Brand new blogger Laura Whitener over at COEBlog.com emailed me a great question the other day. It is simple to ask, but the answer is a little, well, less simple in the telling. Here’s Laura’s question:

What is the purpose of adding tags?

Short Answer: Tags make it easier to find stuff.

Longer Version: Tags are a method of organizing information, such as blog posts, in a way that is both natural for the human user, and relatively simple for a computer to track down.

The File System

We are all used to how computers organize files using folders. You have to follow a specific path through all the different folders to find any given file.

With the file system a given file can only be found in one location. If the file logically could be in multiple places, you have to pick one and put it there. And then remember where you put it!

The only way to have the same file in multiple folders is to make copies of it and put the copies in the different folders. The trouble is if you ever modify one of the copies, and want to keep the same information in all the different places, you have remember to go through and do the exact same modification to each of the files in all the different locations.

How many of us have gotten burned because we were using an old copy of something instead of the latest version for some reason?

Post categories are an incremental improvement on this system but still work much this way. You can nest categories in a hierarchy system.

Many blogging platforms have the ability to assign multiple categories to posts. That feature is an attempt to fix the problem of wanting multiple ways to find stuff. But too many categories can become overwhelming. Especially for all the one-off topics that tend to come up with blogging.

Along Came Tags

Tags on the other hand are independent of a hierarchical system. With tags you (and the computers) don’t have to travel down a specific path to get to the file.

They can just jump straight to the tag. Pretty cool, huh?

When I’m talking with a new blogger I’ll tell them that Categories are like file folders in your drawer. Tags are like labels stuck onto the document inside the file folder. The category sort of tells you where the file is. Tags tell you a little about what the file is.

Tags are nice because you can use multiple tags on the same post to tell what is in that post. Tags are intuitive. They work more closely to the way us people think.

I don’t know about you, but I often don’t remember the name of a post when I want to go back looking for it again. But I remember what I remember about it. So I’ll search that site for what I remember.

If the author uses tags then it is highly probable that the information I’m looking for will come up easily.

And that’s because computers value tags highly as quality descriptors of files.

How To Use Tags

If your blog is set up to accommodate tags, the best way to tag your posts is to think about what is in it that you might want to find again. And then use those terms as tags.

Here at SuccessCREEations I use the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin for my tagging.

Ironically there was a conflict between the version of UTW I was using and the latest WordPress update. The tags I entered in were getting stripped out every time someone posted a new comment on that post. And since most of my posts get comments, I was loosing all my tags!

I didn’t even notice that it was going on until I started looking at my tags when Laura asked the question. (Thanks Laura!)

Fortunately the UTW link above is the version that fixes that problem.

Now I just have to go back through my posts and re-tag them. (It’s on the list.)

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