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It doesn’t take a programming expert or a data analyst to maximize metadata. Marketing acumen helps, but understanding and maximizing metadata is ultimately a matter of looking beyond the publication of an article and leveraging metadata to give it more visibility and a larger online presence.

What is metadata?

Metadata is the information that makes an article discoverable from an online search engine. Data from a published work is electronically flagged as fulfilling a particular function, such as title, keyword, abstract, or author. This data then “talks to” a search engine (e.g., Google) to tell it what the article is about. It is this metadata that helps search engines decide what to display in response to a reader’s search query. The reader enters a “query string” of keywords, and the search engine returns article links in which the metadata matches the query string in order of apparent relevance.

Metadata is comparable to the information you’d find on the card entries in an old library card catalog. Today, one click gets a reader access to a much broader range of results, and that’s good news for journal publishers who know how to handle their article metadata.

Metadata matters to search engines

Search engines collect metadata from published content to catalog it appropriately. These articles, videos, and other content pieces are indexed by specific keywords readers and researchers (e.g., an average Google user) use to locate the content they want or need.

Search engines respond to end-user searches by pulling catalogued data and displaying it on the user’s screen, but behind the scenes, the software is busy indexing words that repeat as metadata in response to specific keywords and phrases. The search engine matches how many times specific content appears related to a search and where the metadata appears in the content in relation to the query. It will clock, for instance, whether the keywords searched appear in the title or a footnote as well as how many times the queried terms appear within the article.

What happens on the front end appears quite simple. The reader inputs search words or phrases, the search engine queries its database, and relevant articles appear. But search engines judge published content based on the information found in its metadata. It’s the metadata that determines whether an article is at the top of a query response, at the bottom, or somewhere in between.

As a publisher, you obviously want your publications to appear at or near the top of search query results. To get there, prioritize certain elements of metadata in every posted publication.

Priority metadata elements

To improve your publication’s search engine rankings, you must prioritize the right metadata elements. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. While most publishers understand the value of adding metadata to their journals’ online content, not all are familiar with the metadata elements necessary to achieve the ranking results they seek.

“Rich” metadata improves searchability. Focus on the following elements to improve the quality of your metadata:

  • Persistent identifiers (PIDs). PIDs tag journal articles with a long-term reference with a longer online lifecycle than typical keywords. PIDs for research data make it more accessible by establishing permanent connections between the research and any linked publications and authors. PIDs outlast online location changes. They include digital object identifiers (DOIs), archival resource keys (ARKs), and uniform resource names (URNs).
  • Copyright licensure. Copyright information must now be included in article metadata. Since this information doesn’t change, it can be coded right into the HTML or XML article side metadata for an effective, permanent tag.
  • Article abstracts. Article abstracts can be submitted to Crossref for availability across the web — for any database search or search engine query.
  • Open citations. Publish open citations in a machine-readable metadata format to increase discoverability. Citations are not traditionally open to the average reader. Many journals still require a paywall. But open citations help publishers link both scientific and cultural information for more accessibility. Open citations make articles more searchable and allow their sources to be accessed by the average search engine query.
  • HTML meta tags. Add meta tags to the HTML code of journal article web pages. Search engines identify these tags to boost search relevance matches and query result appearance, and HTML meta tags are required for inclusion in specialty search engines (e.g., Google Scholar). Tags should include the article title, the full names of primary authors, and the year of article publication. Absent HTML meta tags, search engines will place content as if it contains no metadata at all. This is how articles end up as result 5,000 in end-user queries.

Maximizing metadata may sound like a lot of work, but if you’re new to metadata, it’s perfectly acceptable to start small. Any metadata is better than none at all. As far as search engines are concerned, metadata is a case of quality over quantity.

Contact your Sheridan or KGL representative for a consultation or visit our contact pages (Sheridan contact page / KGL contact page) to learn how we can help streamline and simplify your publishing processes.

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