By Dennis Shiao published July 10, 2019

Get More Content Noticed, Stop the Bad Metadata

Imagine working at your content marketing job for a year. In December, you proudly look back on all the great content you and your team produced. And then a knockout punch arrives: Only 35% of your work was used.

That’s a common scenario for many B2B marketers. SiriusDecisions reports, “60% to 70% of content produced by B2B marketing organizations goes unused, sitting on sales portals and Web site shelves.”

This is a sobering statistic.

Factors contributing to content underuse include findability, relevance, and quality, according to Anna McHugh, content librarian and curator at Red Hat. In a presentation at ContentTECH, Constellations of Content: Metadata Strategy for Beautiful Nerds, Anna details how the right metadata strategy can make a brand’s content more findable and relevant.

A metadata strategy, when applied well, can lead a higher percentage of a brand’s content to be used.

A metadata strategy can lead to a higher % of a brand’s #content being used. @annamarymchugh #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

But wait, what is metadata?

In an article published by Content Marketing Institute, author Michael Andrews references a definition of metadata from Mikael Nilsson:

Metadata is descriptive data about identifiable things.

As Michael notes, the “identifiable things” can be content and they can be much more: the brand’s customers, visitors, the devices visitors are using, the locations they’re visiting from, etc.

This quote from Michael captures the mission of metadata:

I call metadata a secret sauce because when it works right, it’s invisible: You don’t notice the metadata; you just notice that things work right.

I call #metadata a secret sauce because when it works right, it’s invisible, says @storyneedle. Click To Tweet

For Anna, metadata can turn a collection of random stars into a constellation:

Marketers create a single piece of content and consider it their “star.” Anna would tell them, “OK, I understand that this is an important asset and you have a variety of plans for it, but we really need to tie it into this larger ecosystem.”

Without metadata, the sky would be filled with randomly placed stars, absent any interconnections. Metadata is the common language that places order among the stars to create a constellation.

#Metadata can turn a collection of random stars into a constellation. @annamarymchugh #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

With metadata, people don’t just see stars in the sky, they see the Big Dipper, a segment of the Ursa Major constellation. As Anna puts it, “Constellations of content allow our prospects to explore in a way that is a lot more sophisticated. With metadata, we overlay additional meaning onto each asset because it exists within a larger whole.”

She continues, “Every star that’s in a constellation can be sewn together within a larger content ecosystem and become even more meaningful. The constellation helps you articulate your story in a more meaningful way.”

Now that you know what metadata is, I’ll cover essential elements of metadata management that Anna shares in her presentation.

Benefits of flat taxonomies

Brain Traffic defines taxonomy as “any kind of structure that organizes information … the underlying goals are to create some level of consistency and control over the information used to describe a content component, and clarify relationships between them.”

When Anna arrived at Red Hat, an internal taxonomy and an external taxonomy didn’t match. One of her first projects was a taxonomy audit. She reviewed every component of the taxonomy and eliminated duplicates. She also ensured that a consistent terminology was used.

As a result, Anna united the internal and external taxonomies, allowing Red Hat to inventory and audit and tie together all its content with analytics and performance data. I’ll get into analytics and performance in a bit.

Taxonomies can get complex when parent-child relationships are introduced. For example, a top-level (parent) category might be “product” for a technology company. Its child categories are “hardware” and “software.” The “software” category could have child categories of “Java,” “PHP,” and “Python.” This level of nesting can go on and on.

A nested taxonomy makes it challenging for users to determine which choices to make. The natural inclination of users is to skip the metadata tagging step altogether. The result? Missing metadata for a content item (e.g., lack of product or topic tag) means that it won’t surface as users browse or search on the website.

That’s why Anna recommends the use of flat taxonomies. “If your top-level category is a topic, then you have a list of terms and you don’t have nested terms because that makes it difficult for internal users,” she says.

Don’t nest #metadata terms. That makes it difficult for internal users. @annamarymchugh #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

For Red Hat, a flat taxonomy simplifies the tagging process for content owners and expedites the sharing and usage of content across the organization.

“With a flat taxonomy, we’re able to provide people an inventory of content that has everything from publication date to quarterly theme alignment, so people can mix and match. It’s easier than having someone browse through a lot of nested categories,” Anna says.

Turn the taxonomy inside out

It’s natural to structure a taxonomy around the brand’s products, services, and related topics. In parallel, however, Anna suggests creating a taxonomy to be turned inside out – to be customer-facing. In other words, create a taxonomy that addresses customer challenges.

