Meta tags are snippets of text that describe a page’s content. They won’t appear on the page itself, but only in the page’s code. Think about them as little content descriptors that help tell search engines what a web page is about.

Meta tags or metadata has been around almost since the beginning of search engine history. They were valued as a factor in rankings before people started abusing their use in an effort to appear in the top of search engine results. Even after Google opted meta tags out of the ranking factors, they are still important. Meta tags still play quite a big role in your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). The search engines still read them for a simple, summarized idea of what your site is about and what exactly are your keywords.

Because metadata is information about information, or more precisely, structured information about resources, it can be as simple as an author’s name or as complex as a geographic code or a controlled vocabulary subject heading. Library catalogs are remote metadata, as are book reviews, indexes to art collections and summaries.

Metadata generally uses a more controlled vocabulary and it provides the context of the words, so it provides more scope for locating useful information with the best recall and precision. For example, metadata can indicate whether an article containing the name “Tim Berners-Lee” is by him or about him, which is valuable to searchers.

Many content management and publishing systems provide metadata tools, which allow authors, editors, and librarians to add appropriate entries more easily, and use standard vocabulary and formatting. However, there are not yet metadata standards for web publishing. Many different metadata schemes are being developed as standards across disciplines, such as library science, education, archiving, e-commerce, and arts.

Metatagging can be manual or automatic. Which method works better? There are proponents for both sides of this ongoing debate, and in the end, it just might be a personal preference.

Most agree that properly tagged content provides countless benefits. It is more organized, easier to find, optimized for search and indexing, and when also classified, is easily protected. Automated tagging eliminates the problem of end users under-classifying their content, and can help reduce guesswork, human error and simple laziness.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Data Harmony, a unit of Access Innovations, the world leader in indexing and making content findable.