When you visit a website, do you see a list of seemingly random keywords and phrases in different fonts and colours? That is what is known as a ‘Tag Cloud’.
A Tag (according to Wikipedia) is“a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (e.g. a picture, article, or video clip), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification of information…. A tag cloud is a visual depiction of the tags (topics) on a website”
In laments terms, tags are like category labels, much like sections on an online media store. They help you find similar articles, posts and blogs that have something in common. Tags are usually listed alphabetically, with font size and colour used to show the relative importance of the tag and how often it has been used and indicating its popularity on site. (although this can vary from post to post, depending on personal preference and tool used).
So, apart from increasing your sites usabilty, and, lets face it – being the cool new ‘feature’ popping up across the webisphere, what do these clouds really do?
The short of it is, by using tags, you are instantly installing a usefull tool for your SEO marketing strategy.
When catagorizing your posts and pages by keywords, you are as a result catagorizing your entire linking structure through your site, almost giving it an “internal hierarchy”. With this in place, your links inter-page are textual and keyword rich, creating a better layout and format for your SEO to work at its best.
Bare in mind, that with every SEO tool, there are pitfalls and downsides, as much with tag clouds as with any other. Keep away from the “danger zones” and follow these simple rules:
When using tags on your site, keep it to a minimum. Pages with hundreds of keywords not only look messy to your users and a visual overload, but is the cloud equivalent of ‘keyword stuffing’. It looks unprofessional, and deemed untrustworthy by Search Engines.
Its all well and good using your Tag Clouds as part of your SEO strategy, but make sure you put some thought into it. Simple changes such as “hard disk” to “hard drive” can have a massive impact on your organic rankings. As part of any strong marketing strategy, do your keyword research and deliberately think which part of your site do you want links to, and where and which page you want to be ranking.
On a similar note, how are your tags populated? Instead of the tags being defined by the author or developer, some sites (such as Amazon) allow them to be defined by their community of visitors. There are pro’s and con’s to this method, and continues to divide bloggers and marketers alike. This purely comes down to personal choice and what works best for your website and within your market.
Firstly, it will depend on how good of a job your visitors will realistically do, and secondly – how good you are at stamping out spam and excessive ‘noise’.
Misspells, hyphens (or lack of) and random synonyms and short-hands are all issues that will crop up with visitor tagging. Consistency is potentially not going to be a strong point with this method. Remember, your users don’t know what key words you are looking to rank for. You could end up with Tags and Keywords only related to a certain group of people, such as someones birthday or a forum group that use the site regularly. Again, to an extent, this method gives points to usability (as it evidently works well for companies such as Amazon) but can require a large amount of time spent monitoring and tweaking any mistakes or slip ups.
It’s tempting at this point to stand out from the crowd, go for something ‘jazzy’ with words spinning and spiralling all over the place. It may seem a great and ‘unique’ idea, but in a word -don’t. People aren’t using these tools for a reason. Stick to the basics, moving words are a logistical nightmare when it comes to navigation, and with Flash being unusable on all Apple devices, and a struggle for anyone on a mobile or touchpad with loading times through the roof, you are penalising a large proportion of your users/readers.
[image via sociable.es]