Tags as Trigger Words

Joshua Porter

August 2nd, 2006

An astute virtual seminar attendee asks:

“We are reorganizing the content on our site (Customers continually tell us they can’t find things, the context is overwhelming, etc.). I was hoping to use tagging to get an idea of how our customers look for things and then base the structure accordingly. Is this appropriate?”

Yes, this is definitely appropriate. Any insight into how customers look for things is valuable. If you can gain knowledge about how people value your content from the way they create and use tags, then you have a virtual obligation to do so! ;)

As I mentioned in the seminar, tags are simply trigger words. As trigger words, they are triggers to action. When a person sees a trigger word, they act. If you can fill your web site with people’s trigger words, you’ll make them happy because they’ll find the content they were looking for.

In general, we’ve found several ways to discover people’s trigger words:

  • Search Engine Queries
    By cataloguing the queries people enter into search engines, you can get a clear idea of the actual words people are looking for. We see it over and over again: when people can’t find their trigger words on a page, they go to search. What do they enter into the search box? Their trigger words!
  • Actual Clicks
    By looking at the actual clicks that people make, you can get a good idea of what words trigger them to action. The words might be the words in the actual link, or words nearby.
  • Tags
    Tags are a new way to uncover trigger words. Since users are the ones entering tags, we have access to their own vocabulary. This is much more valuable than just a way for users to save things for later (which is the primary reason why people tag). Information architects can gain valuable insights into what language can inform future versions of the web site.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re excited by tags. One of the reasons why is that they are a source for ever-valuable trigger words.

4 Responses to “Tags as Trigger Words”

  1. Jon Says:

    Tags are great for bookmarking or categorizing links, but besides that how can my users really use take advantage of the concept?

    I have an intranet and I’d love to have the users tag and organize the content as they wish, but we can’t realistically expect the users to do that, now can we?

  2. Alice Says:

    I read somewhere that if you can get as many as 16% of your users to start tagging, you’ll have enough to supply an informal taxonomy. Josh, have you seen anything that makes you think that figure (1/6) is in any way accurate?

    In my current project, we plan to use tagging to supplement our own taxonomic work. It’s been expensive to get sufficient numbers of professionals involved, and our database contains a huge number of objects. So, we’re going to see whether our audience (college and graduate-level students, professors, researchers) will take to it. So at some point, I might have enough stats about those audiences to share.

  3. Joshua Says:

    Jon, I don’t know if that’s a reasonable expecation or not. I would ask several questions before trying to implement tags.

    First, is there a clear, immediate, personal benefit for users who tag? If not, then you’re right, users aren’t likely to care. (social use isn’t a very good reason, it needs to be personal)

    Second, is the system successful without tagging? That will make sure that the only incentive isn’t to tag…which only leads to SPAM. There needs to be some other benefit.

    To your question of bookmarking and categorizing…yes, most implementations of tagging are useful for these reasons. However, they apply very broadly to many industries and types of sites. People need tools to organize!

    Like you, I’m anxious to see where tagging can work successfully outside of the initial areas where it has proved successful.

  4. Joshua Says:

    Alice, I haven’t heard a number like that before. Let us know what you find, and whether it works for you!

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