The First Step Towards a Metadata Strategy


The First Step Towards a Metadata Strategy

For a popular topic in the industry today, metadata is easily misunderstood. I believe that is because everyone has their own subtly different definition of what exactly “metadata” means – and for good reason. Metadata in action is very context dependent, and really can look and act differently depending on the application.

Regardless of the nuances, we can all agree: metadata is important.

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Relative Meaning of Metadata

Let’s dig into the variations in context a bit.

If you’re a trade publisher, your metadata goals will focus on visibility. Trade book consumers no longer walk to their local bookstore or Powell’s City of Books and ask a knowledgeable staffer for help. Now, readers have to self-serve on e-commerce websites. Therefore, trade publishers rely on metadata to surface content on delivery channels like book wholesalers or platforms like

For a scholarly publisher, the use cases become more diverse. Of course, scholarly publishers also need metadata to enable readers to source content through keyword searches. Additionally, these publishers rely on metadata to support workflows, like those in Open Access (OA) publishing. Metadata can also play a part in the overall reach or influence of these publishers’ titles.

In B2B publishing, metadata facilitates the collection of content for delivery across multi-channel platforms. These publishers are motivated to leverage their editorial work in as many ways as possible in order to maximize the amount of revenue that comes in. Metadata opens the door for them to tie into a system like an ad sales platform, for example.

Maximizing Metadata

There are things that any publisher can start doing today that can lead to real progress in the adoption of a healthy metadata strategy. I recommend answering these questions as a shortcut to making metadata strategy seem like less of an abstract idea and more like a real tool for delivering practical value.

  • What do I want to do with my information?
    • Do I need more sales?
    • Do I need more discoverability?
    • Do I need better interoperability between systems?
  • What is my vocabulary?
  • What do I already have in place?
  • Who are the members of my community, and how do they behave?
  • How do people find content within my current system?
  • What are the frustrations that people experience in my current system?

When applied strategically, metadata optimizes business processes and removes impediments. You can sell more – and sell more effectively. If users can find your content, they can consume your content.

Get Started

For me, it’s important to keep in mind that getting metadata right is the journey of a thousand miles, as the Chinese proverb says. There will be diversions along the route. The destination may change. But regardless, the journey starts with a single step. Sometimes, you just need to start.

What are you waiting for?

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Ian Synge

Author: Ian Synge

Ian Synge is a Principal Consultant at Copyright Clearance Center with particular specialisation in knowledge management, taxonomies, and categorisation. He has delivered projects for major international organisations in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia focusing on helping them dynamically make sense of large datasets. Ian has a longstanding enthusiasm for knowledge organization; his Ph.D. thesis (Aberystwyth, 2002) focused on the taxonomic interpretation of naval diplomacy during the late cold war.

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