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Tag, You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog

The following post was submitted by for the Blogging for Beginners Series by Aaron Brazell. Aaron is a major contributer over at b5 (he is a major player in keeping our servers in order) and writes on numerous blogs including Emerging Earth and Technosailor.com. I asked Aaron to write an introduction to Tagging. Here’s what he has to say on the topic:

When I was a kid, playing tag was a big thing. Everyone would run around the yard trying to avoid the person who was “it” so they wouldn’t become “it”. Eeny, meeny, miney, mo – who would be tagged next?

If you’ve been around social networking, or many of the next-generation web services out there (such as del.icio.us or digg) then you certainly know what tags are. They are really just labels. This is an article. It is about corn. We will tag it “corn”.

Like these services (and others!), blogs can utilize tags as well. The argument surrounding blog tags usually swirl around the similarity of tags to categories but there are some key conceptual differences that make them different.

Categories are structured; Tags are unstructured

The main difference between categories and tags is the way they organize content. Categories use the “tree” style concept that is probably the easiest to envision. You may have a series of categories such as “News”, “Music”, “Tech” with subcategories nested under those categories. The News category might have subcategories like “Politics”, “Main Stream Media”, and “Iraq” and the Music category might have subcategories like “Melbourne Bands” or “CD Reviews”.

In this way, content is organized in a structural way. Every entry has a bucket to go in and in this way, content can be easily maintained.

However, tagging provides more of a granular way of organizing content and it follows more of a “brain storage” approach. You might ask what I mean by “brain storage”. Let me explain.

If you step away from every day conversation and attempt to take a birds-eye view of normal every-day human interaction, you’ll notice a haphazard flow that tends to jump between topics, conversations, participants, etc. Rarely does a conversation follow a simple linear flow outside of email threads. If a blog is a reflection of the life of the blogger (and it should be, if it is authentic!), then the context of conversation will be non-linear as well.

And while this is a good idea when I write about it here, the application of that concept is far from simple. Blogs are, by nature, linear animals. They string together entries in chronological order with comments left in chronological order and fall into a far-too simplistic model of “this entry is about this, and that entry is about that” when in fact, that is a mischaracterization of how human interaction really is!

Case Study

About six months ago, I started taking a look under the hood of my blog. I noticed I had tons of content that was old and was lost in the shuffle of posting new entries and constant UI changes. I would look at my stats and see Google traffic to older posts but blog readers could not quickly find old content. I wondered how I could keep that quickly accessible to my daily readers as well as the search engines. I began to dive into the concept of tagging.

As I attempted to answer that question for myself, I came up with a couple of common counter-arguments to tagging.

  • I don’t need tags because I have archives. It is true that most blogs, including mine, have archives where older entries were stored for future reference. Most archives, however, follow a date structure that still makes finding an entry difficult unless you know specifically where to look.
  • I don’t need tags because I have categories. This is true as well, but as indicated above, categories often don’t offer enough granularity or flexibility to find a given entry in a category with, perhaps, 300+ entries.

For me, the goal was to have every single entry one to (at most) three clicks away from home. One of the ways (and there were other tricks used as well) I did this was by implementing tags. Instead of finding all of the entries on “politics”, users can now find all entries on politics or, say, “The Patriot Act”.

Forms of Tagging

Tagging on a blog actually takes two forms and both have their benefits and downfalls. Whatever form of tagging you use depend largely on you, your blog and your goals. The decision of which form to use should not be done haphazardly because it is not easy to change later on.

  • Internal Tagging is the form of tagging I chose for my blog. It capitalizes on the content within your own site and provides the internal linking that is good for search engines as well as your readers. Internal tagging, conceptually, uses the flow of conversation approach that I spoke of before. It highlights the fact that your flow of conversation is not simply linear, but is multi-topical and interspersed with other aspects of your conversation. It makes it easy for a user to say, “Let’s go back to what you were saying a few months ago”.
  • External Tagging relies on services like Technorati, Flickr or del.icio.us and adds the benefit of more exposure on the outside. Most bloggers who employ tagging use this method because they already have categories for internal use and tagging allows them to feed the subject du jour to Technorati or other tagging services. The sacrifices that a blogger makes with this method have to do with broad dispersal of content versus the cohesiveness of conversation internally. In other words, they can get a lot of broad exposure on individual entries but at the risk of not being able to glue the many similar conversations together internally.

