Categories, Bookmarks & Tags: Background & Basics

tagging-bookmarkingWhile working with a storied Minneapolis PR agency client last week, we found ourselves immersed in a spontaneous discussion regarding categories, bookmarks and tags.

Though social media marketers take usage for granted, many advertising and public relations pros are just getting their feet wet tagging submissions to mainstream sites like YouTube, Delicious, Flickr and categorizing feed content.

Exactly what are Web 2.0 tags? How are they used, who needs to worry about “tagging up” content, why do tags exist and what are the benefits? Why is it important to categorize feed content for usability and SEO?

This post is intended as a client resource, to help better understand the genesis of categories, bookmarks and tags.

My PR colleagues’ interest is well placed. Tags are incredibly important to understand and leverage both for SEO and social media–nothing short of revolutionary in powerful simplicity. Ironically, effective tagging strategies parallel SEO best practices which depend on both keyword research and skillful buzz pocket mining to advise content and code.

It’s amusing that the more rich & complex online media becomes, the more indexing relies on crawling short little text snippets.

What Are Tags & Why Do They Matter?
Our SEO readers already understand and utilize tags every day in deploying content according to basic search engine optimization best practices. Classic off-page (code) SEO tags include HTML title, meta description, and the less important meta keyword tag. They traditionally have served as primary “signals” to search engines regarding what the page is about and has been the paradigm for well over a decade.

Classic on-page tags include <H> (heading) tags and bold text. These too provide clues to search engines (and users) regarding the topical content of any page. When marketers speak of “search engine optimization,” they’re usually referring, in large part, to “advising” the words which comprise these on & off-page attributes by keyword research. Of course any page’s copy, anchor text and links to other content within the site are also primary components of SEO.

As regards SEO, tags are all about doing a great job categorizing content to be more discoverable, for keywords that matter, to humans & search engines.

Essential Categories
For a single page website, optimized on and off-page SEO attributes provide enough tags to adequately describe the content. However, it makes sense for sites with more pages to provide additional methods for users to find things. This is accomplished by organizing content in categories. On any website, simply consider major site wide navigation options the “categories.” Categories certainly can be considered “tags”.

Blogs, which are simply tricked out and idiosyncratic content management systems (CMS), took the category concept to the next level by providing authors the opportunity to intentionally assign posts to categories. This serves double duty. First and arguably most important, categorizing content provides users an intuitive layer of indexing with which to drill into content.

Second as applies to SEO, search engines crawl category titles’ anchor text as internal links. When keyword rich internal links lead to archive pages featuring unique descriptions of each content block in a given category, the SEO benefits are obvious.

Bookmarking Basics

Everyone’s familiar with saving “favorites” as bookmarks on their computer’s browser. We’ve been doing it since browsers were invented as a way to find websites and pages we want to keep track of. Web 2.0 sites usually provide online mechanisms for users to “bookmark” content and media for themselves (to remember) and share with others. These bookmarks are available to the user from any computer they log in from and are stored in the site’s database as part of that user’s account.

Bookmarked content serves as a recommendation to the community, as well as being a great place to keep track of all the cool stuff found while surfing. When other users stumble across your bookmarks in the course of being social or searching the community, they might like and recommend the content too. The more users recommend–the higher content climbs within the community.

Enter Tags & Tagging
Nearly every social site offers the ability for users to categorize content they’re bookmarking, often in a grid of multiple categories and subcategories. Users select tags from site wide presets and/or create their own.

This mix of hard-wired categories and user defined subcategories define the unique organizational personality of any given tagging and bookmarking site. Users apply tags to all types of content including text, pictures, audio and video to form a descriptive matrix to detail what the content is all about.

This tagging grid is crawled and indexed by bots to advise search within the site (internal search). Many tagging and bookmarking sites generate popular tag pages (like this SU page for Minnesota) to highlight the most heavily bookmarked content assigned that tag by users.

Because of the way community sites distribute PageRank, hot tag pages often index in mainstream engines’ organic SERPs. Social site algorithms become even more interesting when users’ authority influences how much weight an individual’s tagged recommendation brings to bear.

If many social site members tag up discovered material using the same tag-descriptors, searching the site on the common tag can result in the post being highly ranked in the community’s internal search results. Organizing content by tags also makes it easy to find other users interested in common subjects to make friends with and share.

Let’s take a look at examples of tagging options in popular sites:

StumbleUpon is one of the most complex tagging environments, combining a preset category option, preset subcategory dropdown, user defined bookmark title, description and up to 4 tags separated by commas.


YouTube provides all user generated tagging fields with the exception of choosing a preset main category. Also keep in mind that video files have meta text fields which can be optimized to provide signals to video search engines.

Popular social news site Digg first subdivides all submissions by content/media types.

Then select a user created title, description and a preset subcategory option.

Buzz Pockets
Web 2.0 sites also index bookmarks site wide to gain an overall understanding of what tags community members are chattering about en masse’. Here’s the StumbleUpon “Recently Hot” tag cloud. The relative intensity of dialog in StumbleUpon can be gleaned from the size and boldness of the tag as expressed in the cloud.

Marketing Booty
Here lies the greatest opportunity for my Minneapolis public relations agency friends. Taking the time to evaluate what communities are chattering about is the essence of buzz pocket mining. Learning how to deconstruct pockets of community interest across multiple social sites provides essential insight as to what your customers are interested in. Obviously understanding each community’s chatter pattern gives critical clues as what tags will work within that community.

In Conclusion
Consider classic SEO attributes the genesis of tags. They’re even called “HTML Title Tags!” SEO tags are further extended by categories, often expressed simply as primary navigation links.

Blogs took things further by allowing authors to specifically tag posts with categories. Now web 2.0 social sites provide tagging grids to help users find content, each other and to advise internal search.

It bemused me in 2003, as video-intense bandwidth bubbled under with exquisite promise, that text snippets remained the most relevant method to categorize rich media like pictures, audio and video. To this day text and meta-text (code) dominate mainstream methods for indexing complex media.

Mastering the Zen of categories, bookmarking and tagging will help get your content found better in more places. In upcoming posts we’ll offer tips to research tags within specific social media tagging and bookmarking environments.

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