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Meta Information

 

Meta Information: Brief Summary

Meta information, otherwise known as metadata, can be broadly defined as “information about information” or “data about data”. It is most commonly used to provide information about the contents of data, or the context of data. For example, if a web page is considered a piece of information or data, the web page’s meta information – such as its title and page description – provides additional context and helps to outline its purpose.

Although there are many types of meta information and it can be used in different settings, its primary use in online marketing is to provide search engines with information about the content of a website and the context of data found within it. With that being said, meta information or metadata also serves to summarise key information about data, which can make general use, management and tracking of the data significantly easier as well.
 

Meta Information: Detailed Summary

Meta information is an important concept within the field of knowledge management, because it serves to make it easier to manage data and information. While meta information or metadata is usually used in the context of information about web pages, its uses extend beyond this and its roots can be traced to libraries, which kept digital databases about their books during the 1980s and used meta information within database entries.

The ultimate purpose of meta information or metadata is to describe the contents of data, or the context of data. For example, audio files often contain meta data outlining the title, the artist and the length of the audio file, while an e-book may contain metadata outlining its title, the author and the genre. Within marketing circles, however, meta information is most commonly used to provide a search engine with information about a website or web page.

For web pages, meta information includes page title tags and meta descriptions. These help to provide users and content creators with additional information, making them easier to use or manage. Moreover, metadata is used by search engines, in order to better understand web pages and their purpose. Search engines like Google will typically display title tags and meta descriptions on search engine results pages, so users know what they are clicking on.

This link with online search engines is the reason why metadata has a strong association with the practice of search engine optimisation (SEO). When a website’s meta information is constructed and managed carefully, it can provide significant advantages in terms of how high a search engine places the page on its results pages, and how likely a search engine user is to actually click on the link and visit the page.

For websites and individual web pages, meta information is typically included within the site’s HTML code. This can require some basic HTML knowledge to use effectively. However, certain content management systems also allow users to quickly edit and manage meta information without needing to know complex HTML codes.
 

Types of Metadata

Title tags and meta descriptions are the two most obvious types of metadata, as they are visible to users. Yet, other types of metadata are invisible to users, unless they choose to view a page’s source code. These typically serve as instructions for search engines and are read and interpreted by the search engine’s crawlers and algorithms.

For example, the “noindex” tag contained within a page’s metadata tells a search engine not to index the page in question. When this is present in a page’s source code, the search engine’s crawlers will identify the tag and the page will not be displayed in search engine results pages. This can be useful when a page has a function for the website owner, but is not intended to be viewed by other users.

Meta information can also help search engines to provide the most relevant version of a website to its users. For example, the “hreflang” tag can be utilised to inform a search engine that there are different languages available. It will then be able to display the most relevant language to search engine users, based on the language they use, or their geographical location, eliminating the need for most users to manually change languages.
 

Meta Information: Best Practices

For search engine optimisation purposes, the title tag and meta description are the two most important types of metadata to get right, as these will be used by search engines to provide users with a preview of what they can expect to see on a particular website or web page. Failing to take advantage of the meta description and title tag can have a negative impact on click-through rates and can hurt the overall visibility of a page on SERPs (Search Engine Result Page).

The title tag should be used to allocate the page a title. This will usually serve as the blue click-able link on most search engines, including the likes of Google, Bing and Yahoo! It is useful to use your main keyword within the title, as this can help with SERP rankings, and the title should also be meaningful and make clear what the page is about. For mobile optimisation purposes, the title should not exceed 70 characters, including spaces.

For the meta description, further details should be provided, so that the search engine and its users are under no illusions about what the page is about and what they can expect to find. The meta description displays under the title in SERPs and should entice the user, telling them what the page can offer them. For ideal optimisation, it should not exceed around 175 characters, including spaces. Again, keywords can be included.
 

Conclusion

Meta information, or metadata, is used to describe the contents and context of data, helping to outline its purpose and make it easier to manage. Although metadata is used in a number of different settings, such as within file management, it is most commonly associated with web pages. Here, it serves a key function in allowing search engine crawlers to interpret metadata and provide users with the most relevant pages.

For the purposes of search engine optimisation (SEO), the two most important pieces of meta information are the title tag and the meta description, as these will both be visible on search engine results pages. Both of these can be used to describe page content, entice users and include valuable keywords. As a result, metadata can help to improve overall visibility and influence key website metrics, such as hits and click-through rates.

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