Minding Metadata for Marketing

Elis O'Donnell headshot

Metadata is a buzzword constantly tossed around in conversations about targeted marketing. Typically defined as “data about data,” its official definition doesn’t go much further: “a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.” For example, I use keywords to categorize my photo library. The photos are the data, and the keywords are the data about that existing data.

Metadata falls under many, interconnected categories, leaving the “data about data” definition too broad to indicate how it affects communicators. So which aspects of your communications program are really affected by metadata? How can you take control of it? I asked Social Media Associate Megan Doherty how she tackles metadata.

Why is metadata important?

Metadata helps companies clearly define the information they’re sharing to reach the most relevant and important audience. It is the information users read when they’re conducting Google searches, and it is what creates the clickable link cards that are now commonplace across social media platforms. Its application spans across marketing and PR to inform SEO and create more visually appealing, engaging social media content.

Imagine someone is trying to determine if your content will give them the information they need. If your Google search headlines or social media content links aren’t relevant to your target audience, or if they look spammy, it appears as though you’re vying for mass attention rather than solving a specific problem. When defining your website metadata, you need to think: what does my target audience need to know, and how am I going to communicate that I have the information?

So, minding metadata is really about maximizing SEO?

Yes and no. In this case, SEO is just something you should keep in mind when defining your metadata. On Google, metadata defines your landing page titles and descriptions. Building the right metadata into your website with SEO in mind is important for enticing clicks from your key audience, but metadata’s reach spans beyond the queries returned from a Google search.

At an even more foundational level, metadata should align a company’s message across digital platforms like search engines and social media. Again, it should tell your audience why your landing page will answer their question and/or provide a solution to their problem.

Is metadata automatically part of my content, or do I need to build it?

It depends on how you built your website. Once your webpage is live, search engines immediately begin analyzing it to pull what they think is the right data that people will use when searching for it. You might have heard of “spiders” that crawl the web to capture all publicly available content for search engines like Google. The problem is, these spiders might pull the wrong data.

The good news is that most web creation tools are built to make it easy for search engines to spot the relevant metadata. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully choose metadata that clearly defines your company’s value.

From an SEO standpoint, a spider probably won’t know the difference between B2B email security and home security. If you’re not minding your metadata, your site will not only appear irrelevant in searches for home security information, but it might not show up in searches for email security solutions at all.

On social, this can create issues when blog post titles are ignored and instead your card link features your company name and tagline. If your competitors have already mastered the art of metadata, it will look like you’re sharing endless links to your homepage while they are sharing relevant blog posts with information important to your key audience. Guess which company’s social will draw more attention for its industry and educational value?

How does metadata affect social media?

Beyond SEO, metadata also affects how we present our communications to the audience, particularly on social media. Anyone who has posted a link on social media has probably experienced the platform automatically pulling the wrong title, description, or image when producing a clickable card. This happens when the metadata isn’t specially crafted. When you’re trying to reach new people, you need to use every possible avenue to get them to click. No one will pay attention to a grey box on Twitter amidst so much engaging content. Links that perfectly transfer to social also encourage others to post them. No one wants to repost something that looks like spam.

A lot of times on the agency side, we don’t have enough access to clients’ social media to be able to manually adjust the card or help with metadata on the backend of the website.

How do you make sure a client nails down the foundational metadata on all fronts?

It can be hard. Clients must be open to working beyond the marketing team and potentially with their web developer. Clients are often completely focused on pitching media and posting on social media, and want to avoid the weeds of the digital side. However, neither reach their maximum value if reporters can’t easily find answers about the business or if we tweet a link that carries the wrong title and no image. You need a baseline of accurate metadata to support successful engagement.

Say I never paid attention to metadata at all, even though I’ve had my website for years. How would I begin a more strategic approach?

Try Googling yourself to see which pages come up and if there are errors. Start by cleaning up any kind of page that you use to drive leads, like a product landing page, demo page or a contact page. Doing so often involves the web developer if you used one – in which case your metadata was hopefully already smartly built. If your site was built in-house on an easy platform like WordPress, these changes can happen faster.

Although agencies feel the effects of metadata, is it really our problem to own, or does it fall more on web developers?

That’s the question. As PR people we know why it’s important, but we also lack the access or technical skills to make sure the metadata is perfect. Should we take the time to learn everything we can about metadata and then communicate with it?  Or, do we just say, “We know who knows about metadata and we will work with them.” A lot of it has to do with organizational roles, which makes it a bit more complicated than simply understanding how metadata works.

Putting what we know about metadata into action can be challenging, which is why a lot of people elect to just worry about it later. This leaves little holes in the content, which just lead to larger holes down the line.

Reach out to our team for help minding your metadata.


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