document metadata

What Is Metadata and Why Is It Important?

June 28, 2024
10 min read
Home Blog What Is Metadata and Why Is It Important?

Despite the widespread adoption of digital technologies, most companies still use traditional paper-based processes. A recent IDC survey of global workers and IT professionals showed that document issues and inefficiencies contribute to an average of 21.3% productivity loss. A significant part of this steep drop is attributed to the inconvenience that workers experience when searching for documents and information. In fact, employees spend an average of 18 minutes looking for each single document and 50% of overall time searching for information.

The hassle of searching for the right document hinders employee efficiency and increases stress, negatively impacting retention. This adds even more losses to a business from missing out on valuable resources, ultimately leading to profit loss.

“Is there an effective solution to this problem?” you might ask. Yes, and it’s document metadata, which makes information more easily retrievable.

This guide covers all there is to know about this information science concept. It also answers the question, “Why is metadata important?” and explains how it enhances information management.

Document Metadata and Its Components

Document metadata is non-visual information that provides further details about the document, such as the author, the date of its creation, the date of last access to the document, etc. It is indispensable in document categorization. For instance, users can mark it as restricted or confidential if the document is only meant for use within an organization.

Applying metadata to documents makes it easier for organizations to sort, locate, and retrieve them. This is primarily because search tools are more efficient at scanning separate metadata components rather than the document’s whole text.

Document metadata examples are as follows:

  • Fields

These components are used to store different metadata, such as name, date, and currency. Document management systems will typically provide the functionality to make fields mandatory so that every new document contains the required fields.

  • Tags

You may have come across tags when reading articles at your preferred news sites. Tags are an easy method of categorizing content, including according to the access level (e.g., restricted to the company’s use only).

  • Links

Links are used to associate one document with another in the system. For instance, all invoices received from independent contractors can fall into the “invoices” folder. However, agreements with independent contractors can be stored in a folder labeled “contractor agreements.” If these files are linked, then the person who wants to see if the hourly rate included in an invoice is correct will not have issues accessing the independent contractor agreement.

  • Versions

These metadata components are employed to track changes made within an organization and prevent overwriting earlier versions of the file.

  • Digital signatures

This type is used when one needs to track approvals. For instance, a supervisor can digitally sign a document to indicate that he/she approved it. This enhances accountability and transparency within an organization.

10 Types of Metadata

Depending on the role that metadata plays in information management, it can be categorized differently. Below are the most common types of metadata.

  1. Administrative metadata enables administrators to set rules and regulations that may restrict access to data. It also provides details on the maintenance and management needed for data resources. When used in the research context, administrative metadata includes information like the creation date, size, format of the file, and its archiving requirements.
  2. Legal metadata contains information on creative licensing, such as licensing, copyrights, and royalties.
  3. Descriptive metadata covers specific attributes of data; examples include bibliographic data, song titles, keywords, volume numbers, etc.
  4. Preservation metadata informs the location of a data item inside a sequence or hierarchy.
  5. Provenance metadata, also referred to as data lineage, shows how a particular piece of data has changed over time within an organization. Metadata is paired with original documents to guarantee data validity or to rectify errors in data quality.
  6. Statistical metadata allows users to correctly understand the statistics presented in surveys, reports, etc.
  7. Process metadata provides information on how statistical data is collected and handled. This type of metadata is also referred to as statistical metadata.
  8. Reference metadata relates to information that characterizes the quality of statistical material.
  9. Structural metadata describes how the elements of a data object are assembled. It is frequently used in digital media content to indicate how pages of an audiobook should be organized into chapters or how these chapters should be organized into volumes, etc. In the context of digital libraries, structural metadata is often referred to as technical metadata.
  10. Use metadata refers to data that is analyzed each time someone accesses it. It helps businesses pick out trends in user behavior and more readily adjust their products and services to the users’ needs.

Metadata in Different Contexts

Metadata can also be categorized based on the context in which it is used. Here’s a breakdown of how metadata is applied in various contexts:

1. Digital Media

Image metadata: Information like the date and time a photo was taken, camera settings, location, and keywords describing the content.
Video metadata: Details such as video title, director, actors, length, format, and resolution.
Audio metadata: Information including song title, artist, album, genre, and track number.

2. Web Development

HTML metadata: Meta tags within the HTML code that provide information about a web page, such as descriptions, keywords, author, and viewport settings.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Metadata used to improve the visibility of web pages in search engine results, including title tags and meta descriptions.

3. Database Management

Schema metadata: Information about the structure of the database, including tables, columns, data types, and relationships.
Operational metadata: Details about the performance, usage statistics, and access logs of a database.

