An article by Gerry McGovern Metadata is a web writing skill. It helps your readers quickly find what they need. Metadata is an essential part of successful web sales and marketing efforts. It helps influence people to buy. In every sense, metadata can drive action. It can help you achieve your objectives. Every year I talk to thousands of people from all over the world who are involved in running or managing websites. The single most misunderstood concept I come across is metadata. In the majority of websites I examine, the metadata is very poor. About a month ago I heard an executive from a large content management company give a speech. He talked about how people hated creating metadata, and that his company had a wonderful solution to automate its production. This would save people time, he told the audience. The software would be able to generate automatic headings and summaries by analyzing a piece of content for important keywords. Such an approach may save people time who create the content. It will, however, be a major waste of time for those who want to find, read and act on that content. It troubles me to think that this sort of advice is being given. Writing metadata is indeed difficult. It is not exciting. It is not fun. It is, however, an essential task. Quality metadata significantly increases the findability of your content. It also significantly increases its readability. The reason why we need keyword metadata is because people think in keywords. Keywords need to be carefully researched before you write anything. If someone wants to fly to Dublin, Ireland, their keywords may be: “low fares, Dublin, Ireland.” Or perhaps they might be: “cheap flights, Dublin, Ireland”? Which do you think is the most popular keywords: “low fares” or “cheap flights”? If you do your research, you will discover that one of these terms is vastly more popular than the other. Choosing the right keyword metadata is absolutely critical to the success of your web content. Sure, it’s hard work, but just because it’s hard work doesn’t mean it should be automated. Choosing the right metadata requires a deep understanding of your reader. It requires experience, skill and effort. If you’ve chosen the wrong keyword metadata to begin with, all the software will do is highlight the wrong metadata—garbage in, garbage out. I shudder to think what sort of sloppy heading and summary metadata software would write. A quality heading and summary can have a huge impact on how many people will read your content. I have been testing various headings and summaries among hundreds of people in several countries. Certain headings and summaries work way better than others. Don’t make it your objective to publish content as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Instead, make it your objective to get value from your content. If your content is going to work for you, you need to see it as an asset, not a commodity. You may spend many hours writing a piece of content. If you don’t invest the extra time writing quality metadata, the number of people who will be able to find your content will be greatly reduced. Why do we write? So that others will read us. --- Gerry McGovern, a web content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994. He has also authored several authoritative books on the subject.