When it comes down to content classification and findability, "tags" are for many new online publishers still something they have not fully grasped and are often used in ways that are not only less than optimal but often outright useless. Tagging blog posts, news articles or reviews has become a general and widely utilized strategy that allows content to become more easily found, aggregated and distributed in other relevant context.
Tag Cloud of most popular terms on Robin Good's MasterNewMedia home page - created with TagCrowd
My simple definition for tags: "Tags are short keywords that define what your online digital content is all about."
And here the official one:
"A tag is a relevant keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a geographic map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information."
Most content management systems and blogging platforms now integrate a facility to add tags to any content that is posted online just like most web-based content publishing platforms, from YouTube to Flickr. If such a facility is not directly available in your publishing system it can generally be easily added via a plug-in... just ask on some webmaster forums.
So, the issue is not really having a special tool to do this but rather using this functionality in the best possible way.
In essence, the art of effective tagging consists in selecting a comprehensive enough set of keywords that organically describes the specific content while offering enough relevant hooks for this to be picked up by user searches.
A tag helps users find relevant web pages. Tags represent aspects of web pages that are hard to capture with normal query terms in a search. Think of a tag as a simple category name.
Tags are read and used by major search engines, social bookmarking and social media sites like Delicious, Flickr, YouTube and even by Gmail to easily categorize, find and aggregate similar content without limiting the user to a pre-determined set of rigid categories.
Tags can be manually defined by a news editor, a blogger or by anyone in control of the publishing process on a web site just as much as they can be contributed, edited and refined by the readers / viewers of that same content. On social media sites it is generally the public who defines the relevant tags of any piece of shared content. On web sites and blogs it is instead the author who decides whether to associate tags with his blog posts or not.
"Tag classification, and the concept of connecting sets of tags between web/blog servers, has led to the rise of folksonomy classification over the Internet, the concept of social bookmarking, and other forms of social software.
Larger-scale folksonomies tend to address some of the problems of tagging, as astute users of tagging systems will monitor/search the current use of "tag terms" within these systems, and tend to use existing tags in order to easily form connections to related items. In this way, evolving folksonomies define a set of tagging conventions through eventual group consensus, rather than by use of a formalized standard.
Although "tagging" is often promoted as an alternative to organization by a hierarchy of categories, more and more online resources seem to use a hybrid system, where items are organized into broad categories, with finer classification distinctions being made by the use of tags."
When using tags you need to be thinking of how these tags can become useful "hooks" or effective "labels" so that your content can be found, searched, aggregated and redistributed more easily.
The major error that takes place when someone not familiar with tagging prepares content for publication is that it uses either internal category names or other labels that are unique to its publication department or industry to define that information.
In reality, what needs to be done is exactly the opposite. You need to associate tags to your content that come as close as possible to the labels that your potential users would use if they had found your content and were asked to label it.
Although this appears quite simple and clear in this explanation, in practice it is not as easy as it may seem, unless you have exercised yourself at doing it for some time.
The best way to approach the selection of tags is to selectively analyze the major classification areas to which your information may belong to.
Here some reference guidelines on where to identify such classification areas.
Is this a review, an aticle, a white paper, a scientific report. Images, maps, catalogs, biographies, interviews, movie_reviews, news, forums, demos, downloads, specifications and product manuals are all examples of possible document types that can be used as tags. These are all excellent labels because it is hard to restrict a search to a specific document type strictly by using search terms.
Defining the typology of document with a relevant tag is a good first step in providing a useful label for increasing the findability of this content.
What is the information in your content about? Is it about an online marketing strategy or about a new interface design study? The main key reference topic should always be clearly identified within the tags.
Where is this information coming from? Is this material coming from corporations, universities, government, nonprofits? Providing insight into the source of the information published can be a valuable characterizer in many situations.
Who has authored this content? Whether you or someone else, the author(s) of any published content can be a very useful defining tag for making the content more accessible.
Any term you can use to complete the following sentence: 'This page is written for ____'. Labels such as 'for_students', 'for_patients', 'for_kids', 'for_lawyers', etc. are very useful as the intended audience is hard to pick up with search query terms.
Complementary or related product and services which may be very relevant to the main subject of your content. These can be brand or product names that hold a special relationship with your content subject, are mentioned or referenced inside your content one or multiple times.
How can you tell whether a tag you are considering to add is truly a useful and appropriate one? One easy way to find out is to do the following mental exercise. Ask yourself: if someone went to a major search engine or to a tag engine like Technorati and used the specific tag you are now considering for use to search for content, would they find the content you have associated to that content useful?
In other words, if for this article I wanted to associate the tag "content classification" to it, when someone will use this tag to search for content and will find this very article, will this content be relevant? The more you can answer yest to this question, the more likely the tag you have selected is a good one.
Obviously, the more generic a tag, and the fewer tags associated to a piece of content, the more difficult to define comprehensively its traits and characteristics. This is why, most professional online publishers typically assign three, four or more tags to any piece of content they publish.
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