Ideally, search engines and social networks would be smart enough to look at a website and glean all of the information they need from the human-readable content on the page. In reality, they’re nowhere near intelligent enough; they can make guesses which are often pretty good, but they need a little help to understand what the content on a page means. Metadata is one way we can help them out.
Metadata has been in the news a lot over the past few years, and, in essence we’re talking about the same thing here: data about data. But where websites are concerned, we have a specific sort of metadata in mind: information that we add to entities on our pages to help crawlers like Googlebot understand what the entity is.
The most familiar forms of metadata to webmasters are those contained in the
< title > and
< meta description > tags. As the name suggest, the title tags tell search crawlers the title of the page, so they don’t have to work it out from sometimes ambiguous on-page content. The description tag contains a short snippet that describes the page. Google uses these examples of metadata to improve the accuracy of its indexing of the page (which is why both are important for SEO) and the search results: the information is used for both the title of a search result and the snippet of text beneath the link.
There are many more types of metadata a website can — and should — contain. They allow sites to inform, and to some degree control, search engine and social media network’s perception and presentation of content.
Twitter’s Twitter Card metadata is a good example. By adding Twitter Card metadata to the head section of our pages, we can control the way the content is presented on Twitter. Take the “twitter:image” property, which informs Twitter which image should be used in rich tweets when the content is shared. Without it, Twitter would have to guess which image to use, which can have unfortunate results.
Facebook has a similar set of metadata, called Open Graph, which is used in the same way. It ensures that your content appears in Facebook the way you want it to.
The metadata I have described barely scratches the surface, there’s metadata to indicate the meaning of almost every object that you could possible mention on a website, much of which is used by search engines to contextualize their results: you can let Google know who the author of a piece of work is, your businesses location, the details of a review, and so on — all of which can impact the way your site appears in the SERPs.
There are numerous plugins to help WordPress users add metadata to their content, and which you use depends on what you want to achieve. Among the plugins you should look at are:
- Add Meta Tags
- Twitter Cards Meta
- WP Facebook Open Graph protocol
- All In One Schema.org Rich Snippets
Search and social are huge sources of traffic for most sites, and taking the time to give them a helping hand with informative metadata is well worth the effort.