User Generated Tags Are Useless Noise

A current dumb, but popular, trend is to get user to tag pages.

How valuable is a Technorati tag page to a Google user? Probably just about worthless, IMHO. The only reason they exist is that it gives bloggers crumbs of exposure in exchange for their link equity, and it gives Technorati a way to build authority and get an automated scraper to pass as real content. Other large sites have started following this tag example, and allow users to use non-descriptive labels like 2000, hip, and cool to tag their content. As if this tag noise was not bad enough for people trying to look past the clutter and actually find something, some of these sites use the tags to create additional content pages.

What are these page? They are a perfect example of low information quality pages. Some dumb content management systems and blog plug-ins take the noise one step further by cross referencing the tags, having a virtually infinite set of tags that will keep generating more cross referenced tag pages until search engines get sick of wasting their bandwidth and your link equity indexing the low value garbage.

A set of loosely defined tag pages is no better than a low quality search result page. Search engines have long ago decided they generally didn't want to index the search results from other search engines. When too many of their own results are these noisy tag pages eventually they are going to turn against tags...maybe not via any official statements, but some sites will just not rank as well.

Search engines react to the noise in the marketplace then the marketplace creates new types of noise to pollute the SERPs. Then the search engines react to the noise in the marketplace. Then the marketplace creates new types of noise to pollute the SERPs. Tags are noise and they will have their day.

Why would you want to let users outside of your business interests control your information architecture and internal link structure when Google is getting picky about what they are willing to index? Why waste your link equity and bandwidth?

Published: February 3, 2007 by Aaron Wall in seo tips


February 5, 2007 - 8:50pm

Just after starting my blog, I began adding tags, but given how few people found the site that way, I gave up. I'm a Records Manager by training and know that there are so many ways that different people access the same information, that my tags would be entirely irrelevant to most people's search terms.

Instead of rely on keyword rich content, and I forget about the tags. Too much work for too little return.

February 26, 2007 - 2:07pm

great article, I have been doing a bit of research into tags tonight with regard to SEO.

Tagging is a threat to many factors (eg. IA, taxonomy) so great argument on the SEO front.

February 2, 2007 - 10:41pm

I would have to agree. I get about 1/4 as many hits from Technorati as I send to it. I've started to post links to related blogs covering the same topic, which I think is probably a better log term strategy.

February 2, 2007 - 10:47pm

Hmmm. I'm not sure that I agree 100%. I incorporate tags in two areas, here's why:
1. A tag cloud page - this provides a visual representation of the topics that I am discussing on my blog and is a user-selected page.
2. Within the notes of my single blog article. It's not intrusive; however, it allows readers to 'pivot' on a topic to read other articles I've tagged with the same phrase.

I will admit that these sources are not a 'huge' source of interaction on my site, but I also don't think they are useless. As well, if they are not intrusive - they are not 'noise'. For the few folks that use them (according to my analytics), I'm guessing that they like them!

I would also add that tagging has not yet reached its peak of usefulness. I like the fact that when I bookmark a page, that my plugin finds the tags and auto-generates suggestions for me. It makes it much easier to categorize and search my bookmarks.


February 3, 2007 - 5:13am

I agree with you on this.

I no longer use tags, they added nothing, and I could never figure our why if a tag wasn't a keyword, then what was it.

I have yet to read a coherent account of tags versus keywords, and the why the alleged superiority of the former is real.

February 3, 2007 - 6:30am

I'm not a huge fan of tagging applied to all things but I think the points you are making in this article is severely myopic. Tag based taxonomy was not originally introduced for the purpose generate scraped pages. Rather it was an alternative "personal" way of applying flat, non-hierarchical information retrieval system for one's own content. As such, it was a model that aimed to address the problems inherent with traditional nested classification and navigation systems (always too loose or too deep). It also a lot of sense of non-structural personal data such as images (think flickr). I also want to point out, the intention behind relying on tagging system is not to let "users outside of your business interests control your information", it's to allow users control THEIR data they way THEY want to. You're right. Other people's labels like "hip" and "cool" is useless to me. But I know exactly what "I" meant when "I" tagged items with those same keyword. It's a personal classification system that makes sense to ME.