How Do I Implement Tags on My Blog?

Most blog platforms do not support tagging out of the box, but most provide support for plugins or extensions. Here are some to look at.

  • Ultimate Tag Warrior, WordPress. My favorite and the plugin used on my blog. UTW provides a wide set of options for both internal and external tagging. External tags can link to Technorati, Flickr, del.icio.us, or Wikipedia to name a few. There are at least a dozen ways that UTW allow you to display tags and is thoroughly documented.
  • Jerome’s Keywords, WordPress. Implement tags as keywords and by doing so makes this plugin the easiest to reverse in mid-stride. Not nearly as robust as UTW.
  • SimpleTags, WordPress – This plugin provides basic Technorati tagging capability on a per-post basis. It lacks internal tagging functionality including tag lists, as it is geared specifically for gaining Technorati visitors.
  • TechnoratiTags, Moveable Type – similar to SimpleTags and Jerome’s Keywords, this plugin for Moveable Type feeds an entries keywords to Technorati as tags.

Tagging is not for Everyone!

As a word of caution for established bloggers, implementing tags on existing content is a tedious and cumbersome process that will require your attention. How much attention is required will depend largely on the tagging plugin used, and how much content already exists.

For me, I spent a few hours a day for two weeks going back through every single one of my entries for nearly a year and a half, applying tags. I could have avoided this by using another tag plugin, but I would have done so at the cost of some functionality in the plugin I wanted. Make sure you think it through, understand what is going to happen by implementing tagging and are completely confident that it is what you want to do. I believe it will be worth it for you, but only you as the blogger can make that decision for yourself.

In addition, if you use a tool such as the Performancing Firefox plugin or ecto, chances are good that tagging is not supported so think twice before you jump.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. A.H says:

    I recall reading a post by a guest blogger that included a little talk about tagging and how it brought him a lot of traffic, well…the same happened to me with technoarti tags =)

    A.H

  2. Vlad says:

    Thanks, this is a great and informative guide to tagging. I learned a lot.

  3. gnome says:

    All I can offer to this excellent post is a link to a very helpful thcnorati tag generator I am using:

    http://www.ultraseeker.com/tagbuilder/

  4. I don’t agree.

    “Categories use the “tree” style concept that is probably the easiest to envision.”

    This is not the case with most weblog apps like WordPress. Categories in WordPress are exactly the same as tags. The only difference is that these Categories are stored in the database, but this is exactly how del.icio.us works as well. On top of that: check Technorati, they support categories of WordPress out of the box. When you’re running WordPress you don’t need anything else categories = tags.

  5. pcunix says:

    I do tag my posts, but I really don’t think that tagging has much value.

    Not because it shouldn’t, but simply because it’s too often abused. Go into technorati or wherever and look up some keyword that interests you. Very often you’ll find hundreds of articles that have absolutely no relevance because the author *sometimes* writes about things that are relevant, so they lazily tag every post with every keyword that has every had any use on their site.

    That’s what makes tagging pointless to me. I do it because it *should* be useful, but I doubt it ever will be.

    I wrote more about this at http://aplawrence.com/Opinion/technorati_sale.html
    (“Do I care about Technorati? Do you?”).

    I think a good internal search engine is much more useful than tagging (nothing stopping the search engine from looking at tags too, of course).

  6. Marco,

    Obviously I’m not going to argue with you over this – yours is a common perspective. However, semantically they are two very different animals. Tagging is granular and is meta data describing the post. Categories are not meta data. They are containers to put posts in.

    Aaron

  7. pcunix — You make a good point about what tagging should be and what it is. I would say it’s the same dilemna I had when deciding on internal or exernal tags for Technosailor. I decided on internal tagging because, among other reasons, I could use tags appropriately and have them used appropriately. I lose Technorati love, but that’s why I said that this decision is a very important one to weigh when deciding which tagging approach to take.

