Topic.net Blog’s discusses how “Every Word in Every Document is Already a Tag in a way I found fascinating.
Back when web directories were still cool, AOL had an effort to build their own based on the Dewey Decimal System. They had 60 contractors in Arizona typing in web urls and assigning DDC numbers to them.
This didn’t work. But why?
Because two thoughtful, non-malicious humans sitting next to each other will tag the same URL differently…
…When you pick up the result of this exercise by a particular DDC number to get that category page, it’s junk. It’s missing a lot of stuff it should have, and it has stuff it shouldn’t.
Before we had full text search of the world’s knowledge at our fingertips, search systems would let you retrieve documents by keywords. If the item you were looking for hadn’t been given the right keywords, it was undiscoverabale. “Internet Law?” “Software Patents?” “IP Theft?” Modern search systems consider every word or phrase in the document a tag.
Yes, it is true that every word in a document could qualify as a “tag”, but they currently qualify as a “keyword” when it comes to search engines. Tags, recognized by tag search services, store their information as “tags” and not the entire post content. The tag creates an association with the document, not the document’s content. The key lies in getting search engines to recognize both tags and keywords.
Oh, wait! They do!
Every word in your blog or site is crawled and analyzed by search engines which gather that information and store it in their database. See the list of tags at the bottom of this post? Those words will go into the search engine.
Let’s clear up some of the confusion around tags and keywords.
Tags versus Keywords
A search engine sifts through your content looking for words and phrases you repeat within the content. If you are taking about “keywords” and you have used the word “keywords” in the content four times, the odds are that you are taking about “keywords” and the search engine makes a note of it. If I write “keywords” in my content, and then add a tag to “keywords”, then the search engine says, “Ah, here’s another one. That makes five times the word ‘keywords’ was used.”
Until recently, search engines didn’t recognize the
rel="tag" attribute in tag links. They were just words inside of links.
Use a search engine to search for “keywords” and the odds are that your post will show up somewhere in the results.
Tag services, however, used to crawl through posts looking for the
rel="tag" attribute in the links and associates those tags with the post content. A search through its database looked for tags, not content, and listed the search results of that tag, not keywords. This was true until very recently. Technorati and others added the capability to search content as well as tags, expanding their search results.
Search engines are thinking about getting on the tag bandwagon, they are adding instructions to their website crawlers to store tags in the database and associate those tags with the content. So search engines will search content for keywords, and also search their tag list for those keywords. Double hits? Nah. If used right, those tags are already in the database as keywords.
The Search for Tags and Keywords
Another good point brought up by Topic.net Blog’s article is how tagging is self-policing.
On one hand tags work because they maximize participation with a simple user ask and the social use effects help rough standardization emerge around them.
The idea behind tags is that it is participatory. Everyone helps create tags. The most popularly used tags bubble to the top of the list and the least popular tags dry out at the bottom in the waste.
With tag services and search engines collecting keywords and tags into their database, the sifting process doesn’t matter so much. It only matters if you are doing your hunting through tag clouds or tag heat maps. The more popular the tag word, the bigger the word in the tag cloud. Less popular tag words, smaller sizes, with some so small, they are not even on the list.
With the lines between tags and keywords blurring, in a way, they no longer become special. It goes back to a race over which search service provides the largest volume of sites to search, and the most up-to-date information from those sites.
The only benefits I see in tags in the near future are:
- To provide additional keywords to help search engines and tag services add up your keyword counts and classify your post content.
- To provide additional navigation on your site, like an index reference, helping the user find related post content.
- To provide additional information and resources by linking to off-site services, such as Technorati, del.icio.us, or other off-site search engines or tag services.
How you choose your tags, like your keywords, is dependent upon how you want these benefits to work for your site.
- What Are Keywords?
- Website Development – Keywords Help You Write Your Blog
- Website Development – Listing The Keywords Inside
- A New Way of Searching – Keyword Map
- Categories versus Tags – What’s the Difference and Which One?
- The Problems With Tags and Tagging
- Categories versus Tags: Defining the Limitations
- The Ultimate Tag Warrior WordPress Plugin
- Adding Del.icio.us, Digg, Technorati and Slashdot Links to Your WordPress Blog
- What’s Next? Google Tags
- Putting Some Thought Into Blog Categories and Tags
- Tagging With Emotions Not Common Sense
- Tags Are Not Categories – Got It?
- 2005 – The Year of the Tag
- What Do You Blog About? Check Your Tags
- Playing Tag With WordPress
- Top 10 Tips for Technorati Tricks
- Tidying Up Tags – A Technical Review
- Lorelle on WordPress Now Part of Technorati Tools