February 3, 2007 - 6:36am

I totally agree with you that it is good to let THEM control THEIR data about how they want to access stuff, but as soon as I start showing it to my users and letting it affect my site structure and how my site describes itself to other users and search engines it becomes MY problem.

I like as a user, but there is a difference between being a bookmarking site and letting bookmarks overrun your site, and people won't see a user generated tag cloud on any of my content sites anytime soon.

February 3, 2007 - 9:32am

So, the quick summary is: owner-tagged good (sometimes), user-tagged bad?

Counterexample: I find the tagging on Fickr quite useful for search, and it includes tagging from users (friends and family only, I think)

(Although some flickrites do need to learn how to tag!)

February 3, 2007 - 9:35am

Flickr has almost textual content without their tagging. Most sites are text heavy without user tagging.

It is all about relative signal to noise.

February 3, 2007 - 12:27pm

totally agree, in fact here is a similar post that I wrote sometime ago:

February 3, 2007 - 2:52pm

I'm wondering if anybody here has looked at the concept of "taxonomy directed folksonomies" and what you think of them.

Essentially, this is a compromise between a folksonomy (user generated chaos) and a controlled taxonomy (top-down control, need for users to learn valid tags) by defining a taxonomy that the user is encouraged to use in some kind of a context-sensitive fashion, yet still allowing users to create tags.

The potential benefit of this that I see is that flow within a site can be restricted to well-trodden, well-defined tags that have been predefined.

User-defined tags could still be used but wouldn't be displayed in tag clouds, etc. and would only be visible within certain contexts where they would prove more useful.

I've never worked on anything like this personally but it sounds promising to me.

February 3, 2007 - 3:22pm

I use tags on my own blog for one reason - it gets search engine traffic. Yes, tags are a bit spammy, but the whole point is that at the end of the day they DO drive search engine traffic if you use them right. If you are trying to target a specific phrase or something like that, they provide a very flexable way to do that. Pointing your tags to technorati is a bit of a waste, but if you use them to generate content pages they are a much more flexable system than categories.

February 3, 2007 - 3:27pm

Now what if it's a site like mine, with 8,000 venues, and I don't want to 'tag' them all myself? I am actually writing a module that will allow users to 'tag' venues with words like "fish fry" or "coffee house", knowing that I'll probably get some noise along with useful user interaction.

Without user participation, the user feels they are void of any worth at certain types of sites - technorati without user interaction is worthless, so it fits the business model there. I wouldn't, however, open up to end user tagging - I could only imagine ;-)

February 3, 2007 - 7:02pm

My tagging extends as far as my personal Delicious and StumbleUpon accounts. I think the post categories on my blog are enough to tell the user what topics we're discussing (and they don't require me to add a bunch of other sites' code and links for no reason.)

February 3, 2007 - 10:41pm

I get 50% of my search traffic to yummy duplicate content tag pages, and not a link to Technorati leaking juice in sight.

Tagging introduces lots of LSI related links, and my belief is that Google likes tags as part of their LSI calculations.

February 4, 2007 - 12:57pm

So you are saying that every single url (tags, user profiles, user comments pages, print versions etc.) are just useless regarding building SE traffic and ranking for some terms? It's better to block all this pages without real content?

February 4, 2007 - 10:27pm

Couldn't agree more. I will decide what tags to assign to posts. Not my readers. I use tags on my blog because they help readers find similar local content to read. I also like the fact that my tags show up on Technorati. But I have no outbound links to Technorati on my pages.

I've recently blocked all my tag archive pages in robots.txt since they often end up being VERY simllar and I don't want to be penalized by Google for having tons of virtually identical pages on my site!

Tags have their place. They can be very helpful to local readers and generating inbound traffic from Technorati.

February 4, 2007 - 10:38pm

The thing why tags are garbage is because people like to have a limited set of possibilities.
I see the problem when I need to post another link to my account, I have many many tags with only one url assigned to it. Ready made categories are far better.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.