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Use Standard Metadata

What It Is

Using standard metadata is a best practice for managing your agency’s website. If all federal agencies use standard metadata, it will help the public locate and use government information and services more effectively and efficiently.

At a minimum, use these six metadata elements on the homepage and all major entry points:

  • dc.title
  • dc.description
  • dc.creator (the content owner; this should be the name of the organization)
  • dc.date.created (original creation date)
  • dc.date.reviewed
  • dc.language

These six suggested metadata elements are based on internationally recognized Dublin Core standards. Read more under the “How to Implement” section.

Why It’s Important

Metadata is important for many reasons:

  • Provides a standardized system to classify and label web content
  • Supports website maintenance and administration
  • Improves search relevancy
  • Provides an audit trail (information about who created the information and when it was created)
  • Helps identify redundant, duplicative, and possibly obsolete content
  • Identifies similar content so you can establish logical links and other relationships
  • Allows information to be tracked and assembled government-wide.

But isn’t it true that no one uses metadata? It is true that commercial searches like Google and Yahoo no longer use metadata since many web developers were trying to fool search engines with meta tags unrelated to their content and services. However, this could change in the future as search engines explore different ways of categorizing and cataloging search results.

In the meantime, we should use metadata to improve the searches on our own sites and to improve our ability to maintain and track content. In addition, we should explore ways to use metadata to aggregate content government-wide.

Specific Policy, Legal or Other Requirements for Doing This

OMB Policies for Federal Public Websites (Section 5A) require agencies to: “assist the public in locating government information.” Metadata plays a significant role in helping the public locate information efficiently and effectively.

OMB has also issued new requirements for organizing and categorizing information. Metadata may help you meet those requirements.

How to Implement

Use metadata on as many pages as possible so that both high-level pages and pages embedded deep within your website can be found.

These six suggested metadata elements are based on internationally recognized Dublin Core standards, which are widely used by government and commercial websites, including all Government of Canadawebsites, the UK, Australia, and a growing number of U.S. federal agencies.

  • One source for additional information on these metadata elements is the Dublin Core Metadata standards, which provide examples of appropriate metadata syntax for the required elements.
  • If you choose to include additional metadata, it's a good idea to select your elements from the Dublin Core standards. These elements are widely accepted and can be mapped to any registries that may be required in subsequent OMB policies.
  • You may choose to include subject and audience metadata if you consider it helpful for improving search relevancy and for content classification within your organization. For subject and audience to be most effective, use standard terminology (for example, thesauri, taxonomies, controlled vocabularies, gazetteers) and apply them consistently across the website.
  • If you are working on a cross-agency website, it is advisable to use the "creator" field to list the primary sponsoring agency or agencies who manage the website.


  • On the Department of Education website, the standard metadata elements include a subject and audience. Because the metadata is used to generate pages on certain topics, it is necessary to use a standardized vocabulary. The vocabulary was developed through extensive discussions with Departmental staff. To help content providers assign the terms correctly, there is a searchable online reference listing of all of the terms with definitions and links to related terms.
  • The search engine on the Department of Education website has been configured to take the Department's metadata into account, helping to improve search results. In addition, the interaction can be used to create specialized searches.



Many federal public websites follow this best practice. This practice is part of the guidelines and best practices published by the Interagency Committee on Government Information to aid agencies' implementation of OMB Policies for Public Websites.


Page Updated or Reviewed: December 14, 2005

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