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The Info Behind the Curtain: Metadata and Why You Need It

We’ve written about how your website is like your digital storefront, and it’s no secret that creating a great user experience is key to making your site effective. Metadata is vital for SEO.So why do we search optimizers bother spending so much time and effort on the back end of sites? The answer is twofold:

For the Robots

Metadata is all the information about a webpage that doesn’t show up on the page in standard web browsers. This data describes the content available on the site. Because Google robots and other web crawlers rely primarily on text, this behind-the-scenes data helps them know what a page is about. The more topically relevant your site appears to the search engine bots, the better you will do in search rankings.

Metadata’s effect on local rankings is especially important. Google itself has stated that metadata makes a big difference in terms of showing up in the local box at the top of search results, getting a brand box when your name is searched, and more.

For the Readers

Although metadata is hidden by definition, getting it all right enhances the user experience. This data shows up on search engine listings, for starters. Some of the metadata, such as image alt text, also displays when any non-text element doesn’t display properly on the page or when visually impaired people visit your site. In that case, specialized web browsers read the text aloud.

Breaking it Down, Meta by Meta

Metadata is part of the HTML code that controls what your site looks like, and you can find it on most browsers by typing “Ctrl + U” or selecting “view page source” from the right-click dropdown . You don’t need to understand how all of the coding works as a business owner, but below is a list of the most important kinds of metadata. We’ll refer to them by their colloquial names.

Meta Title:This is the name of your page, and it will appear as the blue link on the search results page and on browser tabs. These should include the main topic for the page and your brand name, up to about 70 characters.

Meta Descriptions: This is the wording that appears in search engine results as text below the blue link. It should be a sentence or two about the page and should be compelling. Generally, you have about 156 characters to work with. The main purpose of this tag is to get readers to click on the link and get to your site.
How meta titles and <a href=meta descriptions show up in search engine results.” />
Meta Keywords: This is a spot where you can enter the keyword topics the page is about, in a comma-separated list. We don’t always use this field and most search engines say they don’t use it anymore, but in some cases adding up to three keywords here can help you improve in the rankings.

Alt Text: This wording describes what an image is about, and it’s vital any time you have visually disabled visitors to your site. Use this space to relay a description or purpose for the image in 70 characters, give or take, and include keyword phrases and geographic data when it makes sense. This text is only needed on images that serve a purpose. For instance, borders and backgrounds don’t need it. Charts, photos, graphics or buttons are great places to use them, however.

Image Title Tags: On photos, the image title tag appears as a pop-up when you hover your mouse over the image. These can be really useful for readers and can also help with SEO. Just avoid stuffing keywords into this space or you could be penalized.

Rich Snippets: This data gives specific information to browsers and social media sites about the information on your page. This can include:

    • Open graph markup that tells sites like Facebook what to show if your page is shared in a post
    • Twitter card markup
    • Search-engine-specific information such as calendar events, business names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.

When this information is filled out correctly, search engines display it in specialized forms such as the local box or a brand box.
This example of a brand box highlights OnlineImage®.

What Makes Metadata Great

Once you decide to use metadata, the next step is implementing it throughout your site. Each snippet should be topically relevant and readable by humans. Take care not to repeat snippets verbatim, but make sure each one is on message. It’s also a good idea to aim for consistency. For example, spell your brand name the same way on all meta titles and use the same formats on each page.

What You Can Do

OnlineImage® takes care of metadata needs for most of our clients, but it isn’t too difficult to adjust. In most CMS platforms (content management systems such as WordPress and Wix), simply enter the wording you want into the correct fields. Plug-ins may make the job easier.

If you’re feeling enthusiastic about metadata but don’t want to dive into the code, there’s another way you can help: get us all the information your readers need about your business. Then, be sure to send copies of the images you want. If you have purchased stock photos or have professional images, let us know.