When it comes to content, metadata doesn’t simply matter. It gives your content marketing almost magical power. But first, let’s look at what metadata is.

What Is Metadata?

Metadata is data that describes your content and, consequently, gives that content powerful capability. When I think of metadata, I think of legos. Imagine your content asset (such as your article, image, video) is the block and metadata is the nodes on the block.

Content and metadata are like a lego block.
Content and metadata are like a lego block.

So, as a simple example, in this image we see a Content Science Review article in the CMS. In the left area we have the content, or the lego block, and then we have other fields such as title and categories and subjects that are metadata.



Now, when I was growing up, I loved playing with legos. If you did, too, think back to why and how you liked playing with them. I doubt you just looked at each block and its nodes individually. You probably put those blocks together to create a castle or a spaceship. On their own, the nodes on a lego block aren’t that exciting. But, when you start putting the blocks together, you realize how cool those nodes are.

In the same way, the real magic of metadata is the power it gives you to make great content experiences, especially for marketing. So let’s take a closer look at that power.

The 4 Ds of Metadata Magic

For marketing, metadata gives your content four magical powers: Discover, Distribution, Delight, and Deduction.

4 powers of metadata
Metadata gives content 4 key powers.


Let’s walk through each of these powers briefly.


Metadata describes your content for technology so that

  • Search engines, content management systems, and social media sites understand it and retrieve / deliver it.
  • People, ultimately, can find it when searching and browsing.

As an example, let’s pretend you go to Amazon and search for “dog Yoda costumes.” (Why not?) You get these results. One of these things is not like the others…

Without the right metadata consistently applied, search engines can deliver the wrong content.


Why is a Bantha costume mixed in with Yoda costumes? Horrors!  And this happened because the metadata is not doing a good job of describing this product so that search engines understand what it is and how it’s different from other Star Wars costumes.

Now, this is a lighthearted example. But imagine this was your content, and you had bad metadata so that your content was showing up in search results for the wrong searches or not at all. What would be the consequences? Lost sales? Missed opportunities to give someone life-saving information? The consequences really can be serious.

Let’s turn to a second power of metadata, distribution.


Metadata can describe your content for technology so you gain distribution capabilities. You can

  • Aggregate, or bring different assets together
  • Syndicate, or publish content on multiple sites through a feed
  • Mashup, or bring together different feeds of content into a new experience
  • Reuse, or take a chunk of content and display it in multiple pages
  • Deliver Across Channels (multichannel or omnichannel publishing)

We don’t have space to look at all of these possibilities, but let’s look at two simple examples.


Here’s a content intelligence subject page in Content Science Review.

content aggregation example
A page aggregates all content about the subject, content intelligence.


You can see all of the articles and reports and videos brought together are about content intelligence. We also have related topics called out. Now think about how time consuming it would be to manually create a page like this and then update it every time we add an article or toolkit about content intelligence. (Argh!)  Instead, all we have to do is check the metadata “subject” when we publish the content. Then aggregation happens automagically. If we decide we want to associate an article with a different subject, we just change the metadata. So think about your content and the potential benefits of aggregating it quickly and efficiently.


Here is a teaser for one of our articles 3 Tips for Mastering Content ROI. With metadata, we can reuse that teaser in different ways and in different channels.

Metadata enables reuse of a chunk of content, in this case a teaser.


So, you put the time and effort into that teaser once and then automagically deliver it everywhere. Think about what having this power of reuse could do for your content. What is a potential benefit?

The powers of discovery and distribution largely put your content at an Ordinary Wizarding Level, to borrow a phrase from Harry Potter. To take your content to the next level for marketing, metadata can give you these next two powers.


Metadata can describe your content for technology to power

  • Personalization
  • Localization
  • Engineered Serendipity
  • Merchandising

I think of this as gaining the power to delight your customers with some “wow” moments where you provide highly contextually relevant content. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

By now Amazon knows I look at and buy Star Wars costumes for dogs, so Amazon recommends more. (I’ll probably buy them. I know, it’s a problem.) Amazon brings together data about my behavior and metadata about its products to deliver highly relevant recommendations. You can do this with your content if you have the right metadata in place.

personalized recommendation
Amazon offers recommendations based on customer behavior.


