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5 Steps to Better Tagging

Last Updated Mar 2009

By: Mark Bennett & Miles Kehoe - New Idea Engineering - Issue 6 - January / February 2004


The popular press tells us today that meta-tagging is dead, but that's only true with respect to the Internet-wide search engines like Google. If what is important to you is how well search works on your own site and your own search engine, then meta-tags are as relevant as ever. Here is a list of what you need to do when you start a meta-tagging project.

  1. Identify user needs

    Many tagging projects begin even before anyone knows what the desired outcome should be. Identify what you want to accomplish with meta-tags and how they will be used. Often meta-tags are used to provide enriched advanced search capability, so talk to the people in your organization who will be using the advanced capabilities: managers, support specialists, HR and legal departments. Also identify who in your organization will be responsible for actually creating the meta-tag content. If your documents are not already stored in a Content Management System, be sure to understand the costs and efforts that will go into acquiring meta-tagging tools. You may also need to include the costs of dedicating staff resources to creating the tag content for all of your documents.

  2. Identify all documents to be tagged

    Once you know 'who' and 'why', it's time to consider the 'what'. Identify all of the sources of documents in your organization. Consider not just your web content, but also email, Lotus Notes, documentation, and database-driven content. Also consider the format of the documents: Microsoft Word, text, HTML, and structured data.

  3. Identify the subset of fields common to all documents

    Next, identify all the various fields used in each of your document repositories. For example, documentation includes titles, authors, versions, and dates. Email will contain author, recipient, subject, and dates. Database content may contain a rich set of fields. Once you have identified all fields, analyze which ones are common to all types of documents in all repositories: most companies can identify 5 to 7 fields that apply to all types of documents. These are the fields you will include in your advanced search forms. Be sure to include fields that contain the repository and file type for each document so you can limit searches.

  4. Verify your Tags

    Check with all of the content owners in your organization to verify that the sub-set of fields you have identified works for everyone. Stress that individual departments can have private tags, but that the corporate enterprise search may not be able to find their data using those private tags.

    And while you're at it, if you use web content, verify that all of your field and tag names are browser neutral and will display properly. This is important if you tag your documents using HTML/XML tags and not meta-data in the document header.

  5. Coordinate with the search engine team

    Once you know what you want tags you want to use, work with your search engine team. Verify the search engine can identify, index, and search on each of the fields you have identified. Coordinate the field names and values with your search engine team for best results finding, sorting, and viewing the documents by meta-tag value. Identify which tags should be searchable fields in the advanced search form. Work with your search team to verify that search activity reports can display searches on meta-tag fields.