‘Metadata’ sounds like such a niche word, doesn’t it? Like something, only coders or people adept in would know about. Well, you’re not wrong if you think that, but using and knowing about metadata isn’t and shouldn’t be limited to only a few people. In fact, every blogger, content writer, and digital marketer should know at least the basics of this subject.
Don’t worry, there’s no pop quiz at the end of this article but if there was, you would pass with flying colours because that’s how easy this topic is.
What is Metadata?
The term ‘metadata’ consists of two words: ‘meta‘ and ‘data‘. We all know what data means (it means facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis, in case you didn’t know), so let’s look at the word ‘meta’.
The word ‘meta’ has a lot of different definitions and meanings; some are used in science (metaphysics being a commonly used term). In fiction, it means when the characters break the fourth wall, which means that they are self-aware of the fact that they are fictional characters or are living in the fictional world and directly address the audience.
As a prefix, meta denotes the “…position behind, after, or beyond”. So it refers to anything that is beyond what you see or hidden from plain sight or, in terms of data, it means the data behind the data you can see.
It is important to note that the fact that we can’t see the metadata doesn’t diminish its importance; in fact, metadata is perhaps one of the most important aspects of .
The Function and Importance of Metadata
If you are a content writer or a blogger, you write content suitable for your audience, because, after all, they’re the ones who give you engagement and bring in the business. But for SEO experts, the most important visitors to your content are the search engine crawlers. The job of a Search Engine Optimizer is to make your content readable to a crawler without compromising the quality of the content for the audience.
Adding relevant keywords directly to the content is one way they do this, but this method isn’t very helpful since they can add such keywords only where it makes sense and sometimes there’s not a lot of scope to do that.
This is where metadata comes in; because the viewers can’t see this information, SEOs have more control over what they can add here without worrying about grammar since crawlers don’t really care about that aspect of your content.
So, in SEO and digital marketing, metadata acts as a language that you use to tell the search engine crawlers what your content is all about.
An easy way to really understand the importance of metadata is to think of your article or blog post as a theatre piece. The viewable content of the article is like the artists putting on the show for the audience; this is what the audience has direct visual contact to. Metadata is, in this comparison, the staff that takes care of everything else, from the lighting to the sound, the props, the costumes, makeup, and even the communications. So metadata is the metaphorical behind-the-scenes staff who not only enhances the work of the actors but also has the potential to make or break the success of the play. It is your job as the director to make sure this staff is just as prepared for the big day as the actors.
If you go to any file on your desktop and right-click on it, you will find a tab called ‘properties’ which then takes you to another window that shows you all the properties of the selected file. It includes things like the location, type, size, creation date, the date it was last modified, when it was last accessed, etc.
But how does this relate to metadata? Well, this information is metadata and the individual identifiers act as the ‘meta tags’. In online content, such as your articles, these Meta tags are in HTML format; they make up your metadata and help crawlers better understand what the content is all about.
The HTML format of a meta tag is:
<meta name=”(insert tag)” content=” (insert content)” />
You don’t have to fret over learning the formats by heart as your content management system (CMS) auto-generates most of these tags for you.
The meta description is, more often than not, the description you see under the title in a SERP. This tag can help increase customer click through (if worded optimally) but it doesn’t necessarily improve your rankings.
The content for this tag needs to be more than 11 words but not more than 150 characters. This prerequisite is based on the algorithm of search engines (mostly Google); anything less than 11 words is not displayed at all while anything more than 150 characters is truncated (cut off using ellipses).
If you are planning on simply adding the first 150 characters of your article as the description, it’s better to just leave it blank. Google crawlers ignore such descriptions and choose the most relevant content from anywhere on the page to display as the summary text.
Before 2009, the keywords meta tag played a huge role in the . However, in 2009, this aspect was done with thanks to the sheer amount of pages misusing it to get higher rankings. Long story short, the keywords meta tag is basically useless. But this doesn’t mean that keywords are unimportant; Google crawlers are smart enough to go through the title and meta description and find out what the keywords are.
This meta tag is something that tells the crawlers what to do when they come across a link — whether they should index or pass link authority through. The four main attributes for this tag are “follow”, “nofollow”, “noindex”, and “index”. It is important to note that “follow” and “index” are the default robot attributes; if no attribute is given, the crawlers will assume that they have to index the content and follow the links.
Also, remember to use the noindex attribute very carefully to avoid any SEO mishaps.
Title tags are the most important meta tags in any page, even more so if it is an article or a blog post. As important as they are, they also have the simplest HTML format: <title> (insert title) </title>. The title tag is given the highest importance because this is what is displayed in search engines, on social media, and on third party websites.
To optimize title tags, start with the relevant, unique, and/or valuable keywords wherever possible or at least put them in the beginning. Another important thing to remember is that search engine algorithms truncate titles after 65 characters.
Image tags are mostly used to identify the URLs for the images that will appear on the page. The format for the image tag (with src attribute and alt attribute) is: <img src=” (image URL)” alt=” (alt text)” />.
The src attribute is used to denote the URL of the image and the alt attribute gives the image textual context. Other attributes like height and width attributes are also used with this to further define the image. Among all the image tag attributes, the alt attribute is most important for SEO.
Alternative attributes or Alt attributes provide a description of the image it is representing. This gives textual context to an element that programs like search engine crawlers and text-to-speech bots cannot read. This feature not only optimizes your content SEO-wise, but it also helps you reach out to customers with visual or mobility impairment who use text-to-speech bots.
Because alt text is used to give context to an image, it is vital that the text is as to the point and accurate as possible. For example, if you have a diagram of a heart showing its functions and parts, simply putting “heart” as the alt text might prompt the crawler to rank your scientific diagram among images of cartoon hearts. So, the correct alt text here would be “functions or the heart” or “scientific diagram of a heart”.
Despite popular belief, not every image on a page needs an alt attribute. Things like your logo, banner, and other decorative elements hold no importance to a person using a screen reader and so, having to sit through a bot slowly reading the alt text for such images would be aggravating.
Another function of alt text is that this is the text that shows up in place of the image while it loads which helps your viewer to understand the context of the image in slow connections or other such errors.
The details are what make the big picture appealing. In the case of your content, these details are the information contained in your metadata. So if you want your content, and consequently your brand, to do well, metadata is one element that you really need to optimize.
Sure, it may sound like a difficult thing to do, but the internet has made it so that you can easily learn everything about anything easily (and sometimes for free). If you don’t want to do that, there are online tools and downloadable software programs that you can use to make this already easy step a walk in the park.