The nice thing about having a fledgling blog like mine with a readership in the single digits is that I can pretty much make wholesale changes to my blog and most people won’t notice a thing. And since tonight I had a couple hours to kill, I decided to clean up and revamp my WordPress Tags and Categories.
Like any resourceful latecomer to the blogging game, I googled for other people’s tagging best practices. Perhaps because tagging is such a nebulous and subjective art, there was not a lot of information I can find besides a couple useful articles by Ian Beck and Nick Santilli. The most common advice is to be consistent, which I totally agree. Second most common advice is to find something that works for you. Umm… OK, I’ll try.
With tagging so prevalent in anything web 2.0 today, my goal is to find a tagging system or best practices which not only can be applied to blogs, but other things as well, from personal file organization to social bookmarking.
With that, here are my Top 10 Tagging Best Practices for Anything Web 2.0:
- Be consistent. This rule is so important that it needs to be repeated here again. Whatever happens, pick a system and stick to it.
- Always use lower case letters. No exceptions. And spaces and hyphens are the only punctuation that I will use to separate different words in a phrase.
- Use nouns whenever possible. I always prefer “stupidity” to “stupid”, and “developer” or “development” (depending on the context) over “develop”.
- Try to limit the use of abbreviations. Although the goal is to make the tags as succinct as possible, I will still expand out abbreviations unless they are universally recognized either as a brand (like IBM or HP), or an industry buzzword (SOA or GTD). Ambiguous abbreviations such as KM or PR I will expand them out as “knowledge management” and “public relations” respectively. The only exception is for extremely long abbreviations like “tokyo international anime fair”, in which case I will use the shortened form “taf”, since the abbreviation is used frequently to market the event as well.
- Tag important company and brand names. If my blog entry (or article I’m submitting to a social bookmarking site) talks about any companies, I will include them as tags. The only exception (based on my discretion) is if the company was only mentioned in passing as an example and is not central to the main idea of the article.
- Tag important product names. I will tag product names that appear in the blog entry, but I will strip out the vendor name in the tag and apply that as a separate tag. For example, if my article talks about IBM Lotus Notes, I will tag the article separately with the “lotus”, “ibm” and “notes” tags instead of “ibm” and “lotus notes” or even worse, just “ibm lotus notes”.
- Tag ideas, concepts, locations, and events. Any main ideas, concepts (however nebulous or concrete), locations or events must be tagged and captured. If the article has three sections each with a different idea, try to extract a tag from each section. Examples: “productivity”, “social graph”, “enterprise”, “singapore”, “blogs”, “security”. If I am tagging an event, I will always put the year of the event if it’s an annual event (like using “taf 2008″ instead of just “taf”).
- Don’t tag individuals. I will never tag a blog entry with another person’s name, even if I talk about them or link to their blogs. This is simply a matter of personal choice. I feel that linkbacks are more than sufficient to give them credit if I do refer to their work. The only exception is if the person is a central idea for my blog. E.g. if my blog was a blog on Microsoft, Bill Gates will be a central idea, and thus I wouldn’t mind using the tag “bill gates” when talking about him.
- Use a plural base. I will always choose “blogs” over “blog” or “blogging”. There has been some debate on whether to use a singular base or a plural base as a default, but to me, a plural base just sounds more natural, especially when tags are mostly being used as categories in the Web 2.0 world.
- Don’t use more than 10-12 tags per entry. This can be an entirely arbitrary number up to you. For me, if I need so many tags to accurately provide the metadata for a blog entry, then it may be a sign for me to break up the article into smaller, manageable parts.
- Bonus Rule: Remember that tags are metadata that helps other people find your content using search engines. So think from the point of view of the user – If I am to type in search terms using a search engine to find this content, what search terms will I likely use? Those can also be considered as tags.
So these are my tagging best practices. How about yours? Please leave me a comment if you have your own set of tagging best practices that you want to share.
Last note on when to use Categories and when to use Tags in WordPress. In general, I subscribe to Lorelle’s school of thought: Treat Categories as your blog’s table of contents, and Tags as your blog’s index. Categories help you organize your posts into manageable sections in your blog, and Tags help your readers do a search to locate the specific information that they are looking for.
Update: About eight months after I wrote this article, I have changed my opinion on some of the best practices above, specifically the plural base (#9 above) and number of tags to use (#10). Anyway, at the end of the day, it is what works for you.