David Hawking, Justin Zobel

It has been claimed that topic metadata can be used to improve the accuracy of text searches. Here, we test this claim by examining the contribution of metadata to effective searching within Web sites published by a university with a strong commitment to and substantial investment in metadata. The authors use four sets of queries, a total of 463, extracted from the university’s official query logs and from the university’s site map. The results are clear: The available metadata is of little value in ranking answers to those queries. A follow-up experiment with the Web sites published in a particular government jurisdiction confirms that this conclusion is not specific to the particular university. Examination of the metadata present at the university reveals that, in addition to implementation deficiencies, there are inherent problems in trying to use subject and description metadata to enhance the searchability of Web sites. Our experiments show that link anchor text, which can be regarded as metadata created by others, is much more effective in identifying best answers to queries than other textual evidence. Furthermore, query-independent evidence such as link counts and uniform resource locator (URL) length, unlike subject and description metadata, can substantially improve baseline performance.

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