Turn your #taxonomy inside out to be customer-facing. @annamarymchugh #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

The taxonomy should consider “what reduces their stress, what is their job to be done, what are they doing on a day-to-day basis. It’s also understanding what makes customers joyful, what influences them, and who inspires them,” Anna says.

Red Hat has a metadata structure that organizes its products and product lines for internal search. However, for external search, the metadata focuses on customer challenges.

“We’re able to articulate values and speak to challenges our customers are trying to solve, rather than saying, ‘OK, you’re interested in Linux so we’re just going to push Linux content at you until you’re blue in the face,’” Anna explains.

I visited the Red Hat website to see this taxonomy in action. On its Resources page, a faceted search feature lets me narrow the list of resources by applying filters.

The filters expose components of Red Hat’s taxonomy such as this filter for type of content:

Click to enlarge

Scrolling down the filter list, I find a category called “Business Challenge.” Here’s an example of Red Hat turning its taxonomy inside out, making it customer-facing. The numbers to the right of each challenge denote the number of resources in that category (e.g., 363 resources for IT optimization):

Click to enlarge

When IT optimization is selected, a list of all matching resources appears:

Click to enlarge

Using metadata, Red Hat provides hundreds of resources to prospective customers, organized by categories of business challenges. Win, win.

Connect metadata to analytics data

Consider a content marketer at a technology research firm. She can easily access web analytics to determine the blog posts with the most traffic in the past month. For those top posts, she can look at bounce rate, time on page, time on site, and average session duration.

But what if her boss asked her how blog posts about artificial intelligence were performing? That’s a trickier exercise and probably involves manual work (e.g., finding blog posts that focus on artificial intelligence, then piecing data together in a spreadsheet).

This exercise becomes much easier when metadata is connected to analytics data.

At Red Hat, the taxonomies and tags used on the website are mapped into the web analytics system. From the content management system (CMS), the team exports each metadata object, assigning each object a unique identifier. The export is then imported into the web analytics system.

Looking at performance metrics for a topic category is now straightforward.

As Anna explains, “OK, you’re interested in APIs? We’re going to give you a report with all the content related to APIs, as well as content related to a specific product that uses APIs. And we’ll tell you how that particular set of content is performing.”

Now, Red Hat marketers are coming up with ideas on how to reuse high-performing content. They also find content that resonates with their audience but needs updating. Instead of creating new content that might miss the mark, the team takes good content and makes it great. It’s all driven by the up-front work of connecting metadata (e.g., taxonomies and tags) to web analytics.

Document your metadata strategy

As a regular reader of Content Marketing Institute, you know the importance of a documented content marketing strategy.

A documented metadata strategy is no different.

A documented metadata strategy helps others in your org understand & use metadata. @annamarymchugh #ContentTECH Click To Tweet

A documented metadata strategy gets your approach on paper and helps others in your organization understand the strategy and know how to support it.

In addition to documenting the strategy, Anna recommends keeping an inventory of your taxonomy as well as a change log. If someone says, “I never said that you could get rid of this tag,” the content team can respond, “Well, I talked to you seven months ago when I relabeled it. You still have the tag, but it’s called something new because technology has changed.”

Get results

Metadata can move mountains. Anna shares the results of the Red Hat team’s metadata management efforts:

  • Growth in organic traffic: 99% (quarter over quarter) and 300% (year over year).
  • Growth in gated interactions: 36% (quarter over quarter).
  • First-page ranking on seven of eight priority topics.
  • Increased promotion of high-value, internally created content.

Next steps (for you)

When Anna speaks about metadata, taxonomy, and tagging, some people’s eyes glaze over, though she admirably demystifies them in an interesting way. But keep your eyes clear and open if you want that content you create to be used. Metadata offers tremendous power and potential.

Inspired to do something about your metadata management? Discuss the topic with your team. Identify the people who should form a metadata committee.

Consider working backwards: Using examples from this article, identify the business benefits you hope to achieve, then work backwards to determine how metadata management can help you get there.

And make sure to get your new metadata strategy in writing.

Want to learn more about content marketing strategies to get your content found and used? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6. Register using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Dennis Shiao

Dennis is an independent marketing consultant who works with brands on content marketing, product messaging, and social media marketing. Formerly, Dennis led the content marketing function at DNN Software. Dennis curates an email newsletter called Content Corner and publishes marketing-related content on Medium. Feel free to reach out to Dennis on Twitter @dshiao

Other posts by Dennis Shiao

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