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Metadata, Search Engines and Accessibility

Gloria Zibaei Portrait
By: Gloria Zibaei
September 20, 2022


People talk about the term metadata regarding digital documents and e-books, but what is it? And what makes it so important when it comes to accessibility and search engines? Keep on reading!


What is metadata, and what does it do

Metadata is the name for the data that identifies a document or PDF for search engines. It isn't something a reader generally sees. Instead, it's tucked away in the document's code by the person who created it – usually at the start!  

Metadata typically includes:

  • The document title(s)
  • Author(s),
  • Subject
  • Description
  • The date of creation,
  • Document language and,
  • Copyright information.


What each element means, and does

The title – Don't confuse this with the file name! The title should describe what is in the document.

The author – The author could be the person who wrote the document or the organization that created it. For example, the author could be John Smith or Accessibrand.  

The subject – The subject indicates what the document is about and includes specific details. It is usually a sentence or two.

The description – Meta descriptions pop up under the title on page search results. They are short (155 characters) and should include the main keyword related to the page.

The document language – The document language is exactly that, the language of your document. It really is that simple! For this blog, the language is English!


All this data helps a search engine categorize, file, and display document information when someone searches for a topic.  


Search engines can find a document even when a person does not specifically search for the document title. The trick is for developers to make sure to use the metadata so that search engines can find the document! Metadata should always be as specific and accurate as possible.


How to find metadata

If you want to find or look at metadata in a PDF, open the document in Adobe Acrobat and click on file> Properties > Description. There should then be a pop-up that displays all the metadata.


When wanting to find a word document's metadata, open the document in Microsoft Word and click on file> Info > Show all properties. Just like with PDFs, there should then be a pop-up that displays all the metadata.

When wanting to find a website's metadata information, right-click anywhere on the page and select "view page source". If the browser is Chrome, a new tab will open and display metadata at the top of the page. If the browser is Firefox, a pop-up window will appear with the metadata.


Why is metadata necessary for accessibility

Metadata performs some very important functions when it comes to accessibility and adaptive technology. For example, accessibility guidelines recommend that titles be displayed when a person opens PDFs and documents rather than the filename. Think about having to hear something out loud. Would you rather hear a string of letters or numbers, as files are often labelled, or something like "Metadata, Search Engines and Accessibility" that has context for what you are about to read?

It makes a big difference! So, if you are a document developer or creator, make sure your title tag reflects the topic of your document.  


A meta description makes it possible to find documents even when the searcher doesn't have, or remembers, the title or author(s). Add your main keyword so document users and search engines can find the information they want! Users of assistive technology will also benefit because a short prompt is all it takes to find desired information quickly.


If a document developer can think of accessibility in terms of reach and audience, metadata is a major tool used by search engines like Google. If your document's metadata follows best practices in accessibility, then your documents will pop up regularly in searches. More people will be able to access and use the information.


Metadata lurks in documents' code. Most people might be unaware of its existence. But for accessibility, organization and reach, it is vital and useful for everyone!


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