Tag Clouds To Guide You

The box you see at the top of the right sidebar, which is labeled Popular Tags, contains what is called a tag cloud. All the SMM blogs are now displaying such a tag cloud since, as explained elsewhere, Tags Attract Eyes.

Tag clouds are not a new innovation. In 2005, Pete Freitag gave complete and somewhat complex instructions on How To Make a Tag Cloud. His website still shows a fine example of the tag cloud created by his approach.

Not everyone was so enamored by tag clouds. Jeffrey Zeldman expressed the view that Tag clouds are the new mullets. He suggested that every one was leaping onto the bandwagon of this fascinating new technology.

Before we go further it is very important to make a clear distinction between tag clouds, which provide hyperlinks to individual posts or articles, and what might better be called Word Clouds.

Some Tag Clouds Are Only Word Clouds

Some software will take a body of text and display common terms in the text by grouping like terms together and visually emphasizing the more frequent terms. These might best be called Word Clouds. Interesting examples of this are TagCrowd and the Tag Cloud Demo created by OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, Inc.).

To repeat, although the same term is used for these, these are not tag clouds, as we are using the term. They should more precisely be called word clouds.

That is not to say that what they do is not of interest. Indeed Noah Brier uses the same concept in picturing how visitors to his website, Brand Tags, perceive some common brands. As he suggests, the basic idea of the site is that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads. Therefore, whatever it is they say a brand is, is what it is. He uses word clouds to display and summarize these perceptions.

Tag Clouds That Get You There

Word clouds are of some interest, but tag clouds that include hyperlinks to other webpages clearly are much more valuable and useful. Although these tags could be determined by computer analysis, they are likely to be much more relevant if they are assigned by the author of the web page. They are now very easily handled and displayed for blogs that are using the latest version of WordPress version 2.5. A tag cloud such as that displayed in the right sidebar is easily created using the information in Template Tags/wp_tag_cloud.

The use of tag clouds is becoming more valuable as the Internet becomes increasingly crowded and search engines sometimes produce only low relevance items. Perhaps this is why Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Internet, has received a $350,000 grant from the James S and James L. Knight Foundation to work on “source tagging”. He and Martin Moore are working with Reuters and the BBC to figure out how to incorporate this process into routine journalistic workflow.

We can only hope that “source tagging” helps you find the original items. Perhaps it hardly needs to be said given the riches that Sir Tim has given us already.

A Marketer’s Guide to Social Bookmarking & Tagging
Posted by Lisa Barone
Live blogging from SMX Social Media Marketing, April 2008, Long Beach CA

10 thoughts on “Tag Clouds To Guide You”

  1. Tag clouds are definitely very good to emphasize what your site has the most. =) But I find them ugly somehow =/ Spoils a layout with so much words jumbled up like that.

  2. That is an interesting article. In our experience website owners find it difficult to understand visitor behaviour even with good systems such as Google Analytics.

    We have recently come across an excellent piece of software that not only allows them to monitor individual user behaviour in real time, but also facilitates direct engagement between visitor and user. This has been increasing conversions by an average of 15% in the websites we have implemented it in.

    It seems that the individualised data gives a more enlightening perspective.

  3. Mark, I really relate to your line of thought. In a sense, that kind of data provides the most realistic user tests of what your website is achieving.

    It can sometimes create a problem with just too much data. It’s important that the software provides a user-friendly way of understanding what the data is showing you. BTW the URL associated with your name at the moment is not working.

  4. I was under the impression tag clouds are considered seo spam more or less. I don’t have the link right now but I remember Matt Cuts advising webmaster to avoid tag clouds. If you want the whole site indexed better do a xml sitemap and submit it to google.

  5. I think the messiness of tag clouds make them what they are! I’ve always avoided them to be honest due to Matt Cutts post. I use webmaster tools and submit a sitemap each time I add a page (well it’s done automatically) SOOO I’ll stick to avoiding them for now.

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