What is a Tag?

Given the ever changing nature of blogs, a system of tags was designed to let you categorize your posts.  This tagging system is doing wonderful things for the Web as well, moving us closer to the semantic Web that Tim Berners-Lee envisioned when he first created the Web in 1989…but I’ll leave that for another time.

Because blogs are frequently updated (more so than Web sites), the data contained in the blogosphere is getting to search engines really quickly, and search engines are more and more using that data to classify information on the Web.

A quick detour into the world of search engines:

The way the Googlebot works is to go out to the Web and look for new content.  If your site hasn’t changed, the Googlebot notes that and moves on.  If your site has changed, the Googlebot sticks around a little longer and takes note of the changes. 

Now, before we go on, you need to understand that the Googlebot is a little bit brain damaged, and it can only see one thing (at this point in time anyway), and that is text.  So your title, your tags, and the text from your post are all it can see – no images, no flash, no video. 

So, if your site has changed, the Googlebot grabs the details and adds it to Google’s index.  As Google’s goal is to organize all of the world’s information, it will offer, on its search results page, what it considers to be the latest and greatest, most relevant content to your search query, and this is where tags come back in.

At this point in time, Google places great relevance on tags.  If you run a search on Lidija Davis, Google’s search results page will first display my main site BlogWell, and directly below that you will find all tags that include my name.
 
Meanwhile, back in tag land…

So the point of the Google interruption is to remind you to choose your words wisely whenever you write for the Web, and pay particular attention to the words you use in your tags.

Tags can be words or phrases; they can include letters and numbers, and you can use as many tags as you want to each time you post, the blogosphere is a very accommodating place. 

The most important things to remember are that the point of tags is to use key words that describe your post, and allow you and others to find that information at a later time. 

According to del.icio.us founder Joshua Schachter (who is said to be the inventor of tags), when it comes to tags, it’s not about the right or the wrong way to categorize something and it’s not about accuracy or authority, it’s about remembering.

However, a word of warning:  As the Web is becoming more clearly defined, people that tag carelessly, or for sneaky reasons are slowly being discovered and pushed out of the blogosphere and out of search engine results. 

For instance, the term “Web 2.0” is an extremely popular search query, and people who want their site to turn up in the results are tagging every post they write with “Web 2.0” in an attempt to make it to top listing in Google.  Often times, their post has nothing to do with Web 2.0, but their goal to come up first in search results overrides common sense. 

Luckily, the Googlebot is getting smarter, it now looks at the whole enchilada; tags, title, and text and if they don’t relate to one another, Google will place very little significance on the post.  This means over time, the site will turn up on page 30 of search results, if at all, so there is little point in being tricky.

The nice thing about tagging to sort information is that eventually, well thought out, relevant tags on posts will help searchers find information that is most useful to them.

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