Metadata for Self-Publishers, Part 1

POSTED ON Jun 21, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > Marketing, Self-Publishing > Metadata for Self-Publishers, Part 1

Metadata—even the word sounds hard to understand. meta comes from the Greek, and means “above” or “enclosing” Metadata is simply data about data.

In other words, metadata is information about your data. You can think of data as being an electronic document, file, music file, book or any other form content presented in electronic format. Metadata is meant to summarize the key characteristics of the underlying work—in our case, our books—for the purpose of making the work itself discoverable to electronic searches.

An Example

Think about it for a moment. Suppose you want to know how to train your dog. You’d like a book that describes the step by step actions you can take to teach your dog to stop barking every time he hears a little sound in the bushes. You punch up Google and look for a moment at the search bar. What are you going to type in?

This is the moment you need to understand when it comes to the book you’re trying to market online. There’s simply nothing as important as understanding what’s going through the mind of your potential book buyer when they are thinking of how to search for the information they need.

Let’s say there’s a really good dog training book that would answer this searcher’s question. Suppose the author has titled the book “Getting Along With Man’s Best Friend.” Notice that the words “dog” and “training” don’t appear in the title. How would Google or any other search engine know that this book could possibly be a great find for the searcher?

The answer is: Metadata.

Filling In All the Blanks

When this book was published the author (or publisher) had an opportunity to enter metadata about the book. The principle place this is done is in the Bowker information file about the book. Usually self-publishers fill this out when they buy their ISBNs and then forget about it.

That’s a mistake. This seemingly inoccuous-looking form that appears to be just a nuisance to get through as fast as possible is actually a key to how well your book will sell. Why?


If you fail to fill in all the fields, or use the many types of metadata available, your book will be harder to find. The information you’re providing is the same information that will come up in Google’s search. If the description of this book, for instance, says:

An easy to use, step by step guide to training your dog for behavior problems including barking, biting and sitting.

It’s quite likely that the book will be included somewhere in Google’s results. Without this information, how would the search engine know that this book is a perfect fit for the searcher? It’s your responsibility as publisher to make sure the metadata for your book is as accurate and complete as possible.

Back to the blank line

Try to put yourself in the place of the guy sitting there listening to the dog barking out back, and looking for a solution. What are some ways we could construct a query that might be similar to what the searcher will come up with?

You’ll quickly find that the most important part of figuring this out is keywords. One reason this is so is because we can’t actually guess how the searcher will frame his question. But we can have a pretty good idea of some of the words she will use in that question:

  • dog
  • bark
  • training

Just with this much we can start to do some research on keyword phrases or long-tail keywords (3 or more words used together as a keyword). Knowing the keywords that are associated with your book is essential to marketing your book online.

In the next part of this series, I’ll look at the way this metadata is stored and exactly where you can go to make sure you’ve got the strongest, brawniest, most focused metadata you can for your book.

Photo by Gideon Burton

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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