Today’s challenge revolves around one of those concepts in blogging that is often misunderstood: tags. Tagging is more of an art than a science, but it does serve a few very specific purposes. Not every blog employs tagging, nor would I say that it’s absolutely required, but understanding how tags work and what they can do for you is certainly knowledge that every blogger should possess.

At it’s most basic level, a tag is a keyword that you create that serves as an identifier or link for the purposes of searching and/or filtering. By strategically tagging your posts, you provide visitors yet another way to filter through your entries without creating 100’s of categories. For example, while you may put a blog post in the Web 2.0 category, you might tag it with each individual tool and technology mentioned or referred to. Categories are generally higher level and more strategic, tags are typically used in a ‘the more the merrier’ type of approach. You’d never get criticized for using too many tags, unless you’re applying tags that have nothing to do with your post.

One of my early experiences that really drove home the power of tags was when I was doing a search on technorati for “education” and found out that the related tags were Policies, News and…. Warlick? Yes, Warlick was clearly identified as a related tag whenever somebody did a search for “education”. Why? Because he was diligent about tagging every blog post of his with the keywords “education” and “Warlick”. Look up education and you’ll find Warlick. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you blog regularly about mobile devices in education, by adding those tags along with your name and your blog name to your posts you create ways for you to be associated with those topics in searches.

Another purpose for tagging is to add in the keywords that you may not have mentioned in your post. For example, if you’re discussing a new report about social networking, it’s entirely possible that you may not have included some words which might be pertinent to people searching for such information. You may have mentioned that the report covered common social networking sites, but never mentioned any specifics. With this in mind, you might be interested in tagging the post with Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and other social sites. That way, if people search for “education” and “Facebook” they have a chance to find your post, even if you didn’t specifically mention Facebook in your text.

One last purpose that I’d mention is it has become common practice for people to use unique tags to track posts revolving around an event or topic. A perfect example of this is Warlick’s Hitchhikr site. Look up any conference there and you’ll find suggested tags to use. So long as everybody that posts about that conference includes that tag, then sites like Hitchhikr will be able to aggregate them together. It’s becoming increasingly common on microblogging sites, as more and more posts are being created with hashtags.

TagSome people have much more eloquent explanations of what a tag is and how it’s used. For example, Sue Waters (have I referred to her enough during this challenge?) has an excellent post comparing categories and tags. If you look at the comments on that post, you’lll also find a real gem there. Also, it seems a little cliche, but Wikipedia can always be counted on for some good information.

So what’s the challenge? Simply this, KNOW thy tagging system. Most blogging engines have a way to tag posts. Different versions of WordPress (and Edublogs) have a Tags field below the main content box. Other sites, have it off to the side or down near the bottom of the page. However, just because you add tags to a post, doesn’t mean that they’ll show up there. My current template was not set up to display the tags I added to a post through WordPress. When I realized that none of my tags were showing up, I went into the code of the template and added them in. Take a good close look at your blog engine, determine where the tags go, and start using them in your posts. Remember, you won’t get fined if you use too many tags. But if you use too few, then you may be preventing people from finding your content in searches.

One last related tip. Not all blog engines do have a way to add tags to a post. If not, that’s ok. Just type them in yourself:

Tags: toys, slinky, metal, spring, stairs, fun, cat

Technically, that’ll be enough for search engines to pick up on them. However, you can get bonus points by linking them up to Technorati searches for those keywords. It’s pretty easy to do and Technorati does have instructions. But basically, you put the tag into your post in the following format: <a href="http://technorati.com/tag/TAGNAME" rel="tag">TAGNAME</a> Copy that into your blog post as many times as you need, and then just substitute in your tags for the TAGNAME slots. Consider that the poor man’s tagging method!

Ok, one more idea, just because I thought it was pretty novel. While doing some searches on tagging, I found a post describing how he put a tag cloud onto his site’s 404 page. So whenever somebody found a dead link (we don’t have any of those anymore though, do we?), instead of just getting a “The page you are looking for could not be found” error, they get a little paragraph explaining things and a tag cloud of all the content on his blog. That encourages people to dig a little deeper to find your potentially missing content, instead of just getting turned away. Love the idea. Just may have to try that one myself!

Do you tag your posts? How do you decide what tags to use? Have you ever found particular benefit to tagging, or is it just a habit at this point? When you visit somebody’s blog and want to explore, do you head off to the categories or the tags first?

Tag image by Amergioland