Technorati Tags: What Are They Really?

Round and round we go, where we’ll stop, nobody knows! The crazy game of tags gets crazier. What are Technorati tags really? And should we use them now that categories are being indexed in the same way? Jeff Jarvis has started another good conversation about tagging over at Buzzmachine. (He started another good conversation about […]

Round and round we go, where we’ll stop, nobody knows! The crazy game of tags gets crazier. What are Technorati tags really? And should we use them now that categories are being indexed in the same way?

Jeff Jarvis has started another good conversation about tagging over at Buzzmachine. (He started another good conversation about tagging recently). He recently implementated his interpretation of “tags”, and that got him thinking about their value and purpose.

Jeff states several benefits for the use of tags, including two on search engine visibility:

  • The tags should be useful in informing search (if you search for a word that happens to be a tag, you would want posts using that tag to have priority).
  • I’ll bet you increase page views per visit because readers can find more on a topic that interests them.

About the same time Jeff was writing this I was writing a post comparing Del.icio.us and Technorati tagging. I pointed out that all value coming from Technorati tags comes through Technorati itself: if tags work then people find your page through one of Technorati tag pages. This is very similar to optimizing your pages for Google, except that most of the work you do optimizing for Google will help you out on other search engines, too. For example, if you write really clear page titles to help you gain pagerank in Google, you’ll also get better ranking in Yahoo!.

On the other hand, if you link to Technorati via a Technorati tag, it is doubtful that other blog search engines will support your link because they would be giving credence to a growing competitor.

Additionally, a one-sentence comment to my post caught my attention. Scott Rafer, president and CEO of Feedster (a blog search engine), tacked on to the conversation by pointing out that Technorati is effectively getting a huge SEO benefit by having people link to them for tagging purposes. So, for every Technorati tag that someone creates in their web site, they’re giving Technorati SEO benefit while lessening their own SEO benefit for other services. It appears that the initial benefit I thought I was getting from using Technorati tags wasn’t quite the benefit I thought.

Back to Jeff’s post. David Sifry, CEO of Technorati, makes Jeff happy by pointing out that Technorati is already indexing his posts by tag even though he hasn’t used Technorati tags. Apparently, Technorati indexes the categories supplied by various blog tools (it indexes my WordPress blog categories, for example). Before this comment by David, I didn’t know those were indexed. Sure enough, it’s explained right there in the tag help section. Now I wonder if other blog search engines index them.

Later, David Sifry reported on his own blog that 1/3 of all blogs indexed by Technorati were tagged. In the beginning of the post Sifry clearly includes “categories” (such as WordPress categories) in the numbers he cites, but doesn’t answer the question that immediately comes to mind, which was articulated by a commenter named Andrew, who asks: “Do you have any numbers on how much tagging is the recognition of category names as tags, and how much is ‘explicit tagging’?”. Obviously, this is an important number to know. If, say 95% of posts are using categories as opposed to tags, then that says a lot about the tagging landscape. Because of the way the post is written, though, and because David does not answer Andrew’s question, it seems like Technorati tags are growing at an amazing rate.

However, this may not be the case at all. It could be that Technorati tags are being used very little, and that categories are the primary source for the Technorati tag pages. If this is the case, there is very little incentive to use Technorati tags. And even if tags are being used as much or more than categories (highly unlikely) there is still no clear reason to continue using them instead of categories.

Additionally, in an update to his post Jeff Jarvis claims that his tags are “open” because they don’t address Technorati, and instead address his own site. This claim was disputed by Kevin Marks, another Technorati engineer. (Don’t you appreciate it when the people making the tools actually join the conversation?) Marks says that because they don’t address the Technorati tag set, which is “open” for anyone to address, they are closed. Presumably, any tag set would suffice to make them “open” in Marks’ definition of open. (As for me, I now have no idea what “open” means.)

Further confounding me was a comment left by Christina Wodtke. She suggested that the things that Jeff was calling tags were not tags at all, but were actually “keywords”. She made the smart point that they were being used in very nearly the same way that keywords have been used for years. As for tags, she likens them to graffiti, which is left by people who don’t own whatever it is they’re being applied to.

So now we return to the original question brought up at the beginning of my Del.icio.us and Technorati tag comparison post: who gets what benefit?. It really depends on who you ask…

Published: August 16th, 2005

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