If you’re new to the wonderful world of websites, you may not have heard the term ‘metadata’ before. Perhaps you have heard the term and you even have a vague idea of what it means. But do you know exactly what it is, how it is used and why it is so important? If not, that’s okay – unless it’s something you’ve had cause to do a bit of reading and research on, it is entirely understandable that the ins and outs of metadata may have escaped your general knowledge.
Here, we dig a bit deeper into the nitty gritty of what metadata is, why it’s so important, how it’s used and what you can do to make it work for you.
In the most basic terms, metadata is information about information, or pieces of data that provide information about other data. It is the ‘who, what, where, when, how, which and why’ that describes where and when the data originated, how it may be categorised, how it relates to other data, and any defining characteristics it may have.
Metadata is not part of the content that a user will see when they look at a file or web page, rather it is information that is embedded within the code of the page.
Metadata can be created manually (making it more targeted and content rich) or generated automatically, be simple or more complex, specific or more generic.
You might find it helpful to think of metadata as a kind of abstract, or the Clift notes, for a set of data – it summarises basic information about the data, referencing the data it describes and providing context. This context and additional information help the data to be more easily found and used.
Common metadata elements include the title of the file, web page or document, a description of its content, the name of the author, the language in which the page has been written, keywords that describe the content of the page or document, and the date the file or page was created.
Other webpage metadata elements provide instructions to your web browser on how your document has been encoded, while others refer to data quality. Preservation metadata is used in navigation, to specify the location of the data within a hierarchy or sequence.
Markup languages, such as HTML, include metadata used for navigation and interoperability (that is, creating a standard format, to enable the exchange of descriptive data and the interpretation of that data in a way that the creator intended). This type of metadata might include elements for style, headings, font, and lists.
To put this into the context of a website, each page of a website has its own set of metadata that describes the page – not just the words on the page, but every element that goes into the make up of that page. Web browsers use your website’s metadata to find your unique site, or a piece of information contained on your site.
When building your website there are some common metadata elements that will be included, such as meta title and meta description. The meta title provides a brief explanation of the page’s topic, to give web users an idea of what they will find on the page, should they choose to visit your site. The meta description is a brief explanation or summary of the page’s content. Both the meta title and meta description are displayed in search engine results, to give searchers an idea of what your web site or page is about.
Web browsers’ search engines scour the internet for content through a ‘crawling’ process. The search engines review the metadata and content for each URL they find, storing and organising this content by creating an index that groups together pages with similar content.
Once a page is included in an index, it is more likely (or, at least, has the potential) to be included in the set of relevant results returned by the search engine in response to the search terms entered by users – that is, a specific keyword, a group of keywords, or a phrase or question. These questions or phrases are often referred to as ‘long-tail keywords’ (keyword phrases that are likely to match phrases that users search for, as opposed to single keywords).
Internet users have the ability to enter pretty much whatever they like into the search bar of their web browser, but in order for the search engine to return a useful result it must be able to find a page or site with content that matches the search query. This is where keyword/keyphrase-rich content, the search engine’s semantic search capabilities – and good metadata – become crucial.
Because the metadata embedded within your site includes a description of the site, keywords and keyphrases, meta tags (snippets of text and image content on a web page) and a whole host of other important pieces of information, the metadata you choose to include – and its quality – is critically important to your website’s discoverability and, ultimately, its success.
Aside from the validity and perceived authority of your page’s content, it is the metadata that tells the search engine whether the contents of a site are relevant or valuable to the user. Without it, the search engine has to guess what a page or site is about and is therefore less likely to rank the site well.
The short answer here is, yes. Each metadata element you include helps your website to rank better on the search engine results page (SERP), because the less information the search engine has to sift through, the more easily your site is found and the better your site will rank.
However, metadata isn’t the only factor that will affect your website ranking. In order to rank well a site also needs to have high-quality content and must answer questions that users who are interested in the information contained on your site may ask and search for.
