What Is Tagging and Why Should We Do It?

Learn How to Add Small Data Chunks to Your Web Pages

Searching thru magnifier glass

 

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Tags are simple pieces of data — usually no more than one to three words — that describe information on a document, web page, or another digital file. Tags provide details about an item and make it easy to locate related items that have the same tag.

Why Use Tags?

Some people object to using tags in their files because they don't understand the difference between tags and categories. After all, what do you need a tag for if you have your tagged item in a category?

Tags are different from categories. Suppose you need to find your dog Dusty's vaccination paperwork. You go to your paper file cabinet, but what do you look up — dog? dusty? vaccination? pets? vet?

If you scanned Dusty's vaccination record on your computer, you could assign tags to the scan that correspond to all the words you might look up to find it: vet, dog, dusty, pet, and vaccinate. Then, the next time you need to find the record, you could by searching on any of those terms and find it on the first try.

File cabinets require that you categorize your files using a one category per file system. Tags take advantage of computers and don't force you to remember exactly what you were thinking about when you first identified the item.

Web Page Tags Differ From Meta Keywords

When used on web pages, tags are not keywords, at least they aren't the same as keywords written in <meta/> tags, which aren't exposed to the reader. Tags are visible and often can be manipulated by the reader. In contrast, meta tags (keywords) are written only by the author of the document and can't be modified.

One benefit of tags on web pages is that readers can often provide additional tags that the author might not have considered. Just like you might think of different terms every time you try to look up an item in your filing system, your customers might think of different ways to get to the same product. Robust tagging systems let them tag the documents themselves so that the tagging becomes more personalized to everyone who uses it.

When to Use Tags

Tags can be used on any digital object. Any information that can be stored or referenced on a computer can be tagged. Tagging may be used for the following:

  • Digital photos: Many photo management programs offer tag support.
  • Address books: Add a field for tags in your address books. Then, whenever you want to send a message to your entire family, search on the "family" tag.
  • Web pages and blogs: Many blogs use tags.
  • Taxonomies: Some sites use tags as navigation in tag clouds, which are visual representations of a list of items. The terms may change in size depending on their popularity.
  • Social media and folksonomies: By allowing other people to tag your site with their own tags, you find out what they think of your pages.

How to Use Tags

The easiest way to use tags on a website is to use software that supports it. Examples include Google Tag Manager, Microsoft's Tag Explorer, open-source TagSpaces, and Adobe Dynamic Tag Management. There are many blog tools that support tags, and some CMS software programs support them. Manually building tags is possible, but it takes a lot of work.