4. Document Management

Document metadata: Attributes like author, creation date, modification date, document type, and version history.
Security metadata: Information related to access controls, permissions, and digital signatures.

5. Geospatial Information Systems (GIS)

Geospatial metadata: Data that describes geographic information, including coordinates, map projections, scale, and data source.
Temporal metadata: Information about the time period that the geographic data covers.

6. Healthcare

Clinical metadata: Data about patient records, including patient ID, diagnosis, treatment history, and healthcare provider details.
Research metadata: Information about clinical trials, study protocols, and research results.

7. E-Commerce

Product metadata: Information about products listed on e-commerce platforms, including product name, description, price, manufacturer, and category.
Transaction metadata: Details about sales transactions, such as order number, date of purchase, payment method, and shipping information.

8. Scientific Research

Data set metadata: Information that describes scientific data sets, including data collection methods, variables, units of measurement, and data quality indicators.
Publication metadata: Attributes related to research publications, such as authorship, publication date, journal name, and DOI (Digital Object Identifier).

Related: Document Editing Service

So, What Does Metadata Do?

Metadata contains important details about a digital asset, making it easier to manage, understand, and use. Some of its functions include:

  • Classifying and organizing files

Metadata classifies files by assigning various attributes or tags to them. For example, “date created” or “location” attributes of an image.

  • Facilitating search and retrieval

Metadata facilitates accurate file search and retrieval. Need to find a campaign image from previous years or an old contract? With properly created metadata, it will be a no-brainer!

  • Lifecycle tracking

Metadata also keeps track of a file’s lifecycle. It captures who created it, when, and the modification history, making it easy to manage or create content.

  • Tracking file versions

Metadata is a reliable means of tracking various versions of a file. It maintains a record of all the changes, which in turn helps in managing all file versions effectively.

  • Facilitating smooth file transfer

If you want to transfer data between different systems or platforms, metadata is your best friend. It contains such technical details as file format and resolution that are vital in the accurate interpretation of the information and display in the receiving system.

Importance of Metadata

Metadata is a backbone for managing data effectively. Here are a few of the ways it can bring value to a business:

  • Information security

Metadata can be used to label a security setting to approve access/alteration rights to a file. This means that any unauthorized access or alteration will be easily spotted and addressed immediately.

  • Compliance

Metadata is also necessary in fields with strict regulations on how data is used, where it is stored, and for how long it must be retained. Metadata facilitates regulation compliance by tracking the life cycle of documents and ensuring that data is properly stored and disposed of following all existing standards and regulations.

  • Customer experience

Metadata can be used to capture users’ feedback, for example, by letting them mark content as “valuable,” “useless,” or “outdated.”

  • Information findability

Metadata is very useful as a data search and retrieval mechanism, as it lets the user search using a particular query (e.g., author, date, subject).

  • Improved decision-making

Accurate data is the basis of sound decision-making in any business. Metadata makes data more valuable by adding context and making it easier to interpret. This can be especially helpful when working with large data sets or complex data structures.

Using metadata, businesses can turn their information into an asset that will help enhance their operational effectiveness and encourage innovation in the long run.

Common Metadata Standards

A number of standards have been developed to enhance metadata document management across various platforms and systems. These standards ensure uniformity in the attributes, such as the common format, language, spelling, etc., used to describe data. Each is grounded on a particular schema that provides a common structure for all of its metadata.

Dublin Core is the most commonly used general standard that was designed to facilitate the cataloging of physical library card catalogs. This standard has been then adapted for web-based metadata. Dublin Core describes the attributes of fifteen core elements. These elements include title, subject, creator, description, contributors, publisher, date, format, type, language, source, relation, coverage, rights management, and identifier.

Another bibliographic metadata standard is the Metadata Objects Description Schema or MODS, an XML-based schema for libraries developed by the Network and Standards Development Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. MODS was designed to be more flexible and easier to use than the MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging) standards dating back to the 1960s.

A newer standard,, is an open-source software collaboration that offers a wide variety of metadata schemas primarily for structured Internet data, emails, and other kinds of digital data.

Metadata schemas can also be industry-specific. Examples of such schemas include the Text Encoding Initiative for Arts and Humanities and the Data Documentation Initiative for Culture and Society.

Future Trends

The future of metadata is exciting. Advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning are revolutionizing how information is categorized and utilized, making content management even more efficient and intuitive. As these technologies continue to evolve, the need for precise and consistent data entry becomes crucial. By relying on professional typing services familiar with industry standards, businesses can optimize their workflows and ensure accuracy in metadata documentation.

Stop Wasting Time on Routine Tasks!

Let trained professionals take over so you can focus on more important issues and even reclaim your weekends.

Order now