It's time to get serious about metadata.

When it comes to the Web, there is nothing more misunderstood than metadata. Technical people search vainly for a way to automate its creation. Many editors and writers want nothing to do with it.

And yet, without quality metadata a Web site cannot properly achieve its objectives. It's time to get serious about metadata.

The Web is an ever-growing mass of content. If you have quality metadata, your search engine works much better. People are able to find your content much faster. If you have quality metadata, your content is much better classified, allowing people to find what they need much faster.

We all look for metadata when we arrive at a Web page. There are certain questions we ask instinctively: What is this about? Who wrote it?

Let's say you go looking for a government form. When you get to the form, what is the first question you're going to ask? You'll want to know whether the form is up-to-date, won't you?

Let's say you're in charge of a Web site that has 50 forms on it. Let's say that every Monday morning you have someone on your staff quickly scan those forms to see that they are all still up-to-date. Assuming that they are, this person would then write something like this at the top of the form:

This form is up-to-date as of July 13, 2004.

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.