A recent article about how Google Internet search does not use meta tags to find relevant content got me thinking about a couple of things.
First it explains why none of the articles I write for this blog about enterprise search appear in Google alerts for “enterprise search.” Besides being a personal annoyance, easily resolved if I invested in some Internet search optimization, it may explain why meta tagging is a hard sell behind the firewall.
I do know something about getting relevant content to show up in enterprise search systems and it does depend on a layer of what I call “value-added metadata” by someone who knows the subject matter in target content and the audience. Working with the language of the enterprise audience that relies on finding critical content to do their jobs, a meta tagger will bring out topical language known to be the lingua franca of the dominant searchers as well as the language that will be used by novice employee searchers. The key here is to recognize that in any specific piece of content its “aboutness” may never be explicitly spelled out in terminology by the author.
In one example, let’s consider some fundamental HR information about “holiday pay” or “compensation for holidays” or “compensation for time-off.” The strings in quotes were used throughout documents on the intranet of one organization where I consulted. When some complained about not being able to find this information using the company search system, my review of search logs showed a very large number of searches for “vacation pay” and almost no searches for “compensation” or “holidays” or “time off.” Thus, there was no way that using the search engine employees would stumble upon the useful information they are seeking – unless, meta tags make “vacation pay” a retrievable index pointer to these documents. The tagger would have analyzed the search logs, seen the high number of searches for that phrase and realized that it was needed as a meta tag.
Now, back to Google’s position on ignoring meta tags because writers and marketing managers were “gaming the system.” They were adding tags they thought would be popular to get people to look at content not related but for which they were seeking a huge audience.
I have heard the concern that people within enterprises might also hijack the usefulness of content they were posting in blogs or wikis to get more “eyeballs” in the organization. This is a foolish concern, in my opinion. First I have never seen evidence that this happens and don’t believe that any productive enterprise has people engaging in this obvious foolishness.
More importantly, professional growth and success depends on the perceptions of others, their belief in you and your work, and the value of your ideas. If an employee is so foolish as to misdirect fellow employees to useless or irrelevant content, he is not likely to gain or keep the respect of his peers and superiors. In the long run persistent, misleading or mischievous meta tagging will have just the opposite effect, creating a pathway to the door.
Conversely, the super meta tagger with astute insights into what people are looking for and how they are most likely to look for it, will be the valued expert we all need to care for and spoon feed us our daily content. Trusted resources rise to the top when they are appropriately tagged and become bedrock content when revealed through enterprise search on well-managed intranets.
It vividly illustrates the value of librarians’ metadata and taxonomy skills in the enterprise.
Based on my past corporate experience, I agree that spamming of the meta tag system is not the primary risk in the enterprise. Rather, I think the challenge is to acquire accurate tags. Most document authors don’t have the time nor the skills to add them. Hence the need for content stewards.
Thanks, for your comment Dave.
I didn’t plan my entry to coincide with the announcement that Google was adding self-tuning of their GSA system. As described, a user clicking on an entry lower in ranking in the retrieved list would “teach” the search engine about its higher relevance. This provokes me to wonder if the searcher trying to find “vacation pay” in content where that phrase never appears would ever have the option of clicking on content that was relevant. Would entries on “compensation for holidays” even show up in the results when the search is for “vacation pay?”
Again, if we don’t have meta tagging experts adding this value to the content, a good result depends on someone at Google building those cross-references from one term to another into the GSA search rule engine. One way or another, a human being must make the explicit connection between term A and term B for the right content to be retrieved. I have listened to enumerable Google GSA experts tell me that there is never a need for building or employing taxonomies in search over the years to realize they have a fundamental belief that is directly counter to mine.