Let’s turn to a different example of personalization, where settings come into play.  If you register with this site, Content Science Review, then you can save articles and follow topics and adjust your settings. You can then manage that in an area called My Library. We combine this data with our content metadata to deliver highly relevant recommendations in My Library as well as useful suggestions throughout your experience on the site. In a similar way, when your customers set any kind of preferences, you can combine that with metadata to suggest relevant content. Trust me, with so much web content available today, your customers will appreciate your helping them find the pertinent stuff.

personalized settings
Registered users can personalize their content experience with settings.


Finally, let’s touch on localiazation. I enjoy riding bikes, for fitness and for fun. I find bike sharing systems in cities such as New York fascinating. (Atlanta, where I’m based, hopefully will have one soon.) Cti Bank sponsors a bike sharing system in New York aptly called Citi Bike. So they have a mobile application that allows you to see where the bike stations are around the city. That’s certainly very helpful. But what else might be useful to know? Well, this app can detect where you are and tell you what station is closest to you and whether it has a bike available. That’s cool, too. And here’s something really fun.

Citbike partnered with The Scoop by The New York Times to offer content about the coffee shops restaurants and more near your location. Content and location data come together to deliver a delightful moment. Now for you the opportunity to delight your customers through localization might be different, but this concept of combining content, metadata, and location data into a wow moment is the same.

Citi Bike combines your location data with The Scoop’s great content, thanks to metadata.


Another way to think about this power of delight is this: content metadata combines with data about your customer to trigger contextually relevant content, or a “wow” moment. Some common triggers include…

  • Behavior – What topic(s) and products is your customer visiting or searching for?
  • Settings – What preferences has your customer set?
  • Location – Where is your customer? What time of day is it there?

Now, let’s turn to one more power of metadata that will take your content marketing to the next level.


Metadata collects data about how people interact with your content and, consequently, yields powerful content intelligence. This metadata is essentially tags, such as

  • Analytics tags
  • Advertising / promotion / social media tracking tags
  • Content evaluation tool tags

For instance, below we have the set up screen in ContentWRX, our content evaluation tool. You can see a snippet of Javascript code. When a ContentWRX user tags their content with this code, we can track interactions with the content and issue a content survey.

When content is tagged with a snippet of code, ContentWRX collects data about its effectiveness with customers.


Now, why does this kind of metadata matter so much? It’s because we’re in a time where web analytics are not enough to evaluate your content’s effectiveness.

For instance, American Cancer Society turned to web analytics to inform their content strategy, such as with the topic quitting smoking. The Society discovered many quitting smoking pages with high page views and high bounce rates but no way to know whether that was good or bad. Consequently, the Society developed a system of content intelligence and added tools to fill gaps in their data.

content intelligence tools contentwrx, google analytics, hot jar, and optimizely
To better understand content effectiveness, the Society implemented several tools in addition to Google Analytics.


Many of these tools require tags. So, with this kind of metadata, you gain the power to deduce your content’s impact and then make smart decisions.

(For more about American Cancer Society’s lessons learned from establishing content intelligence, see this case study.)

These four magical powers of metadata add up to a megapower: Meaning

Metadata Gives Marketing Meaning

Metadata makes your content marketing meaningful both to your customers and to yourself. The decisions you make or don’t make about metadata seem small but they have a big impact on your content marketing’s success. So, don’t relegate metadata decisions to IT or SEO. Your content marketing success will be at risk if you do.

You might not want to become a content architect or engineer, but you can have an informed conversation about metadata. I promise if you make metadata a priority, you will be much more likely to create a powerful, even magical, content marketing experience.

Interested in learning more about metadata? Join our upcoming webinar!

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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