Many of us have seen bloggers and social networkers over-do tags and hashtags (“#” followed by a tag, e.g. #SEO or #SMO), to the point that we just discard them as unnecessary clutter. While it’s true that tags have decreased in popularity due to advances in search engine technology, they have not yet lost their usefulness. Here’s why.
A Brief History
A few years ago, properly tagging and categorizing posts on blogs and social networks used to be key to making the posts appear near the top of a search on Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, or AOL…OK, now I’m really dating myself.
Now, most of the general population uses Google and/or Bing, and those crawlers search all of the text, making tags and categories a bit less important for “SEO” (search engine optimization). Search engine developers are constantly having to adjust their algorithms and keep the details of those algorithms secret to help keep spamming under control, it is unknown how much impact tags now have on “SERPs” (search engine results pages). But because most good SEO information available on the topic of tags and SEO is at least three years old, suffice it to say that they are “less important” to SEO than they were in the past.
However, as tags for SEO decreased in popularity, tagging (and hashtagging) for SMO (social media optimization) increased in popularity. They became a quick way to search by topic within a website or network. A user could click on the tag or hashtag, and find more content related to that topic.
People being people, we figured if few tags are good, a lot of tags must be better. Before long, some posts had more tags than content. This resulted in posts that were neither practical nor aesthetically pleasing, and many of us just decided to forego it. It didn’t help that “hashtags” became the pop-culture equivalent of finger quotes, which became uncool as soon as anyone over the age of 30 began using them (usually #incorrectly).
But don’t throw out the tags just yet. They really can help you find your target audience. Here’s how.
1) Find New Readers
Whether you’re on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Blogger, or a host of other blogging or social networking platforms, there will always be new users wanting to find like-minded posters, or established users wanting to expand their social networks. If your posts contain properly formatted, relevant tags it will be simple for them to find you.
2) Reach Occasional Readers
If you’re like me, and have a rather diverse range of topics you like to post about, good tagging will help you find those readers who may not choose to follow you, but are interested in ONE of your topics. For example, I have readers who tune in when I post something about the virtual world Second Life, because I tag my posts accordingly, and they are following that tag in their feeds. They may or may not read my other content after they get here.
3) Organize and Quick-Link your Content
Including visible tags with your posts can easily help your readers find your previous content on that topic. Clicking on one of these tags also creates an instant quick-link (a URL) to that topic. For example, maybe I want to let readers know I have several posts on the topic of career transitions. I can click on that tag in any of my posts and post the browser URL (jennspoint.wordpress.com/tag/career-transition) on a site like Twitter or Facebook, or turn it into a hyperlinks (Career Transition) on my blog.
So there you go. What are your experiences with tagging? Good, bad or ugly?