SearchTHIS: Daddy, What’s a Tagvert?

High on the list of things that push my blood pressure into unacceptable territory is the practice of making up cool names for bleeding-edge technologies that no one in the advertising universe understands and then talking about how these things will forever change the way we work.

Enter the futuristic, tagvertising platform, which made its way into iMedia Connection last week in an intelligently written piece from Steve Rubel. Another article by Steve Levy in Newsweek explained the phenomenon of user-based labeling -- or tagging -- information for links on the web. Several other news outlets have jumped on the tagging bandwagon. Some are even calling it the next great thing in search advertising.

My problem here isn’t with Rubel, Levy or any of the other visionaries in this space, or with the people who use these sites, or with the actual community-based arenas in question. But to my mind tagvertising has about as much chance of providing value to the searching public or advertisers as I do of becoming the next Pope.

Here’s why:

Critical masses

Let’s start with the basics. Tagging sites, such as the ones noted in Newsweek and CNET, like flickr for photo sharing and have hailed user-empowered “tagging” as a way to build large groups of people who use the same keywords or “tags” to identify everything from discussion board topics to photos and bookmarks.

But when does something neat or interesting start to become a money making vehicle? When someone figures out how to sell more products with it, of course. At that critical tipping point, several parties begin to sit up and take notice. When advertisers, attorneys and adopters get together for a big love in, a new and improved ad platform is born and whole thing rolls out smooth as silk.

Sure it does, and I have my spot in the Grotto all picked out.

When tagging groups get together, they share and share and share until some of them start labeling their shared files similarly with new and innovative keywords. At that point (and here’s another cool word) the group system is referred to as a “folksonomy.”

The folksonomy dream for an ad platform relies on using user-designated, keyword-based content as a means to reach targeted audiences based on their own definitions or keywords.

Hold on a second: haven’t we tried this before?

Forward thinking backwords

While tagging pages and other ancillary information like photos is interesting, most search engines ignore content contained in website tags relating to keywords. Site owners abused the tags by filling them full of top searched keywords in an attempt to get rankings. In the end, search engines had to find better ways to rank the pages.

In this manner, tagvertising opens a door to all kinds of abuse.

How about content targeting with keywords? Contextual or content-targeted search already tried to be the next generation of search using keyword scan technologies in order to help match advertiser interest with existing information in a dynamic world. That’s precisely how a luggage ad listing could end up on pages with news about plane crashes. Sure, that’s a worst case scenario, but instances like this -- along with a general lack of interest from advertisers in the content arena -- led to new and interesting ways to connect content with search ads.

Found: useless info and scams

Proponents of the free information flow and indexing will say that people self-designating information will have no reason to enter false information or pump up the keyword sets to be included in more searches. Well, that might be true but no one is trying to advertise against these keywords yet, are they?

Despite the lack of ad platforms, people are finding ways to try and sell their products on these websites. In my experience with searching the popular category “Google” I found more than one example of misguided free-information seekers posting not-quite-topical information. One had explained how to make big bucks with AdSense.

Another showed me how to trick out Google video search in order to find super-secret directories. (I know you’ll be shocked --shocked! -- to find the subsequent posts listed all the quality adult content found with this trick. I can think of a few better places to position an ad for Google, but that’s just me.)

An overwhelming supply of useless information and multitudes of shady, agenda-driven opinions have been trademarks of the web since the dawn of publishing. Are you willing to rely on tagvertising experts' abilities with your brand message in a search listing?

Real value

Then there are the trademark issues. What’s the fastest way to initiate a whole gaggle of lawsuits?

Start futzing with brand owner’s rights by selling pages categorized with keyword tags for “Bloomingdale's” to Macy’s and watch the fun. Remember all the excitement we had with selling keyword banners? How about a stroll down amnesia lane to revisit those disasters before we start thinking of ad units here.

On the other hand, it might be a tremendous way to align your brand. If 23 percent of bloggers or keyword taggers think you’re brand or products are crap, you may want pay a few bucks less for those clicks since there is a 100 percent chance they will be buying anything but your product.

In a recent Friday Fodder, Masha Geller noted that “According to USA Today, CNN, and Gallup polls… few U.S. adults are even aware of blogs. Predictably, when it comes to actual readership, younger respondents spent more time with blogs, with 21 percent of the youngest age group saying they read blogs at least monthly. On average, though, most people said they never read blogs, with a huge 90 percent of the 65 plus group falling into that category.”

Most people never even read blogs? Where do I sign up?


Studying the consumer interaction with products and services via weblog postings or file sharing is one thing, understanding them and relying upon them to provide some level of value to search technology is quite another. Consumer opinion changes with the wind, and very few postings on blogs or self designated indexes would be considered valuable information for consumers or advertisers.

Smart companies like palmOne and Microsoft have created or recommend moderated discussion boards for consumers to exchange information about their products and services, but these discussions have quality controls in place. Some complain this type of moderated discussion limits posting freedom. I think it frees consumers from having to wade through tons of adult content, nonsense sales scams and other miscellaneous garbage before finding what they need.  

Bottom line? People, that is to say the tagging public, are not going to be controlling a “new” ad platform any time soon. As to tagging being the next generation of search advertising? Let’s get content targeting right before we tackle tagvertising.

Additional resources:

Tagvertising = Blogging 2.0... Already?

Search This! Content Works?

In the New Game of Tag, All of Us Are It (MSNBC)

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Meet Kevin Ryan at the Kelsey Group’s Drilling Down, The Online/ Offline Opportunity April 18-20, 2005 and Ad:Tech San Francisco April 25-27, 2005.