[This article accompanies previous article: Tagging in Hardin MD – History]
All Hardin MD (HMD) pages have tags at the bottom, to make them more visible for search engines i.e. Google. We have been doing tagging in HMD since 2000, and it works very well. As shown in the example to the left, the tags are for variant spellings (measels), variant terms (rubeola), and words and word combinations relating to pictures (we have found that the word “pictures” is especially favored by Google).
One of the things that has made HMD fun has been applying longstanding practices of librarianship to a web-based system. Having been a cataloger for a brief time early in my library career, it seemed natural to put tags at the bottom of the web page, just like subject headings are at the bottom of cards in the card catalog. Including mis-spellings in the tags to help users find the page seemed natural, too — As a cataloger, I had been taught to put x-ref cards in the catalog for variant ways that patrons might look for a book, and following the same principle on web pages, it became possible to apply it on a much larger scale.
It continues to surprise me that this simple idea — Putting tags on web pages — has not been more widely applied. I have seen very few cases of it at other sites. I suspect part of the reason for this is that people have tended to think the hidden meta keyword field was the place to put tags, rather than “cluttering up” their pages by putting them on the page. Google’s announcement a few days ago that they ignore meta keywords finally puts an end to that idea. But many SEO people have thought meta keywords were ineffective for a long time, and it was certainly our experience — Around the time we began putting tags on pages in 2000, we compared meta field tagging and on-page tagging, and found that meta field tagging seemed to be ignored by Google.
Another factor that may have discouraged people from putting tags inconspicuously at the bottom of the page is that SEO people generally say that words need to be in a prominent place on the page, preferably near the top, to be found by Google. That’s no doubt true for common words that have a lot of competition, but for relatively uncommon words, like variant spellings of medical diseases, placement at the bottom of the page works well. (One proviso: Our pages with HMD are relatively small, usually no more than two screens. Putting tags at the bottom of larger pages may not work as well.)
I suspect a reason that people don’t think more of experimenting with tagging and Google visibility is that it is a lengthy process. Google’s not going to see new words on your page right away. It may take several weeks or even months. So it requires careful record-keeping, to note when words are added, and having a regular schedule of Google checking to see if your pages are starting to appear in search results.