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The Case Against #Togs & A Caution About Hashtags

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photo of paradise falls by Scott Bourne

Copyright Scott Bourne 1997 - All Rights Reserved

By Scott Bourne

This post is most likely to interest photographers who use Twitter. If you don’t use Twitter, don’t care about Twitter, never plan to try Twitter, you can probably pass on the rest of what I have to say.

But if you do use Twitter, then I want to talk about hashtags. In case you’re unfamiliar with hashtags, you can read up on them before moving on through this post – http://twitter.pbworks.com/Hashtags.

In their simplest form, hashtags are just another meta tagging system that’s designed to help people find interesting content on Twitter.

The hashtag #photo or #photography would be used to tag a Tweet that related to photography. Another popular photo-related hashtag is #photog.

Someone later decided to shorten this further to #tog or #togs. Here’s why I think this is a bad idea.

I’ve been talking with some engineers who work at two of the three largest search engines. They don’t want to be identified since they’re not supposed to discuss the internal workings of their products with the general public. But they’ve alerted me to the fact that the whole hashtag system, while making content easier to find on Twitter, may actually harm the ability of the major search engines to find and index that content. The hashtag throws off the search engine and is often the cause of the search engine deciding that the Tweet is spam or porn or something else.

To further complicate this, the tag #tog is nonsensical to the search engine. While in context, it’s easy to see where #tog fits nicely into #photography, the search engines aren’t as good as humans at context.

You can also lose searches on Twitter that are based around photography by using #tog. Try this. Go to http://search.twitter.com/ and type in the following:

#photography

Now, open another browser and go to http://search.twitter.com/ and on that browser and simply type in:

photography

(Minus the hashtag.) Chances are that you will see some overlapping content. Try it three times in the next 24 hours and you absolutely will find some overlapping content. What this means is that if you want to reach Twitter audiences that don’t use hashtags, you at least have a chance with the word photography, with or without the hashtag.

Now try the experiment using #tog or #togs.

I ran the test 40 times over the last week and never found one case of overlapping content. So someone searching the word “photography” (minus the hashtag) would never see your content on Twitter’s search page if you use #tog instead.

While the use of the shorter hashtags seems to make sense when you’re in a 140-character limited environment, it  doesn’t make sense if it cuts you out of broader searches on the big search engines or for that matter, broader searches using Twitter’s own search product.

I’m advising photographers who want to use Twitter to expand their photography universe to avoid using #tog and instead organically includes the word photo or photography in the Tweet. I am still testing the use of the hashtag #photography to see how it scores with the big search engines. So far, the results are not good, and I am leaning toward abandoning hashtags altogether, unless or until the big search tools know what to do with it. This could change and if it does, I’ll update this post.

The notable exception to all this would be the case where I am primarily interested in reaching only my Twitter audience. In that case, I don’t care what the search engines see and the folks who use Twitter and who know how to use hashtags will find my post more quickly. But I still will never use #togs. And well-meaning as the person who dreamed that up may be, it shows a lack of understanding of how Twitter works.

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Written by scottbourne

May 10, 2010 at 7:15 am

Posted in Marketing

Tagged with ,