Monday, February 13th, 2006...12:20 pm

Social Bookmarking and Tagging for SEO

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Social bookmarking and tagging come to play an increasingly large part in today’s Internet. It is not only an online community thing any more as it concerns a much larger audience than any particular community alone. To understand why, let’s look closer at the concepts involved:

  • Social Bookmarking Services – online services that let you save your bookmarks to access them on their sites, in many cases import them from your browser’s favorites, sort them, tag them, etc. What makes them social is the option for user interaction – you can make your bookmarks public and them other users can search through them, often rate them, add them to their own bookmarks and so on;
  • Tags – a way of marking what some item (be it blog post, saved bookmark or anything else) is about – think keywords with a Web 2.0 twist. The short overview of history of tags can be found here, and here is an example of tagsonomy in use – a tag cloud;
  • Blogs – they took the web by storm a couple years ago and keep playing an important part in it;
  • RSS – a universal format that is being used by almost everyone and everywhere, there’s hardly a site without an RSS feed or RSS being used in some other form nowadays;
  • Personalized search – by letting users personalize their searching experience, search engines collect user data which can be used for improving the algorithms and the search process as a whole, fighting spam, and so on. All major search engines use personalized search to soem extent and experiemtnwith different personalized solutions – be it Yahoo’s MyWeb, Google’s personalized home page or MSN’s My MSN. (By the way, in addition to MY MSN, MSN is currently testing something that looks pretty much like Gogle’s personalized home page).

All these concepts interact in many ways. The scheme below illustrates this interaction:

Social Bookmarking and Tagging for SEO

To explain this a bit: search engines’ personalized search solutions, for example, make extensive use of social (to different level) bookmarking and tagging. They are so much interested in social bookmarking that Yahoo has recently bought and Flickr – two sites with large communities and growing popularity, and Furl, another social bookmarking service, is owned by LookSmart. RSS feeds can be incorporated into personalized home pages. Often, RSS feds are also provided for search results. Blog search is a separate feature Google and Yahoo have introduced last year.

Why are search engines so interested in all these concepts? Well, after all the manipulations their algorithms have been subjected to, they want genuine user data, the kind of data that’s difficult to fake – and in this case, the community principle and personalization are very helpful. The way most social bookmarking services work is based on social interaction and public opinion rather than smart algorithmic filtering. For example, Wink is a social bookmarking search engine that searches through bookmarks from several different services including those its own users have created and ranks the search results based on what those services’ users think of each bookmark.

So what should SEOs do about it all? – Certainly, we should find ways to use these new concepts in our work to rank our sites better as well as to create additional exposure for them and brink traffic independent of search engines. Social bookmarking is a powerful concept and I see it growing even further in the next few years.

OK you may say, how can this be achieved? – Well, remember the old talk about building communities? – This comes very handy in this case. Of course you can try to work your way to popularity in those social bookmarking services by creating numerous accounts trying to spam them the way search engines are spammed – but this is not very effective. Social hacking is the way to go here. create one account just to introduce your site to the community – as many social bookmarking sites list the most recently added public bookmarks on their front page chances are your site will get noticed and if the audience is right (yes yes, all those SB services have different audience and this is also something to look into!) more people will bookmark your site, resulting in still more people bookmarking your site, resulting – yes that’s right – in search engine-independent relevant traffic. This is just one example – or even a hint – of what can be done, and if you’re creative enough, you can work out many others – just remember about the interaction on my scheme and use it to your benefit exploring all the possible combinations.
Suggested reading:

Tags & Folksonomies – What are they, and why should you care?

Wink’s Michael Tanne Discusses the Future of Tagging

Social Bookmarks – my attempt at reviewing some of the existing social bookmarking sites, I plan on expanding the list and adding and reviewing more services

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