lot of pieces of SEO you can’t nail down, especially since Google reportedly changes its algorithm 500‒600 times each year. How can you keep up and play the system? You aren’t supposed to.

Remember, the goal of the algorithm isn’t to keep you down—it’s to help users find what they are looking for. Search engines are working to provide the best and most relevant results out of billions of pages and content that grows exponentially each day.

Focusing on great content is a good start. Making sure that content is readable, engaging, shareable and memorable is the next step. And then ensuring your content is as search-engine friendly as possible helps get that content in front of the eyes that want to see it.


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