Social Tagging & Search

I've become a big fan of Yahoo! My Web because I like to easily access my favorite websites from any computer. So I no longer store bookmarks on my local browser, but instead I tag my favorite URLs with relevant keywords using Yahoo My Web and retrieve them whenever I want by performing a search on keyword tags I have used. In most cases, I keep these tagged sites private, but occasionally I share some of them with all the other My Web users.

For a while, Yahoo has been touting this "social tagging" as a means of presenting better targeted results to its end users. Not to be left behind, Google recently launched its own variant of social search, Google Co-op, which relies on tagging in the form of an XML or TSV file. And now both Google and Yahoo have started incorporating certain social results into their search results or providing an option to search within social results. There are also a number of niche social search sites such as del.icio.us, digg, and Looksmart's Furl. All rely on tagging and sharing URLs with a community of users.

With the advent and growth of social tagging and social search, search marketers should evaluate these for opportunities to effectively market their products and services.

Pros
There are a number of benefits that can be gained from social tagging and from performing searches for content on social search engines:

  • It's useful for storing your bookmarks and sharing them with others
  • It's easier to search through your tags for relevant sites than through a browser's bookmarks
  • It's theoretically better at identifying relevant sites as a result of a large community of topic-knowledgeable users tagging them
  • It's theoretically more accurate at ranking sites for visibility by relevance, as sites with high value to end users will be tagged more often
  • It's often able to restrict searches to a user's own tagged content, as many social search engines offer a personalized search component

Cons
Social search engines need to overcome the following challenges before they become a major part of searcher behavior:

  • There is still very little end user adoption. Very few people currently know about social search engines
  • Search results within social search engines are based on URLs tagged by a minority of users, so may not reflect relevancy to the majority of users
  • It is difficult to find enough tags for all topics
  • Keyword tags many not accurately describe the content of the tagged page
  • It's easier to manipulate the search results for keywords with a very limited number of URLs tagged
  • Most tagged pages are high level pages, leaving interior pages, which are often more relevant, untagged and unavailable

Implications for search marketers
The future of social search depends a great deal on how fast the general searching public adopts it. It may never totally replace algorithmic search. However, it could be a great supplement to both organic and paid search, providing yet another set of criteria for establishing relevance for end users to consider.

Search marketers should strive to get their sites to rank in top 30 search results for their most important keywords on Google, Yahoo, msn and AOL, as most sites that get tagged are initially found by their "taggers" on these four major search engines. You can also create "bookmark buttons" on your key pages.  Most of the major social tagging sites provide webmasters and search marketers with the code to do this. Similarly, you can tag your content with most relevant keywords and submit it to Google Co-op.

Before you invest your resources in social search, ensure that your site is already performing well in major search engines. Pay attention to these engines and how they are incorporating social results into their regular results as this has more implications on your visibility than how you perform in low traffic social search engines.

Naga Krothapalli, Ph.D., is director of algorithmic search at iProspect. Read full bio.

 

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