I met a person recently who stopped learning web page design in 1999 and still considers himself still an expert. You know the type. Dangerous with just a little bit of experience. He knows nothing of web standards, tableless web page design, or any modern techniques or technologies. He knows 1999 HTML and CSS 101 and that’s it. That doesn’t stop him from spouting expertise.
Listening to him rattled on how the best way to get a high page rank in search engines was to hide keywords in your page code, trying not to roll my eyes at his antiquated techniques, he still got me thinking. Thinking about the relationship of the old “keyword spamming” search engine technique versus the use of tags.
“Keyword spamming” was a technique involving adding keywords – related or unrelated, didn’t matter, you just had to get the attention of the search engines – hidden into your code instead of content. Oh, you could have content, but this method ensured search engines grabbing up all these extra keywords would help you gain search engine page rank. Thus your site would move to the top of search results by using a variety and the most popular keywords. The additional keywords were hidden with CSS or comments so they wouldn’t be visible on the page but they would be visible to the search engines. An example might be the following, buried in the code of an article on buying ring tones for your cell phone:
<!-- britney spears, britney, spears, rock, roll, music, ring, tones, ringtones, cell, cellular, sounds, bells, mp3, download, files, janet jackson, mariah carey, pop, elvis, nora jones, valentines day, valentine, holiday, christmas, event, special, dance, sing, singer -->
I thought this was odd at the time. It takes time to come up with a list of keywords to attract a search engine. You have to research which words are the most popular, and they change over time so if you want to keep using these keywords to continue to end up in popular search results, you have to update the keywords all the time. You have to make sure that you don’t repeat too many of these hidden keywords as to trigger a red flag, but that doesn’t stop you from using many variations on the same word or phrase since they are, technically different. You need to think about the keywords to use, come up with a strategy to hide the keywords from search engines, and get them on every page to maximize exposure and increase your chances of at least one page coming up in the search results.
This is a lot of work. So why not put that energy into writing articles with those keywords instead? Ah, but that might take creative effort, something much more challenging, right?
Now, move ahead to “modern” web design and development techniques where such keyword spamming is recognized and punished by search engines, knowing a trick when they see one. The same pages are now filled with tags. The same type of article on buying ring tones for your cell phone might include a list of tags like this:
Tags: britney+spears, rock, roll, music, ring, tones, ringtones, cell, cellular, sounds, bells, mp3, download, files, janet+jackson, mariah+carey, pop, elvis, nora jones, valentines day, valentine, holiday, christmas, event, special, dance, sing, singer
What makes this list different from the first one? Sure, the tags are links, and the links could lead to more pages on this site or to Technorati, or even another ring tone cell phone service site. They are still keywords added to the content to “help” your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and search engine page rank.
Does just the addition of the
rel="tag" change the meaning of this potential blatant attempt at increasing keyword coverage for search engines? Do search engines spot the relationship attribute and ignore them as search engine spam? Or not? And if not, can your site be punished for this in some way?
Like anything else everywhere, there is always room for abuse. Part of the success of tagging, and its sister “social bookmarking”, is the reliance upon the users to maintain some form of standardization.
In other words, trust and self policing. The tag services and social bookmarking services are relying upon you, the user, to add tags that “make sense”, relate to the content, help the visitor, and don’t abuse the system. They also work hard to promote the myth that in order to be effective, the tags must link back to their services. Eventually, like everything else, there may be rules, but right now, it’s a free-for-all when it comes to tags.
We know it’s being abused. Everything gets abused. What worries me is what kind of kick back that abuse will take.
When email spammers started flooding our inboxes, filters and services were developed to sort through the content, evaluate it for spamminess, and then block or release the email into our inboxes. This meant legitimate email also got caught. Many people had to relearn how to write emails in order to get through comment spam protection and still communicate.
Comment spamming prevention came into play when spammers learned they could move their nasty marketing techniques to blog comments. This was also abused by every idiot gambling, drug, mortgage, music, and sex website that learned that it’s the number of links to your site that helps page ranking. Search engines got this trick fast, too, and now penalize websites for too many incoming links, plus they evaluate the incoming links to judge them on quality not just quantity.
Blogging, Content Management Systems (CMS), and other blog and website management tools developed comment spam fighting resources to block or stop comment spam. Now, if you include more than two or three links, or any words that meet the comment spam filter requirements, your comment gets eaten by the comment spam prevention tools. You like leaving comments on blogs? You’ve had to learn how to comment without triggering comment spam catchers. And if you are intimidated by the threat of comment spam, and you don’t have blogging software with strong comment spam catching and filtering utilities, then you are also more likely to turn off comments, taking away one of the great joys of blogging: Communication.
So what is being done to check for abusive use of tags? Is there anything? Sure, if splogs, spamming websites or blogs get into tag service databases, tag services say they are working to remove them, when they find them. But what about abusive tag use?
What do these look like? How do you tell? Is it a measurement of how many tags are listed, or how the tags may, or may not, relate to the site or post content? Is there a way to check? Should they be checked like search engines are doing with keywords, content, and links? What kind of tag usage will trigger a meltdown with search engines, penalizing your site? Is this happening? Have you seen tag spam? Would you report it? How?
I’m not saying tags should be controlled. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I’m asking you what you think about abusive use of tags, and what you think should, or shouldn’t, be done about it. And is there anything that can be done?
- What Are Keywords?
- Website Development – Keywords Help You Write Your Blog
- Website Development – Listing The Keywords Inside
- Secret Out – How Google Ranks Websites
- How People Search the Web and How They Can Find Your Blog
- Testing Search Engine Page Ranking Techniques
- Hook, Line and Sinker: Luring Blog Traffic to Stay
- DYI Search Engine Optimization
- The Problems With Tags and Tagging
- Categories versus Tags: Defining the Limitations
- The Ultimate Tag Warrior WordPress Plugin
- Adding Technorati Tags to WordPressMU Sites
- Make Your Technorati Tags Invisible
- Putting Some Thought Into Blog Categories and Tags
- Tagging With Emotions Not Common Sense
- Tags Are Not Categories – Got It?
- Playing Tag With WordPress
- A Tagging Bookmarklet for WordPress and WordPress.com Users