Usability, content, search and analytics on the corporate intranet

Tags vs Keywords

7 January, 2014 – Luke Oatham

Many of our clients use WordPress-driven websites and intranets. Tags are a core feature of WordPress. Keywords are not. But we do use them on intranets.

Keywords on the web

Keywords don’t really pack much punch on the web. They were initially designed to aid search engines in indexing content but due to abuse, search engines have long since ignored them.

Keywords on the intranet

Keywords on the intranet are a great way for the intranet search engine to index words that wouldn’t otherwise appear on a page. Employee restaurant, staff canteen, lunch menu, food and drink are all words that people might use to search for the lunch menu. Not all of these words will appear on that page. So we use keywords to help people that search using words that do not appear in the main content of a page. And although the search engine will read and index the keywords, these keywords will not appear on the front end pages.

You don’t need to repeat words that already exist in the page title or body content again in keywords. Keywords are not obligatory. It’s fine to leave them blank. And I stress this because some publishers will enter any words they can if they feel they have to and this can damage search results.

Don’t include your company name as a keyword. It’s really not necessary. Unless the page is specifically about your company and this is the page that should appear in search results if someone, on your company intranet, searches for your company name.

When you add a keyword, think of it as an instruction to the search engine to include the page as a possible entry in search results when anyone uses the word in a search query. Be very specific.

Keywords are also a good way of promoting internal campaigns. Include the message Search for “funderpants” in an offline poster and make sure that you have the obscure/unique word as a keyword in one intranet page only.  Then it will appear all alone at the top of the search results pages, if staff search.

Tags on the intranet

Tags are not an alternative to keywords. Tags are for grouping  content. They are not designed solely for the search engine to index. And they are visible in the front end.

Ideally, you should apply a single tag to more than one page. For example, you can apply the tag “meeting” to pages for booking a meeting room, ordering catering for a meeting, collecting guests for a meeting and how to operate the projector.

When adding tags to a page, check that a similar tag doesn’t already exist to avoid creating different variations. If you create a new tag, check which other pages might also benefit from the same tag.

Tags on the web

The only benefit of this shotgun approach of adding lots of tags is that the visible, front-end content will get indexed. On the web, this is a benefit as keywords are generally ignored.

Managing tags

I find, in practice, that publishers fall into two categories. Those who organise and manage their tags, and those who treat tags as keywords.

Those who manage their tags will build a controlled vocabulary of words and terms that can be used. On the DCMS intranet there are just 65 tags to cover all the content. You click a tag; you get a nice bunch of pages relating to that tag.

Those who treat tags as keywords add them in a less controlled manner. This can result in having hundreds of tags, which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It produces pages with lots of tags. But it also produces lots of single tags that apply to only one page. Groupings happen by chance.  Variations on words start to appear, on the frontend too.  Tag clouds become very flat, as all the singleton tags appear at the same size and colour.  You click a tag; you get one page, or a few if you’re lucky.

On the intranet, it’s best to use tags to group content, and keywords to aid the search engine.

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