Tags are one of the most common terms associated with blogging nowadays. In fact, tags have found their way outside blogging and are now an integral part of content sharing all across the internet — you tag your photos on Facebook, sort tweets on the basis of hash-tags, and so on. Plus, looking at an article’s tags easily lets you understand what the article must be about. As a result, proper tagging is not only beneficial, but also crucial. Unlike categories, tags retain a similar structure across all blogging platforms (well, almost). For instance, WordPress lets you keep one post under multiple categories, but Dotclear allows you to include one post under one category only. However, when it comes to tags, you can have an almost free way in deciding which ones to use with which article. Owing to such liberal usage, tags are often misunderstood. Some people claim tags are the Godfather of SEO ranking, whereas others consider tags to be a bogus burden in terms of SEO. So, which version is true? In this article, we shall take a detailed look at tags. We will learn what exactly tags and their benefits are, what their role is and how we can utilize them to the fullest.
Before we begin: This is not a How-Do-I-Add-Tags-In-WordPress article. If you are seeking information about adding/removing tags in WP, consider checking the Codex.
What Are Tags?
As Lorelle describes it, “tags are your blog’s index words.”
For example, let’s say you are running a political news or global issues website. Now, you will most likely be covering the conflicts around the globe. Thus, you can have a broad Category defined as “Conflicts”, or perhaps on the basis of regions, say “Middle East” and “Africa”. Thereafter, you can tag your posts in a manner that makes it possible for your readers to locate them. Hence, the recent conflict in Syria goes under Middle East Conflicts, and is tagged “Syria” or “Syrian Conflict”. As a result, when someone comes to your site looking for Syrian conflict, reads one of your articles about it, and wishes to learn more, he can simply follow the “Syria” tag and carry on from there.
The above example shows the most obvious usage of tags — as aids in navigation (serving as a handy support to WP Menus).
Let’s take another example: say, you are running a blog about music. Now, you have categorized your content under Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country, Hip-Hop, and so on. Thereafter, if you write an article about Metallica, it will find its way under the category about Rock music. You can, of course, tag it as “Metallica”, thereby telling the readers that the article is about Metallica. Next, when a Rock music lover visits your website, and he or she is a fan of Metallica’s music, there are chances that he or she will read your article about Metallica, and may as well follow the link to the “Metallica” tag to further explore other articles about the same band. In other words, reader engagement can easily be achieved by proper usage of tags.
So, tags can help us engage readers. Seems great! We shall now discuss ways in which we can make judicious use of tags in WordPress.
Using Tags Effectively in WordPress
Unlike categories, tags have a steep problem — they can be either overused or underused. Again, we shall look at it with the help of an example:
Turning to the first example of Syrian Conflict. How will you tag this article? “Syria”, “Syrian-Conflict”, “Bashar al-Assad”, “Arab Spring” or else? You can also use “War in Middle East”; though it will overlap with the category to some extent, it seems acceptable enough. If you stop here (give or take a few tags), you’ve tagged it well.
However, if you simply tag it as “Syria” and “Middle East”, you’ve underused your tags. Similarly, if you tag the article as “Syria”, “Syrian War”, “Bashar”, “al-Assad Bashar”, “Arab Spring”, “Arab Revolt”, “War in Middle East”, “News about Syria”, “International News about Syria”, “War around Syria’s Border”, “Revolt in Syria”, “Fighting in Syria”, and “Syrian Army is fighting”, you have overused your tags by a mile.
Remember, tags, just like keywords within the post, are useful if handled properly. Bombardment of either tags or keywords in the article does not help your cause. In fact, if you have blogged on WordPress.com of late, you must be knowing that they categorize posts in their Reader on the basis of tags. However, if your post has over 10 tags attached to it, they probably will not consider it for either the Reader or the Freshly Pressed section on the homepage.
Also, if a tag is used in over 15% of the posts on your blog, it is high-time you considered promoting it to a Category or Sub-Category, because a tag so common will not add much navigational effectiveness to your website.
With that said, we shall now turn towards a much-debated topic: the usage of tags vis-a-vis Search Engine Optimization.
Tags And SEO — Boom Or Bust?
Look around the internet — you will find an amazing number of articles telling you how you can use WP tags for SEO purposes. You will be told how to choose a tag based keyword which will impress Google bots to such an extent that you will be ranked higher than Wikipedia in your niche.
True? Probably not.
Basically, with its latest update, Google hardly shares much devotion for the rel=”tag” attribute. In other words, a tag page is just another page for Google. This means that: (a) tags will not get the super-special treatment that you might be expecting, (b) they can still help your SEO cause, though not in a flashy manner.
Now, if tag pages are just like the other pages, can we not expect a properly indexed collection of (relevant) tags to be of some contextual merit? Yes, we can!
Let’s turn back to our example about music website and Metallica tags. Assume that Google (or any other search engine for that matter) is crawling and indexing your website as we speak. It sees the “Metallica” tag, which is attached to, say, 15 articles about Metallica. Now, Google’s bot is currently seeing 15 articles, all related to a particular band named Metallica, and all of which are collected together on a common (tag) page. You bet your blog has impressed Google with this feat!
Another thing that needs to be brought to light here is the issue about Duplicate Content. We all know that Google does not like duplicate content, and we will not want our blogs to suffer as a result of the same. Most website owners resolve this issue by marking category archives and author archives as noindex, thereby telling Google and other search engines to see only the unique content and tag pages. The key notion here is that Google should index only one archival format on the entire blog. Plugins such as Google XML Sitemap Generator let you accomplish this within minutes.
However, a relatively lesser known fact is that Google does not penalize a blog site for having archive pages that are pointing to the same content. If Google (and most other search engines) see a duplicated copy of the same content, their algorithm will ensure that the original version is placed above the others. As a result, you should noindex archive and taxonomy pages for one simple reason only: they may not be of great use to your readers. Tag pages, on the other hand, can still prove to be useful, and foster reader engagement, and thus need not be given the noindex mark.
With this, we come to the end of this article about tags in WordPress. We shall now recapitulate the key points about tags once again:
- The key purpose of tags is to add ‘relevance’ to your content.
- Try not to underuse nor overuse tags in your posts.
- If you are using names as tags, say, “Bashar al-Assad” as in the first example above, try to be consistent with the case — it is preferable to retain the title case, but if you want, you can keep it all lowercase.
Maintaining a properly defined set of relevant tags can be useful in multiple ways. What do you think of WordPress tags? How do you use them on your blogs? Have your say in the comments below!
Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and has authored several books. He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.