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What is Metadata and Why is it so Important?

The question “what is Metadata” is a very common one, and it is important that you understand the meaning of the term and its importance. Whether you refer to it as ‘Metadata’ or ‘Meta data’ is immaterial. The Google search engine sees the two as being the same term. So, what exactly is Metadata, and … Continued

The question “what is Metadata” is a very common one, and it is important that you understand the meaning of the term and its importance. Whether you refer to it as ‘Metadata’ or ‘Meta data’ is immaterial. The Google search engine sees the two as being the same term. So, what exactly is Metadata, and how does it affect you?

First, let’s establish one definition – we shall henceforth use the term ‘blog’ to include a blog or a traditional website. The two are the same when it comes to discussing Metadata and most other SEO fundamentals.

What is Metadata in General Terms?

What is the meaning of the prefix ‘Meta’? It has a Greek root, meaning ‘after’ and ‘beyond’ but has also been extended to mean ‘about’. That last definition is the one that is used in relation to web page or blog data. Fundamentally, Metadata offers information about the data that is contained on the web page or blog post.

That information can take many different forms:

  • The purpose of the data, or a description of the purpose of the page;
  • A description of individual elements within a page;
  • How the data were created, for example the HTML format;
  • The date of creation of the data;
  • Who created it – details of the author;
  • Where on the computer network the data were created
  • The standards used to create the data

When discussing the way you create your website or blog content, we can narrow this meaning down to how you use Metadata for SEO. A more accurate definition of the term for you would be that:

Metadata is the information you provide to search engines that is not visible to website or blog visitors. In other words, you have two sets of text on your blog. One that is visible to search engine algorithms, and a subset of that which is visible to humans. Humans cannot see the Metadata, other than by viewing the source code for the page.

Metadata is used by webmasters to describe the various elements of each blog page or post so that search engine algorithms can more easily establish the relevance of the content of that page to the search term used by anyone using that search engine to find information.

Website Source Code – Head and Body Areas

If you place your cursor anywhere in the body your website or blog post, and then right click, you will find a menu of options. Click on ‘View Page Source’ and you will find the HTML source code for that page. This code is converted by your browser into a blog page.

If you check out the top of the page source code, you will see ‘HTML’ telling the browser that you page is in HTML, and then ‘Head’ that tells your browser that this should not be made visible to humans. It is, however, visible to search engine spiders that crawl your site and use the Metadata in the Head section to calculate its relevance to any search term being used.

The ‘Body’ section comes below the ‘Head’. Everything in the body section is viewable to humans, apart from some other ‘Metadata’ used for SEO purposes that is not visible to you – again only by search engines.

Examples of Metadata

Metadata takes many forms. A large proportion is generated by software use by your web hosting service. It is advisable not to change any of this other than the elements below. There are four fundamental forms of Metadata that is important to your SEO and that can affect your search engine ranking.

Some of these are common, while others may not be familiar to you according to your experience in blogging and operating websites. It should be noted here, that while many of these tags attributes can be automated by means of plugins, it is important that you check the content of Meta tags, and make sure they match up with the focus of your blog post or the keywords for which you are seeking rankings.

Page Title Tag:

The Meta title tag appears in the ‘Head’ section of the HTML for each web page. It makes no difference if that is a regular web page, a blog page or a post. You must use your principal keyword or phrase in the title tag because that is what the Google indexing and ranking algorithms will look at first. (From now we shall use ‘Google’ as meaning the relevant algorithms).

When you view the Google search engine results pages (SERPS) on Google for any search term, the heading or title you see for any listing is copied from the Title tag. Google will truncate this to some fixed width. So make sure that your title is no more than that fixed width. Check it out for yourself using this tool.

Your Title tag should appear in this format:

This is the Title of My Page - and it Must Not Exceed a Fixed Width.

Trouble is, this is limited to a fixed width, so will be shown in Google’s listing as:

This is the Title of My Page – and it is limited to a fixed width …

Google seems to display the ellipsis (…) in place of any final full word that would over its permitted fixed width. You can use WordPress SEO plugin to check if it exceeds that fixed width.

If you fail to provide a Title tag for a page Google has decide to list, then Google itself will take a snippet from the text on your page. This might not necessarily be reader-friendly, so make sure you choose your own.

Description Meta Tag:

The description Meta tag should explain clearly the main theme of the contact of the blog post or page, and must also include you main theme keyword/phrase. This is the content that you see below your heading on your SERPS listing on Google.