These days, with the complex and intuitive algorithms used by search engines, semantic metadata is perhaps more important that standard metadata. Semantic metadata describes the ‘meaning’ of data and allows for the addition of metadata that provides greater structure and more context, for example, including synonyms and related concepts.
Semantic metadata increases the search engine’s ability to create a meaningful metadata registry that is driven by an ontology (a set of concepts and categories in a subject area that shows their properties and the relationships between them), or schema (a plan or model showing the relationships between metadata elements, generally by setting rules for the use and management of metadata with regards to the semantics, syntax and other values).
Differences in the schema used to create your metadata template have implications for the level of description and quality of your metadata, so it is important to choose a schema that suits your individual site, and its potential users, their needs and the ways in which they might search.
Essentially, semantic metadata enables your site to be more discoverable by users who don’t necessarily know how to properly phrase a search query to find what they want, or who use a search term that doesn’t include a keyword used in your headings or content but is entirely relevant to content on your site.
Content rich websites, with meta tagged titles and headings that include long- tail keywords , embedded in your page’s metadata, are more likely to be selected by search engine algorithms and rank well in search engine results.
Long-tail keywords, which can be used as headings in your page and embedded in your metadata, are more specific than commonly used individual keywords. While they may not be as frequently searched for, their specificity often enables them to rank higher in search results returned on more specific search phrases and usually results in greater conversion.
Simply put, ‘conversion’ means that a consumer is more likely to visit your page and, potentially, generate revenue for your business – either by purchasing something via your online shopping facility, or by contacting you for more information or to get a quote for a service or product.
There are three critical metadata elements that absolutely need to be included on a site. Once these three are in play, the easier it is to improve your website’s ranking. They are:
Though not ‘critical’, another important metadata element is Alternative (Alt) text or tags, which serve as small keyword relevance signals for SEO. These are particularly important inclusions for images, so that search engines can consider the images on your page. Alt text tags also improve the accessibility of your website, particularly for visitors with visual impairments.
In terms of Google, the keywords meta tag ceased being used in website rankings in 2009. That doesn’t mean that using keywords is not important, it simply means that the keyword metadata isn’t used to rank your website. Save your keywords for beefing up your page title and headings and enriching your content instead.
Online shopping sites can use metadata to track their visitors’ and customers’ movements and habits. Gathering information about the items purchased, the consumer’s location and preferences enables online retailers to market their products in a more targeted way and create a more personalised shopping experience in future.
There are a number of reasons that metadata is important, not the least of which is the power it has to enhance a search engine’s ability to discover your site and assess its relevance to search queries on a specific keyword, subject, concept, phrase or descriptor, AND to improve your site’s ranking in search engine results.
While it’s safe to say that your site’s metadata is almost as important as the content of your site, it is important to remember that metadata is not the ‘be all and end all’ for determining or improving your ranking, or for attracting internet users to your site, or turning those visitors into paying customers.
For your site to be successful it must also be designed to provide the greatest amount of user satisfaction, meaning the content not only has to be great, but any additional features (like an online shop) have to be easy to use and work correctly – and it absolutely must be responsive. If your site ranks well and a user decides to click on your site’s link from the SERP but your site takes forever to load, users are more likely to hit that ‘back’ button and go to another site instead. This means fewer people browsing your site and fewer opportunities to convert visitors into customers.
Good use of metadata, coupled with smart web design leads to greater discoverability and good conversion, which, for business owners, is the entire purpose of having a website.
Jezweb handles all aspects of web development, from design to SEO to ensuring an optimal user experience. Our team of professional web designers, SEO specialists and talented content creators work together to create fantastic websites and, with years of experience in the industry, you can be confident that the Jezweb team will do our best to make your website stand out and rank well.
Contact Jezweb now on 02 4951 5267 to find out how we can help your business achieve the best possible results from your website. Alternatively, please complete our online contact form to send us a message, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and a Jezweb representative will contact you shortly.