What is Metadata?

Metadata – HTML snippets added to a webpage’s code that add contextual information for web crawlers and search engines. Search engines use metadata to help decide what information from a webpage to display in their results. Example meta tags include the date the page was published, the page title, author, and image descriptions.

Types of Metadata

Metadata comes in several types and is used for a variety of broad purposes that can be roughly categorized as a business, technical, or operational.

  1. Descriptive metadata properties include title, subject, genre, author, and creation date, for example.
  2. Rights metadata might include copyright status, rights holder, or license terms.
  3. Technical metadata properties include file types, size, creation date and time, and type of compression. Technical metadata is often used for digital object management and interoperability.
  4. Preservation metadata is used in navigation. Example preservation metadata properties include an item’s place in a hierarchy or sequence.
  5. Markup languages include metadata used for navigation and interoperability. Properties might include heading, name, date, list, and paragraph.

Metadata and Website Searches

The metadata embedded in websites is critically important to the success of the site. It includes a description of the website, keywords, metatags, and more all of which play a role in search results.

Some common metadata terms used when building a web page include meta title and meta description. The meta title briefly explains the topic of the page to help readers understand what they’ll get from the page should they open it. The meta description is further information, though brief, about the contents of the page.

Both of these metadata pieces are displayed on search engines for readers to get a quick glimpse of what the page is about. The search engine uses this information to group together similar items so that when you search for a specific keyword or group of keywords, the results are relevant to your search.


Merchants and online shopping sites use metadata to track consumers’ habits and movements. Digital marketers follow your every click and purchase, storing information about you such as the type of device you use, your location, the time of day, and any other data they’re legally allowed to gather.

Armed with this information, they create a picture of your daily routine and interactions, your preferences, your associations, and your habits, and can use that picture to market their products to you.

Internet service providers, governments, and anyone else with access to large collections of metadata information could potentially use the metadata from web pages, emails, and other places there are users online, to monitor web activity.

Metadata is a short representation of the larger data, this information could be searched through and filtered to find information about millions of users at once and track things like hate speech, threats, etc. Some governments have been known to collect this data, including not only web traffic but also phone calls, location information, and more.

Computer Files

All file you save on your computer includes some basic information about the file so that the operating system understands how to deal with it, and so that you or someone else can quickly gather from the metadata what the file is.


Here is an example, in Windows, when you view the properties of a file, you can clearly see the file’s name, the file type, where it’s stored, when it was created and last modified, how much space it’s taking up on the hard drive, who owns the file, and more.

The information can be used by the operating system as well as other programs. For instance, you might use a file search utility to quickly find all the files on your computer that were created sometime today and that is bigger than 3 MB.

Social Media

Every time you friend someone on Facebook, listen to music Spotify recommends for you, post a status or share someone’s tweet, metadata is at work in the background. Pinterest users can create boards of related articles because of metadata stored with those articles.

Metadata is useful in very specific social media situations such as when you’re looking for someone on Facebook. You can see a profile image and a short description of the Facebook user to learn just the basics about them before deciding to friend them or send them a message

Database Management

Metadata in the world of database management might address the size and formatting or other characteristics of a data item. It’s essential to interpreting the contents of database data. The eXtensible Markup Language (XML) is one markup language that defines data objects using a metadata format.



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