What Is Metadata and How Do You Use it? (With Types)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Metadata provides companies with more information about digital objects and websites. They can use either manual or automatic methods of managing metadata. By knowing more about metadata, you can optimize websites and metadata to increase ranking in search engines. In this article, we discuss the definition of metadata, consider how metadata works, and review different types of metadata.

What is metadata?

Metadata provides a comprehensive understanding of the location of data within organizations and the deployment of information. For example, some computer programs or files contain metadata that shows users the file type and the creation date. You can also use metadata to catalogue and sort information. This can be essential in databases and systems that require filter data for criteria like author, origin date, or file type. A digital example of metadata is when an MP3 player shows a song's name, artist and length.

Websites also have metadata. For example, meta tags are metadata attached to websites that help search engines recognize and rank them according to relevance or date.

How does metadata work?

Metadata has different functions depending on what type of information it describes. It provides a summary about important data, and professionals can create manual metadata to help ensure their accuracy. Alternatively, they can automate data to increase overall efficiency. Here are some functions of metadata:

Website searches

Search engines use the metadata of websites to identify the content of websites and to review the keywords used within that content. This helps search engines decide the ranking of website depending on the relevance of the website in comparison to the user's search. When a user searches the keywords, the search engine reviews the metadata and displays websites that match correspond to the information for which the user seeks. Here are common types of metadata reviewed in search engines:

  • Meta title: A meta title is a brief description of a page's topic. This is typically the link displayed on the list of results from a search engine.

  • Meta description: The meta description is a brief description of a page that's usually a few sentences long. This is the text that appears under the meta title in the search results.

  • Meta tags: Meta tags only appear in a page's code and help search engines categorize the page.

Tracking

Companies can track consumer metadata to learn more about their overall browsing history and trends. This helps companies market their products to consumers more easily because they obtain information relevant to consumer shopping habits. For example, some online shopping websites track consumers' metrics, like their clicks, purchases, locations, the number of site views, and device types. Obtaining this information helps retailers understand their consumers and the types of products they want to buy. This information also helps professionals segment consumers into particular markets.

Companies can use the information obtained from tracking to adjust their marketing and sales campaigns. They do this by reviewing the components of their websites or campaigns that attract visitors and buyers. Companies can then optimize their website and its content to attract more consumers.

Computer files

When users save their files to computers, those files contain metadata that helps the computer's operating system understand the operating system required to open, store, and display the files. Users can access metadata by viewing the properties or the file information, depending on the operating system. A file's metadata can also tell you when and who created the file, the date of the last time someone opened it, how large the file is, and who owns it.

Database management

Database management refers to the organization and retrieval of data from computers. Data housed in a database has a column name and a row number, which are metadata attached to the piece of data. This metadata increases the ease of interpreting, organizing, and requesting data. Metadata can be a directory in the database, allowing users to sort data by type and determine relationships between different pieces of data. These categories and relationships give the database structure.

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Types of metadata

Here are several types of metadata to consider:

Descriptive

Descriptive metadata refers to data that lists attributes about another piece of data. This also provides viewers or users with information about the digital object's intellectual content. Professionals use this type of metadata for discovering and identification of information. For example, you can identify descriptive metadata when a file's properties list its owner, date of creation, and size.

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Rights

Metadata can include information about who owns the rights to a piece of data. This can be the copyright status or the holder of a license. Using this type of metadata can help identify either people or their works and to label them "potential claimants". This helps prevent copyright infringement and provides detailed information about who owns the information of digital objects.

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Technical

Technical metadata refers to the technical aspects of a piece of data, like its type and size. This form of metadata also considers the technical properties of digital objects and the specific hardware requirements for using and processing the digital information. Technical metadata is important because it helps professionals render information about digital objects.

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Preservation

Preservation metadata is information about where the data belongs within a larger hierarchical structure. This metadata also considers external metadata, value-added, and item-level data that provides information about the digital object's format, structure, and uses. The preservation metadata provides professionals with information about the actions performed on the digital object.

Business

Metadata can include information about the company that manages the data, like who owns the data and its rules and regulations for using the data. Business metadata provides companies with additional context for data, and information by businesses and professionals. This differs from technical metadata, which considers storage and data structure.

Provenance

This type of data shows the history of a piece of data, like its creation and any additional changes to it. Provenance metadata contributes to the credibility of digital objects and the determination of the origins of the object. This data also considers the processes and methodology of the digital object's production.

Use

Use metadata is data that a system records and sorts each time a user accesses a piece of digital data. This is how marketing companies often track users. Use metadata considers a summary and description of the classification, organization, and labelling of data.

Administrative

This type of data provides information about who can make changes or access the data. Administrative metadata is necessary for the management and use of information resources. This allows other professionals within companies to collaborate on digital objects.

Tips for using metadata effectively

Here's a list of tips to help you use metadata more effectively:

Include keywords

You can benefit from using keywords in the metadata because it can increase your ranking in search engines. For example, you can include keywords that are relevant to your site, and you can research commonly searched keywords within your industry. The search engine can read and catalogue these keywords to improve the likelihood of your site appearing when people search those terms. You can also increase your ranking by including keywords in your meta title and adding keyword variations to your meta description.

Use a metadata management system

Using metadata for marketing allows you to store large data sets and databases, and you may want to install a metadata management system. These systems help you control larger amounts of data to determine which data is accessible and usable. For example, newer data is often more relevant within management systems because it increases the rotation of data within digital objects. Metadata management systems can also help you control how employees access and use data, which helps you maintain the system's integrity in the long-term.

Follow industry standards

There are several industry usage standards that can help ensure the usability of metadata and understand metadata across different data types and networks. Having an understanding of data standards can help you use metadata for marketing purposes. Different industries may have specific standards to catalogue their metadata, and you may want to consider researching the standards for your industry when formatting your metadata. Here are a few standards to consider:

Dublin core

Libraries developed this metadata system to index physical library cards. Computer scientists have since adapted it for digital data. The Dublin core has these attributes of metadata:

  • Title

  • Creator

  • Subject

  • Description

  • Publisher

  • Contributors

  • Date

  • Type

  • Format

  • Identifier

  • Source

  • Language

  • Relation

  • Coverage

  • Rights management

Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS)

The Library of Congress developed this metadata system to describe digital text documents. It has similar attributes to the Dublin core. This also includes:

  • Physical description

  • Table of contents

  • Target audience

  • Location

  • Access condition

  • Extension

  • Record information

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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