What is Metadata?
‘Data about data.’ (Unknown)
‘A set of data that describes and gives information about other data.’ (Unknown)
‘An underlying definition or description.’ (Unknown)
The word ‘meta’ comes from the Greek for ‘after’ ‘beyond’ but in this context is used to mean ‘about’.
Metadata, in one form or another, has always existed though the term did not come into such general use until recently. Beforehand it would have been termed something like ‘a record’, ‘an index’, ‘a listing’, ‘a catalogue’ or similar. For example: before computerisation libraries used card indexes to record details of all the books held.
Principally, metadata is information created and/or stored during the configuration of a book or product.
What comprises metadata?
Books are primarily under consideration here nevertheless, many of the points made will apply to other products.
- File size.
Additional elements may include:
- Genre (e.g. Thriller, Romance, Memoir etc.).
- Subject (e.g. Women, Travel, Family, etc.).
- Publication date.
- BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications).
- ISBN (International Standard Book Number).
- Page count.
- Retail site(s).
Metadata primarily consists of anything that describes a product and its availability.
Is metadata important?
The answer is an unequivocally resounding YES.
Metadata is pivotal to discoverability (find, come across, locate, stumble upon, bring to light). Without it readers/consumers are unlikely to come across the book or product when carrying out a search.
Remember, technology is enhanced and improved on a daily basis. The improving web and greater integration of software enables metadata to be more easily processed, analysed and shared across the internet. It is therefore important for a book or product to have good metadata.
How is metadata used?
Principally, in these days of rampant technology, it is used by search engines (‘a program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user.’ (Unknown)) to assist in locating a book or product the searcher may be interested in.
A list of the books/products/sites found is displayed to the searcher who then has the option of clicking on an item to investigate further. The metadata included with a book or product usually determines whether a search engine will display a link to it. What is displayed is then often primary in a searcher’s decision of whether to follow the link or not. Great care must therefore be taken when creating metadata.
Metadata is universally used.
- Social Media.
- E-mail providers.
- Music software.
- Technological products.
Just a few examples. The list is endless.
How is metadata created?
Automatic: Some is automatically created by systems when a book or product is uploaded or added. Most automated data simply comprises the basic information. See under ‘What comprises metadata?’ above.
Manual: Though the automatically created data may be adequate for a searcher to find what they are looking for most authors/creators will want to do all possible to raise the profile of their product. This is where manual creation comes in. It is usually added when the product page is first created. For self-published books this is when the author completes the panels presented to them by the software system they are using: e.g. Kindle, Smashwords, CreateSpace (see ‘Publishing with CreateSpace’ to gain a clearer idea of what this comprises).
What to include?
The author/creator needs to bear in mind users of search engines may enter almost any word, phrase or list of characters. For books this could be: Subject; Genre; Keyword; Author; Title; ISBN; etc. These could be as simple as ‘Women’; War; Abuse; Thriller; Suspense; Africa; etc. As always the list is endless.
The person adding the information also needs to change perspective and view the matter from the searcher’s point of view. Not always an easy thing to do. Authors have spent endless days, months and perhaps years creating their ‘masterpiece’ and will no doubt have adopted, probably subconsciously, a certain view of it. They now need to step back and adopt the position of a potential reader:
- Who are they? (The author’s target audience).
- What needs do they have?
- Do they have questions looking for an answer?
- How do they make decisions?
- Where and how may they be reached?
- What they are looking for?
- What words or phrases will they use?
Of course the above is part of identifying a readership or audience, which is another topic not the subject of this post.
What is entered should: Be of the highest quality possible; Be actionable (enable the user to follow through); Provide clear information. It must be remembered metadata impacts upon all that surrounds a product. For example, the name and description of a website. Some have tried to pack their websites with search engine friendly words in an attempt to get it to show up in a variety of searches though it may not in truth be relevant to the topic searched. Search engine organisations became aware of this and subsequently changed the algorithms utilized. Understandably, the content of these is now purposely kept undisclosed. It does no favours to anyone for people to abuse the systems this way. The metadata should be restricted to what is relevant otherwise the author’s reputation and that of their book(s) will be damaged. Once lost it is hard to recover a reputation.
With books it has been suggested authors take greater care when drafting the blurbs (synopsis) so as to include metadata that will register in search engine results. Makes a lot of sense, though again they should take care to ensure it is relevant. In addition, links to the author’s various sites (Web, Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads etc.) may be included in the ‘back’ material of a book. Again it should be ensured these are relevant e.g. not to other sites they may be associated with but are not relevant to the book or product.
There is much more that could be discussed in relation to metadata. However, this is simply intended as an overview, with some guidance upon how to approach the matter. The main principles are:
- Metadata is very important to any business. (Selling books is a business).
- The author/creator needs to consider the product from the reader’s/consumer’s point of view.
- Accuracy and relevance are vital.
Of course as much information as possible should be included in the metadata: the more there is the more the book or product is likely to show up in searches and elsewhere. But it cannot be emphasized enough it must be relevant!
It will be noted there are no suggestions as to the words, phrases, categories, etc. to be utilized. Each book/product is unique, even if it has similarities to others. The author, together with any advisors they work with, must decide upon the final choice of terms. Of course they may look at similar books but in the end, and if they want to make their book as discoverable as possible, they must reach their own conclusions. However, remember it is very easy to lose a reputation and extremely hard to regain it once lost.