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Tags, Keywords, and Pecan Rings


Keyword Search - Pecan Ring

20090514-104-Apple, pine nut and pecan cake at Relish Cafe in Rotorua

Originally uploaded by Roger T Wong

How to explain a keyword versus a tag?

A quieter reading of Groundswell (Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, 2008), Facebook, and a perfect spring afternoon made the lightbulb go off.

The day was classic — clear, sunny and mild-breezy after a length of muggy days that can grip the Northeast Atlantic coast. In NYC for a weekend charity jaunt, even Prince Harry remarked how lovely it was.

“Beautiful,” “best weather” and other ratings popped up on my Facebook wall. Each was quite accurate; still the type of day (i.e., tag)  evoked deeper personal meaning (i.e., response). I posted “Uncle George Day” knowing the select few who would be fully engaged. Perhaps they might find themselves buying a pecan ring in the next day or so!  At least that’s the behavior a search marketer might hope for (see below).

It was then that I had the perfect example of the difference between a tag and a keyword.

Groundswell‘s authors clearly distinguish between the two and map out the ensuing challenges of search marketing, branding, and advertising in a Web 2.0 world. I could type in any combination of  “clear day,”  “family visits,” “pecan rings,” and even “Chrysler.” All are great keywords, but the search could flatten the engagement and weaken the link to the tag.

Keywords are intentional, intellectual, akin to browsing.

Whatever the intention driving the search, the interest remains tenuous. For example, no amount of keywording and searching could evoke / engage the emotional and personal significance of a day tagged as “Uncle George Day.” Most certainly, you have similar tags of your own.

Tags are idiosyncratic, iconic, and emotional.

Search and keywords begin with tags, akin to Maslow’s motivators. However, they are fully personal and contextual. What legal friends would call sui generis.

Here — this will explain my Uncle George day tag.

Growing up, there would come a bright-blue sky on a warmish Sunday without a cloud and not too much of a wind. My Dad would look up from his NY Times and say “I wonder how Dot and George are doing.” Within minutes (it seemed) the phone would ring, he’d pick up and lovingly laugh to all, “Hello George! Of course we’re here and look forward to seeing you.”

My uncle and aunt would pick up my great-aunt Bertha in their Chrysler, stop by a German bakery renowned for its pecan ring, and drive up to our hometown of semi Leave it to Beaver sophistication. We’d hold off dessert. On their arrival, our full house would burst with stories, dessert, and great conversation. This special, spontaneous day became tagged emotionally as an “Uncle George Day.”

That’s what a tag is — idiomatic, idiosyncratic. Each of us assigns little tags that begin with the specific/emotional and that bubble up to the general/intellectual. The more emotional the tag, the more passive it may be in consciously driving searches. As a result, linking keywords and tags can prove tenuous and perplexing when it comes to generating direct, measurable response.

If you currently post to a social bookmarking site, compare and contrast tags to any article you may post. See if you can spot general tags and idiosyncratic ones. Consider the common tags as an idiomatic expression.

That’s why search marketing goes only so far, continues to evolve, and is undergoing reconfiguration.


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  1. Baby names search - Search for meaning of bertha

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