Monday, March 12, 2007

My Tags Are Not Your Tags

Tags or labels, in terms of Folksonomy, are ways to categorize and retrieve information.

Replacing linear outlines, formal directories, and individual static pages on specific topics, tags are ways to organize and present information to readers. For example, this post will be tagged "blogging" and "Internet marketing" (among others I'd imagine ~ for it's not yet finished). By clicking on one (one I assume you are interested in reading more about), you are given a list of all my posts on that topic. If you choose "blogging" you will get all the posts I have tagged thus.

In function, they are searches done by keyword so navigation should be easier ~ especially at blog sites, where information is presented in a linear, often 'backwards.' format. Sure, there will be some overlap between/among tags, but this is much more efficient than asking you to perform a search hoping I've used those words ~ and much more efficient than me having to create a page for each category and listing all the posts on the appropriate pages.

But some complain there is little merit in tagging.

Many will argue that tags are irrelevant because they do not have a controlled or defined vocabulary. It's virtual limitlessness renders the idea obsolete to some. What I call "Internet marketing", another may call by a more specific type of Internet marketing. Some would say "sexy" while others would say "sexuality" etc. With no shared dictionary of typical terms with clearly defined meanings our piles of stuff won't always neatly line up.

These detractors say that that the use of tags involves assumptions on the part of the tag creator (blogger) with the most egregious being that these tags have shared meanings that "all" understand.

While it's true that my words may not be your words, I'll grant that my average reader is intelligent enough to follow along; it's not like I tag my entries about blogging "puppies" and my entries on PR as "kites." I do try to use words that make sense.

What I think these tag nay-sayers are really complaining about is not the reliability of tags in terms of reader usage, but rather of how (not) useful reports of "popular" are. How can you say "sexy stories," "Internet marketing," or "adult DVDs" are popular searches (let alone bid/buy those keywords), if you can't accurately measure them? How can you more effectively appeal to your niche when there are thousands of word combinations or keywords to use?

Tags (or labels) are really keywords after all; keywords of my choosing. Like any other keyword searches, you'll never quite be able to pinpoint what words a person will use ~ not a potential customer at a search engine, not an individual blogger such as myself. You'll have to guess and you'll have to accept. It is this ambiguity which frustrates those who want data.

These data folks are so intently focused on what keywords &/or tags are popular in their market (or in terms of identifying what target market they will pursue), that they, again, overlook the fact that individuals make up 'the market.' And you can't always tell what any given individual will do.

My tags may not be made of the keywords you'd choose ~ you may have to learn my lingo. And when I visit your site, I'll have to learn yours. What's worse for those who want more agreed upon tags and terms is that they too will have to decide what words to use. They will have to think & create their own, not select from a list of approved and defined words. They will be forced to decide what meanings their tags will have ~ and what they are best used for.

Like those who worry that the use of too many tags will ruin search engine ranking, these marketers focus on the things they wish to know, and therefore control, when the reality is they cannot really control their audience anyway. There's no way to force folks into using specific words ~ not in a search engine, not at a blog, and not even for your very own copyrighted product. I know you want to, but you cannot. They will use the words they wish to use.

This is why I (again and again) worry about my reader first, and think about SEO later. I focus on providing the content, letting the words I "speak" speak to my readers. They are there for the spiders, and I'll let the algorithms out and weigh them (that's their job after all). If you place first priority on spiders and search engines, you'll bring readers (customers) to what, exactly? A site with little to offer, that's what. Is that really what you want?

So while my tags may not be perfect, they do serve a purpose for my readers: navigation. If they like what I have to say, they'll be able to 'find more like this' and, I hope, come back again and again. If not, well, no amount of SEO witchery is going to change that.

So my tags may not be your tags in terms of terms. But they are terms you and I can use. And that's what I believe in; helping people find their way, satisfying them with information they want, not satisfying search engine spiders or an SEO directive.

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