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What is Metadata and Why Is It Important in Making Intelligent Business Processes?

By Alister Esam, CEO and Founder, Process Bliss

What is Metadata?

In the simplest terms, metadata refers to information about data found in webpage content, documents, and files. This is not the visible content we as users see. It's not text or images or any other graphic element. Metadata is all of the information you don't see.

For any standard document, metadata includes the file name and size, the name of the author, and the date the file was created. For example, the metadata of a music file would include the names of the artist and album, the year of release, the file size, and so on.

It also contains information about the nature of the document e.g. whether it includes sensitive information meant for internal access or can be shared publicly.

Metadata offers a summary of all this. It's used across practically every industry and in multiple ways. You can generate metadata automatically for a document or by manually choosing what to include.

This is an effective way of streamlining business processes and ensuring process improvement. "What is process improvement," you may ask. It's a way of identifying, analyzing, and optimizing existing processes to boost efficiency and productivity within your company.


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Types of Metadata

There are several types of metadata, and these can be broadly classified into technical, operational, or business categories. They include:

Descriptive metadata, which contains information like file or document title, author name, subject, and the date the file was created.

Rights metadata, which usually pertains to claims and licensing. This includes information on license terms, copyright status, and details of the rights holder.

Technical metadata. As the name suggests, this includes the technical details of a file or document, such as file size and type, the date and time the file was created, and the type of compression used.

Preservation metadata. This is mostly used for navigation purposes. You would use preservation metadata to trace an item's location in a sequence or hierarchy of data.

The Importance of Metadata in Business Processes

As we mentioned, metadata is used across a wide spectrum of industries and functionalities. But how does it actually impact business processes?

Metadata is important because it identifies and categorizes relevant information to use later for a range of business processes. These include sales, marketing, security, documentation and administration, SERP rankings, and more.

Implementing intelligent SAP RPA helps users to better manage these functions.

Use in Website Searches

The metadata used on websites has a direct impact on site performance. Website metadata contains relevant keywords, a description of the web content, and meta tags, which all work to influence the site's search rankings. It can thus be used to enhance SEO.

Meta descriptions and meta titles are two common elements of website metadata. Meta titles are short descriptions of the page content. They're usually about 60 characters long and are the first information people read about a website or webpage in a search result.

Meta descriptions provide further information about the page or website content and are usually between 60 to 150 characters long.

This metadata gives users a brief overview of what the page they're searching for is about. This information is then used by search engines like Google to club similar items together. When you search for a particular keyword, this shows relevant results for your search.

The metadata embedded in a webpage or website can also show what language the page was written in, like HTML or JavaScript.

You may wish to use a professional service to improve your use of metadata for search engine optimization, as this will improve the efficiency of your methods and improve the quality and value of the output. The result is that your search engine rankings should soar.


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Use in Tracking User Movement and Behaviour

Retailers use metadata extensively to track customer movement and behavior trends too. Whenever you shop or browse online, eCommerce sites map your journey, storing details about your device, geolocation, the time of day you're active online, and other related information.

Digital marketers use these eCommerce analytics to study your preferences and shopping behavior. For example, when you buy a book on Amazon, you're shown a message stating ‘customers who purchased this book also purchased x'.

Insights from metadata let companies market products tailored to your preferences. Metadata and data analytics have therefore revolutionized sales. 

Use in Computer Files

Files you save on your computer have a separate code of access for the operating system (OS). This is technical information about the file that's designed for the OS and programmer.

For example, when you click on ‘Properties' of a Windows file, you can see all the information about the file name, type of file, where it's stored on the drive, when it was created, the author of the file, and more.

This information can be used by the OS to find specific data e.g. you could use the file search option to filter and find files created on a particular date and less than 2MB in size. This makes locating and organizing documents easier, effectively streamlining and simplifying the process.

Use in Social Media 

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Metadata is probably most extensively implemented across social media platforms. From Facebook to Twitter, Pinterest, and more, every time you like a post or share a tweet or status, metadata charts your engagement.

Notice how after liking a picture of a chocolate cake recipe, you start seeing ads about baking equipment? Similarly, Pinterest users can create boards of bedroom décor ideas or related topics because of metadata stored in them.

eCommerce companies can particularly benefit from this metadata. Their sales and marketing teams can use these insights to market products tailored to a customer's interests, increasing the chance of converting.

Metadata is also useful when you're searching for someone on social media. A Facebook or Instagram account usually has the user's profile picture and a short bio describing them. This gives you an idea of who they are and helps you decide whether to follow them or send them a friend request. This can be invaluable when you're networking, pursuing leads, or in search of influencers to promote your brand. 

Use in Database Management

Metadata is invaluable in database management to interpret database data too. This is particularly useful for workflow management tools. For example, if you have unmarked data that includes a list of names and dates, it doesn't mean anything. However, when you include information like row and column names, you can easily tell what this is representing.

For example, a list of names and dates on its own is worthless, but when you add metadata to the top of the column that says ‘Employee Promotion', you'll instantly know the list refers to employees who got promoted. A date column next to the names can also be better represented by metadata like ‘Promotion Date'.

In Conclusion

It's important to make the distinction between metadata and data. Metadata is essentially a summary of larger data that may or may not be sensitive. However, metadata is never classified. It's possible to find out the name, size, and subject of a data source from its meta-information, but you can't access it in its entirety.

Metadata is used for various business purposes across different industries. It helps connect users to systems they access daily, like a CRM or ERP. The latter are increasingly capitalizing on AI as a way of improving processes, but metadata can also be helpful. This essentially identifies, tracks, and categorizes data to provide an accurate ‘audit trail' for companies.

Businesses can leverage metadata for various purposes. E-marketers can use insights from metadata for improving the mobile user onboarding process, for example, or for boosting website performance. Isn't it time you started capitalizing on its capabilities?



Alister Esam - CEO and Founder, Process Bliss


Alister Esam is the CEO and Founder of Process Bliss, a task management tools platform that is reinventing how businesses execute day-to-day tasks. He is an expert in strategic planning, business process management, and business process optimization. With more than 15 years of experience in helping businesses run at peak efficiency, Alister has dedicated his career to make work easier and more motivating for managers and employees alike. Here is his LinkedIn.

Published Tuesday, September 14, 2021 7:35 AM by David Marshall
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