    Aaron

  8. Duncan says:

    Aaron forgot to ad that the UTW plugin also suggests tags to you based on your post content, and that for me has always been it’s biggest selling point.
    Click the button, get the suggestions, pick the ones I like, no need to have to think about what tags to use, that sort of thing.

  9. Elliott Back says:

    I’m using a specially customized tagging plugin on my site that’s not released to the public yet, but it autotags all the posts together and suggests related posts based on the intersection of tags. This is useful, because it provides a related way to surf between posts. Also, every tag has its own perma-page of useful information!

  10. Oyvind says:

    Marco, you could use categories for your main topics, and tags to be more specific. If you use categories for everything, you’ll end up with a veeery long list soon.

    One example: I write a lot about Macs on my site, and put all entries on Macs in the “Mac” category. If I write about a special app, I also tag that entry with “Safari”, “NetNewsWire”, “Photoshop” etc.

    I also use UTW and yes, Aaron, going back through the older posts is boring. I tag the ones that show up in my webstats (mint) as viewed lately, and the related posts of those, a couple every day.

  11. Oyvind says:

    Duncan, do you get the autotags feature to work? It never does at my site…

  12. Ash Buckles says:

    Okay. Categories are fine. Tags are fine. Word search is fine. But wouldn’t it be better to combine them?

    Sig has a great multi-tagging tool to play with at http://thingamy.com/tagwork/. When I read about it last year, I really thought tagging would be overhauled to accommodate multi-tagging because it seems logical to prepare a document and tag it with several tags. However when searching for something we’re expected to wade through hundreds, thousands, or millions of documents.

    Did I miss something?

    Is multi-tagging no better than regular tagging?

    Am I the butt of a joke?

    Shadows.com is the only other website I’ve seen using multi-tagging, but the website is filled with so much crap right now.

    NOTE: I’m glad I found Shadows (in my favorites) because I was on the verge of creating a social site for blogs/bloggers and Shadows has saved me hours of work. ;-)

  13. I don’t get what you’re asking, Ash. I don’t know what multi-tagging is and the link doesn’t explain it to me.

  14. Robb D says:

    Marco,

    There are defininitely times when using categories for tagging purposes on Technorati or Delicious isn’t as efficient as just using a tag. For example. I write a blog that is specifically about BlackBerry. The blog is fairly niche and I rarely talk about anything anything else. I sometimes talk about BlackBerry accessories and have created a category named Accessories, however, ‘Accessories’ from a Technorati standpoint isn’t very descriptive at all. If I, in addition to the category ‘Accessories’, tag my post ‘Bluetooth Headset, Jabra, JX10′, I would have a much greater chance of being found by someone searching for those specific tags.

  15. @ Oyvind: why not only show the ‘important’ tags/categories then?

    I guess that WordPress chooses the word categories because categories can be shown in a “tree” view if you want that.

    My main objection against tags for WordPress is that adding a tag-plugin is that it makes everything redundant, because then you’ll have categories and tags at the time.

    Technorati:
    If your blog software supports categories and RSS/Atom feeds (like Movable Type, WordPress, TypePad, Blogware, Radio), just use the included category system and make sure you are publishing RSS/Atom feeds and your categories will be read as tags. – http://www.technorati.com/help/tags.html

  16. Aaron says:

    MArco, you only have categories displayed if you want to have categories displayed. If you look in my blog, everything is categorized as Uncategorized and categories are displayed nowhere on my blog.

  17. Ash Buckles says:

    Here is another link http://thingamy.typepad.com/sigs_blog/2005/05/order_security_.html, Aaron; I meant to post this the first time, but I had to rewrite after my connection failed upon submitting.

    Everyone agrees that tags are far more robust. For example: a post written with the tags “Artists + Fine Art + Original Art + Prints + 98006″ is far more specific than just tagging with “Artists”. The additional tags tell more about the artists style, location, and types of available art.

    However, if the blogger can tag a post with a list of tags but the researcher (search user) can only choose 1 tag, it can defeat the purpose of finding what the blogger intended. On the other hand, if the researcher could look for “Artists + Prints + 98006″ the result set would be much shorter and more specific to a local artist offering their work as a print vs. original art. Now add word search to tagging and imagine what could happen.

