The Business Owner’s Guide to Demystifying Metadata

Take a few seconds to consider the importance of the tags on your clothing.

Although they aren’t meant to be visible from the outside, they are an essential component when determining important information such as size, color, and care instructions.

In the same sense, metadata is to your website what a tag is to a shirt.

Without metadata, your website would be lacking a key indicator that helps search engines and site visitors gain essential information about your site and web pages.

Let’s dive in and understand metadata a bit more, shall we?

What Is Metadata?

Coming from the Greek word meaning “after” or “before,” meta is a prefix used in a self-referential context in words.

By that logic, in the pre- and post-digital information world, metadata is data about data.

Remember the days of going to the library as a child and using the Dewey Decimal System to locate materials based on title, author, and subject?

This was the first context in which metadata was used as a term.

Now with the evolution of the internet, metadata is more commonly used in reference to the ways in which web pages communicate important information to search engines like Google.

Invisible to your site visitors and customers, metadata can be found in your web pages’ HTML, and communicates purposes, characteristics and general content of your site and web pages.

It can include anything from page titles and description tags to design elements and site categories.

Why Is Metadata Important?

The job of a search engine is to crawl a web page and determine how relevant it is to a given search query.

If you have the goal to optimize for SEO, ensuring that your metadata is set up correctly is an imperative.

If your metadata is up-to-date and crafted strategically, your content will be more likely to rank higher in search results.

Meta Tags for SEO

When it comes to SEO, meta tags are the most fundamental form of metadata.

(Source) 

Among other things, they include description tags that summarize content, title tags, and robots that index pages or pass on link authority.

That may all sound like a whole new language to you, which is why we will break it down a bit further…

Description Tags

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A meta description is the short snippet of text that appears under your site’s URL in search results, and provides the viewer with a description of the content of the page.

Unlike other meta tags, meta descriptions won’t impact rankings.

What they will impact is whether or not a potential reader or customer will click through to the content, so it’s important that you ensure the description communicates value and entices people to click.

The description needs to be at least 11 words but no longer than 150 characters. If the description is too short or too long, you risk it not getting displayed.

Additionally, it won’t work to use the first 150 characters from the copy on the page.

Google will ignore such descriptions and determine the most relevant content to display as the summary text in its search results from among the content on the page.

Your description will also appear as social metadata if someone shares the page’s link on their social media channels, so again, make sure that you take the time to skillfully craft this element.

(Source) 

Title Tags

Unlike meta keywords, which lost their value when Google decided to devalue them in search engine rankings in 2009, title tags have a real impact on search rankings.

As you can see in the example below, you can find title tags at the top of your browser.

(Source) 

Title tags are also helpful if you want to give the page one primary title for the user but want to clarify or simplify that information for SEO purposes.

Robots

(Source) 

Meta robots tell the search engines what to do with your pages, such as whether to index or pass link authority through the links on a page.

There are four attributes involved in meta robots:

  • Index & no index: The use of these attributes tells search engines whether to show your page in search results or not.
  • Follow & no follow: These attributes tell search engines what to do with links on your pages–whether they should trust and “follow” your links to the next page or not.

This is a lot of technical information, but don’t worry–the real nuts and bolts of metadata can be taken care of by your CMS system or, if you use one, an SEO specialist.

However, as an eCommerce business owner, it’s important to understand these fundamental concepts so that you can communicate with specialists and understand what might be affecting your rankings in search results.


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