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Metadata

For the purposes of this document, the term metadata refers to information in web pages contained in HTML <meta> tags.

Meta tags are used in web pages for three purposes:

  1. To emulate HTTP response headers.
  2. To supply information (metadata) about the page itself.
  3. To include instructions to search engines that are indexing the page.

Meta tags used to emulate HTTP response headers

Use of <meta http-equiv> is discouraged. If precise control over headers is required the actual http headers should be manipulated on the server.

Using meta tags to provide information about the page

This is the most common use of meta tags, and is supported by the WCMS. It is used to provide information about a webpage such as the content's author, keywords used for searching and relevant dates. The basic format of such a <meta> tag is:

<meta name="some-name" content="content" scheme="optional-scheme" />

Note that the name and content attributes are required; the scheme attribute is not.

While there are some widely used values for the name attribute, the <meta>tag standard is not tightly defined and provides a great deal of latitude to page authors. In addition, meta tags may or may not be recognized by search engines and other indexing services, and so a strict standard regarding their use isn't in the scope of this document. Because of the loose W3C standard and the shifting role that meta tags have with search engines, this standard is general in nature.

This standard suggests some <meta> tags that should be included in all documents, based on the metadata that the WCMS provides to content managers. Users who are not using the WCMS are encouraged to use the them as a basic guide for the meta tags to include in their own content. Users who are using the WCMS are encouraged to use the WCMS' abilities by ensuring that the proper fields at the page level are filled in.

  • description - a brief description of the page's content; The description should no longer than 25 - 30 words. Note that Google may use this in the 'snippet' portion of its search results, so this should be a clear, concise, factual, and engaging description of the page.
  • keywords - a list of words describing the content of the document. The list of keywords should be short and directly related to the page's content and subject matter, preferably containing words that the document itself contains. While there is no limit on the length of the content field, it should be succinct.
  • author - if used this should contain the page author's name. In many cases, this will be a business unit's name (such as a department).
  • date - the WCMS will include the date that the page was published as a meta tag.

Using meta tags to provide information to search engines

Some search engines understand specific meta tags, and content editors can use meta tags to create more effective search results. In particular, Google's search engine recognizes some meta tags. Other search engines may or may not follow suite; however, the University uses Google Search Appliances for it's search functions, and the popularity of Google.com for searching for web pages make it the primary target for search engine optimization.

Empty <meta> tags

Avoid including empty meta tags in web pages. An empty meta tag is one that has nothing in its content attribute. For example:

<meta content="" name="author"/>

In this case, the tag should be removed altogether since it may have unexpected results in search results.

Restrictions on <meta> tags

There is no restriction on the use of tags and tags may be used as page authors and designers see fit. For example, tags that implement Dublin Core standards may be used freely. However, content editors should know and understand the implications of including tags on their pages before using them. The WCMS provides a rich set of tools for creating customized content, including tags. Please see the WCMS documentation for more information about how to use these tools for your WCMS-managed content.