    Then when considering spam, which is ever growing, if the community can tag and/or verify tags presented by the blogger, it seems that the researcher could finally engage the search results.

  18. @ Aaron: looks good. should work indeed.

  19. David says:

    I know it’s a major sin, but can anyone point in in direction of getting tags on *whispers* blogger blogs?

    I know I can type them in manually, but there must be an easier way.

  20. Aaron says:

    I don’t think there is a way unless Blogger provdes a feature (which I don’t think they do). Sounds like a good time to jump to a _real_ blog platform? ;)

  21. Mike says:

    Thanks for this article. Now I have a new WP Plug-In: Ultimate Tag Warrior. I had been doing technorati tagging only – which has been quite successful btw, but I never realized the advantage of internal tagging.

  22. err…ecto supports Technorati Tags

  23. Aaron says:

    Dennis- Yes, but not Del.icio.us, Digg or other tagging. And it doesn’t support internal tagging.

  24. Jens says:
  25. Jens says:

    Sorry, I didn’t know html-tags are supported in the comments. That’s why my last comment is broken. Hopefully a moderator can fix this. I’m truly sorry.

  26. Kashif Aziz says:

    Well, I have used tags on couple of projects, here and here. I must say it is quite painful to keep track of all tags and take care of duplications, typos while creating new tags.

  27. BB says:

    Blog Bloke has an interesting tutorial for blogger users showing how to create technorati tags that also function as categories by using Google’s Blog Search app. This is a terrific method for blogger users lacking in tagging or category functionality.

  28. Oyvind says:

    Kashif, if you use UTW, you can choose to list all the tags you have used so far on the page where you compose the posts in WordPress. That way you will see if you have used them before.

  29. Eric Scalf says:

    Darren,

    You mentioned SimpleTags. You might be interested in looking at a plugin I’ve just released called SimpleTagsPlus. It’s an extension of SimpleTags, allowing it to support flickr and deli.icio.us tags, along with/alongside Technorati. It works the same way for flickr and del, as for technorati – just with different “tags”. You can get more information on it at http://www.fyreplace.com/simpletagsplus

  30. Markus Merz says:

    Very valuable article!

    As everybody is talking WordPress I would like to add some info for Textpattern. TXP supports keywords, categories and sections out of the box. If every TXP article is ‘tagged’ with keywords then you are able to automatically put the keywords in the meta-keywords header. There are some keyword plugins for TXP available which will publish the article keywords as a tag-list or a tag-cloud with the optional rel=”tag” and with a clean internal URL like /tag/key-word.

    If you are looking at my site you will see keyword examples below each excerpt, article and in the article header. Additionally the keywords are listed in the article view below each headline. The site is in German but keywords (=Stichworte) should be pretty self explaining :-)

  31. binoculars says:

    It is a really great post. However, you only mention it generally. Really wish if you could show us how to tag in a step by step manner. I’ve been trying to tag but have no good results. Maybe I’m not that good. The thing is there’s not much help or information to teach us how to tag.

  32. David says:

    Thank you for going over tags in such a through way. I was aware of most of what you said – but I didn’t think about using “external” tagging based off of Technorati.

    You see, I am building my own tagging plug-in (for a system I am building) and I find posts like this very beneficial to make sure that I am not missing anything that someone like you (with more experience) might have already discovered. ;)

  33. forum says:

    Thanks, this is a great and informative guide to tagging. I learned a lot.

  34. oyun says:

    ecto supports Technorati Tags

  35. articles says:

    Aaron forgot to ad that the UTW plugin also suggests tags to you based on your post content, and that for me has always been it’s biggest selling point.
    Click the button, get the suggestions, pick the ones I like, no need to have to think about what tags to use, that sort of thing.

  36. Bhaswara says:

    My bad! I’m not care so much about tagging on my blog. I think i have to spend some hours like Darren did :(

  37. Amy says:

    I’ve recently implemented tagging on my two blogs and I have to say I don’t know how I got along without it before, tagging is an amazing and extremely helpful feature.

  38. rubu says:

    My main objection against tags for WordPress is that adding a tag-plugin is that it makes everything redundant, because then you’ll have categories and tags at the time.

