Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Overtag



Hugh at Gapingvoid linked to this post recently. Ahem, as I am unaware of the appropriate collective noun, I will just have to say: “hey, that sure is an impressive amount of tags!” To me this seems perilously close to reaching the tipping point where the amount of meta-textual information overwhelms the actual content of a post. Looking at this got me to thinking about optimal tagging strategies.

The primary function of tags is to attract interested readers to the content of your posts. The other characteristics of tags, assisting in categorising and organising the content within your site, really are second order. Well-chosen, relevant tags for your posts will act as attractors. They will flag your posts on the watch-lists and Technorati searches of individuals sufficiently interested to be tracking those topics actively. They will deliver those readers to that one post: some of whom ideally will find your writing engaging and become recurring readers, commentators and participants in the conversation.
Returning to the IT@Cork example, Tom Raftery’s intent seems to tag every meme, theme, concept, individual and topic related to his post. Casting a large data shadow like this (to borrow Mr Ellis’ phrase) certainly increases visibility on Technorati, Del.ici.ous, Digg and other blog aggregation sites and thus potentially attracts a broad, if arguably shallow, audience. To be fair, in the case of this particular post, many his tags are obviously functioning as attractors for the content of the embedded audio file more than for the text of the blog post itself.

When considering your own style of posting, the question is how many tags are useful to you? And at what point does generating them become inefficient? The amount of time you spend classifying and categorising your posts to some finely graduated level could easily become a significant portion of the overall time you invest in composing them. Reviewing my own practice, (taking the twenty most recent posts displayed as of today) my average number of tags is 3.1 for those 20 posts. I am only a semi-frequent poster and these are mostly top-level category tags: ‘Graphic Design’, ‘Branding’, and so forth.

I had planned to get all statistical in this post and work out a tag average for some of the (far-more prolific) bloggers whom I read daily by looking at Seth Godin and Hugh MacLeod. Unfortunately their average tag count for the 31 days of November is only five for MacLeod and none for Godin, which sort of torpedoes that idea. Gapingvoid has five tags which are used to classify the site’s content. Seth Godin’s posts are all untagged. Both of their blogs are very widely read, being consistently in the Technorati Top 100. (Make that the top thirty: MacLeod is number 13 today and Godin is at number 29.) So obviously, the quality of their insight, writing and analysis and the amount of inbound links thus generated is the key factor to their popularity. My working assumption is that a considered approach to tagging may attract a volume of readers, but it is unlikely to retain most of them over time.

*As as an experiment, lets see if this long tag list generates any extra site traffic for Thoughtport...


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