content strategy

Putting Metadata to Work for You

A poor metadata component in a content strategy can render precious content virtually nonexistent. Search engines cannot find it, recommendation engines cannot recommend it, and it may end up lost forever in a content purgatory of sorts. A strong metadata strategy will pay off when it considers both the limitations and opportunities found in its application.

Robert Stribley recently wrote a post on the Razorfish Scatter/Gather blog about metadata and tagging within the music library of iTunes. This got me thinking of my own experience.

The music library is one of many components that makes iTunes like a Swiss Army Knife. There are movie rentals and purchases, TV shows, a photo and video library, iTunes U, the app store, and the one that I spend some quality time with each day: podcasting.

Public broadcasting has ridden the wave of podcasting’s immense growth in the past 5 years. Each month, millions of public media audio and video files are downloaded, delivering the content to the people that want it. iTunes is the most popular choice for accessing that content. Therefore, having the content appear properly in that space is very important.

Mr. Stribley indicates in his article about the iTunes music library, there are some hurdles to clear. That holds true within the podcasting space as well. A few podcast-specific ones:

  • Store displays only 24 characters of a title in certain areas
  • Search only examines the first 12 keywords in a podcast feed
  • Feed images display in many places at 50×50 resolution
  • Channel-only indexing for search, rather than by individual episode

A couple of examples of truncated titles:

Apple has included a well-written summary in their “Making a Podcast” guide titled “Creating Your Feed and the Importance of Good Metadata.” Like any other space, iTunes provides its own set of limits and rules. Apple likely does this for a number of good reasons. If they let the public decide on the design, iTunes runs the risk of looking like a GeoCities site, not to mention search result speed concerns, intentional gaming of search algorithms, etc.

Reasons aside, the charge is the same – operate within the rules to get in front of that sizable arena of content-hungry people.  The key is providing the right information (directly or indirectly via search results) to those people, so they can accomplish their intended task: devouring your content.

However, there’s a compatibility balance to consider.  While it’s the dominant player in the podcasting field, content published with iTunes in mind often has multiple, additional syndication outlets:

  • Text-based RSS with other attachments
  • Widgets
  • Mobile apps
  • Dynamic pages on other sites
  • (insert here a technology developed in the next 18 months)

With that in mind, content creators can no longer publish with a single set of guidelines.  Outside of detailed specification documents, there are plenty of ways to make content as outlet-friendly and more important,  user-friendly:

  • Use every field to its fullest, even those outside of iTunes spec
  • Be mindful of character limitations
  • Ensure that the text is as potent as possible
  • Create graphic identities that are powerful even as thumbnails

When strategy is drafted, consider the reality that many of these systems/components are connected, often in ways that may not immediately be evident.  The environment may change along with technology and new business opportunity, but the core business aim should remain clear.  As ever, provide the best experience possible with your content.  And that includes helping them find it, with the help of metadata.

(“iPod Touch Back (2)” image from Flickr user (cc: by-nc-sa))