  39. blairclock says:

    well, to me this clearly sums up everything; tagging provides more of a granular way of organizing content and it follows more of a “brain storage” approach. I hope to use that approach more efficiently from now on.

  40. Orfej says:

    Tag is important but I have problem when I put flash content.Tagging can’t help and search engine and it can’t see anything.This year I start to put less flash and more picture tags.It is more better.

  41. My bad! I’m not care so much about tagging on my blog. I think i have to spend some hours like Darren did :(

  42. 瘦身 says:

    Thanks, this is a great and informative guide to tagging. I learned a lot.

  43. Aaron forgot to ad that the UTW plugin also suggests tags to you based on your post content, and that for me has always been it’s biggest selling point.
    Click the button, get the suggestions, pick the ones I like, no need to have to think about what tags to use, that sort of thing.

  44. I’ve recently implemented tagging on my two blogs and I have to say I don’t know how I got along without it before, tagging is an amazing and extremely helpful feature.

  45. Thanks, this is a great and informative guide to tagging. I learned a lot.

  46. alwaysLovely says:

    Still a little confused over tags and categories.
    :x

  47. Capital says:

    Your tagging article does not mention how to avoid false positives from search engines especially if you are using a static page cause by tags….

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Dementsprechend habe ich erstmal ein tagging-plugin installiert. Was es tut, kann man auf den Seiten der einzelnen Einträge betrachten. Wer etwas mehr über tags erfahren möchte, sollte sich diesen Artikel beim problogger durchlesen. Sehr empfehlenswert. Als nächstes werde ich wohl eine “bookmark this page on del.icio.us”-Funktion einbauen. Oder ich übersetze die Templates erstmal ins Deutsche… [...]

  2. The Benefits of Tagging

    Aaron Brazell has written a guest post on leveraging tagging for you blog over on Problogger and it has prompted me to post about some observations that I have made recently.
    I have been using simple tags and pinging Technorati on several blogs hea…

  3. [...] Tag, You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog (tags: tagging) [...]

  4. LexBlog Blog says:

    Tag tutorial : How to integrate tags into your blog

    Aaron Brazell, publisher of Emerging Earth and Technosailor.com, has published at ProBlogger an outstanding tutorial on how to integrate tags into your blog and why it’s important. Many bloggers are tagging each of their posts. It’s done for at least…

  5. [...] Another article, entitled Tag You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog has been published in Darren’s Blogging for Beginners series writeen by yours truly. If you’ve been a Technosailor reader for awhile, you know that I’ve written on the topic of tagging before, however Darren approached me to write an article on the concept for his series. Based on the comments, it’s being well recieved and a nice healthy discussion is going on. [...]

  6. links for 2006-02-27

    Tag, You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog: ProBlogger Blog Tips (tags: Blogging Blogs Tagging Tags Taxonomy) 10 Techniques for Finding Blog Readers: ProBlogger Blog Tips (tags: Blogging Blogs Content) 19 (More) Strategies for Finding Readers: …

  7. [...] Voor deze blog twijfel ik tussen het gebruik van “internal tagging” of “external tagging” (een erg goeie post met uitleg vond ik bij problogger). Ik ga de komende weken wat testjes doen met deze blog en kijken op welke manier ik het wil gebruiken. [...]

  8. [...] Tag, You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog: ProBlogger Blog Tips Tagging advice from Darren Rowse (tags: blogging tagging tags Technorati del.icio.us) [...]

  9. [...] Leveraging tagging for your blog [...]

  10. [...] Tag, You’re It! Leveraging Tagging For Your Blog The following post was submitted by for the Blogging for Beginners Series by Aaron Brazell. Aaron is a major contributer … http://problogger.net/archives/2006/02/27/tag-youre-it-leveraging-tagging-for-your-blog/ [...]

  11. [...] A principal diferença entre categorias e tags é o modo como elas organizam o conteúdo. As categorias são formas estruturadas de organização, como um índice, admitindo inclusive subcategorias. As tags, por sua vez, não tem estrutura. São como “palavras-chave” de um determinado post. [...]

  12. [...] Tag You’re It – Leveraging Tagging for your Blog [...]