Just as with the title, if you do not provide a Description Meta tag, Google will take a snippet from your page – usually the first few words that seem relevant to the searcher. Obviously, it is best not to leave this to Google but to state what description you wish to use. You do this by using the following format in the Head section of your page HTML:

<meta name="Description" content="This is a description of my website. You can write this description any way you wish, within reason, but use no more than 159 characters - including spaces." />

According to some SEO ‘experts’, complying with these suggestions might make no difference to your search engine ranking. However, if you check out the Google SERPS for any keyword, you will probably find that keyword is contained in both the title and description in the listing.

Maybe there are listings that do not contain the keyword, and it is possible to attain such listings, but they are not common. The vast majority of Google listing for a keyword or phrase contains your search term in the listing somewhere. Check it out for yourself with a search using any search term you like – how many listings do not contain at least part of your search term?

You might find some, but that is Google’s LSI and Hummingbird algorithms at work. You cannot go wrong if you use your main keywords in your Title and Description tags. Anybody who tells you different knows little about SEO and the way that Google search, indexing and ranking algorithms operate.

Listen to what Matt Cutts has to say about the Description Meta tag here:

Metadata Within the Body of Your Page

Many people are under the misapprehension that Metadata appears only in the Head section of your HTML. There is other ‘data about data’ that many tend to ignore. The most common is the ‘Alt’ attribute that is metadata in the purer sense of the word- ‘data about data.’

The ‘Alt’ attribute is used within the HTML for an image, audio or video file. It is used to provide information for such a file should it fail to resolve in a web browser – it informs the reader what this space should be.

For example:

<img alt="Hummingbird on flower" src=hummingbid.jpeg>

In the event that the image of the hummingbird does not resolve on a particular browser, the ‘alt’ attribute explains to the reader that there should be image of a hummingbird and a flower. Google looks on this as providing an additional service to the reader, and so uses it as a ranking factor.

Not only that, but many audio browsers that read the page content for blind users will read the contents of the alt attribute, so the blind user understands that there is an image present and what it portrays. This is better than the image being skipped altogether, particularly if further reference is then made to it.

Another benefit of using such tags is that Universal Search uses ‘alt’ tags in order to display images of your website in ‘blended results’. ‘Blended Results’ is a relatively new concept in the display of search results, where news, video, audio, blogs, web pages and images are displayed together in the SERPS for a particular search term. Alt tags are taken into account by indexing and ranking algorithms when displaying these results.

Robots Meta Tag

The Robots Meta tag is another form of metadata of which you should be aware. This form of metadata enables you to control how each page on your blog or website is indexed by search engines. For example, if you do not want a page included in Google’s search engine index, place the Meta tag within the head section of your HTML like this:

<meta name="robots" content="noindex" />
(rest of head data)

If you have no restrictions then you need not use the attribute, although Google would prefer you to include a robots.txt file in the root directory of the site containing this information:

User-agent: *

This enables Googlebot to visit every page on your website, other than those with the specific noindex instruction shown above.

To generate the robots.txt file, open Notepad, copy the above text into a file and name it robots.txt. Now save and upload that file into the root directory of your blog.

If you have specific files within your blog you do not want indexed, such as pricing or sales pages that are more or less duplicates of each other, choose one to be indexed and state the URLs of the others after ‘Disallow’ in the Robots.txt file.

You can use the Robots Meta tag in many different ways – check our blog post on this topic for more information.

Keywords Metatag

If you are wondering why the Keywords Meta data does not appear here it is because Google does not use it – not at all. You can forget it, or add about six important keywords if you feel the need – but it will not affect your ranking one little bit. However, do not confuse that with tags in your blog – these can be important for those searching blogs using specific keywords, but they will not help improve your ranking.

Here is Matt Cutts on the Keywords Meta tag:

What is Metadata – Summary

That is fundamentally how to use Metadata with your blog. Some forms of Metadata appear in the Head section of your HTML while others are included within tags and attributes in the body of the page itself. Wherever it appears, Metadata is very important information, and Google will take particular care to carry out the instructions you provide with it.

Metadata is directed to the search engine, and Google is very particular in the way it carries out your instructions and applies such data. Make sure your instructions are clear, but if you get it right then you have a useful way of directing search engines to the important areas of your website and explaining very clearly what each web page is about.


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