WordPress tags

Previously on the CogitActive Saga:
By grouping posts together based on a select number of relationships, it makes it easier for readers to find information on a specific topic, as well as related content. By default, a standard post will have two taxonomy types: Categories and Tags.

Let me start with this:

https://blogpioneer.com/wordpress-tags-seo/

The author of this article put forward three – I quote – legitimate reasons why your website is much better off without tags1. According to him, 1) tags create thin content pages (i.e. tag archive pages), 2) tags often create duplicate content issues (again referring to the tag archive pages) and 3) tags are confusing (for readers, search engines and bloggers alike). In keeping with his own saying, bloggers and Internet marketers are coming to the conclusion that tags are a bit out of fashion and don’t serve much purpose anymore. Yet, he concludes his article with three advices on how to use tags properly, as well as the following statement:

Use WordPress tags the way they should be used and your site will be fine.AJ Mens

So, should you use WordPress Tags? Are they harmful or useful? The problem is that most people don’t use them correctly, but they are important2. Indeed, categorizing your posts with tags provides a useful way to group related posts together and helps your readers (as well as search engines) find relevant content. This can improve your site for SEO purposes. However, having a bad tag system will have the opposite effect, leading to user frustration and lower search engine rankings3.

When you use tags the wrong way, you can even make it harder for people to navigate your site. This isn’t just bad for users; using tags in the wrong way can be detrimental for your site’s SEO as well.Joost de Valk

Granted, unlike categories, tags are optional. Given that it can be hard to pick the right tags for a post2 and that you can’t afford to make silly mistakes while creating or using tags4, it might be a reasonable decision to refrain from using them altogether. But again, it would be a waste not to use this feature to your (and your readers’) advantage. So, how to create a tag and add it to a post? More importantly, how to use them properly?

The Tags screen

All the tools you need to create new Tags, and to edit or delete existing ones5 can be found in Post > Tags. This screen consists of the Add New Tag section (on the left) and the Tag Table (on the right).

Add New Tag

Creating a new tag is as simple as filling the following fields:

  • Name: how it will appear on your site
  • Slug: the URL-friendly version of the name
  • Description: what the tag is for; some themes may display it.

Beyond the best practices for using tags (see below), there are only two things to know here: the Tag Name must be unique5 and the Tag slug must be unique5.

Assuming you are using the Twenty Seventeen theme, the description will be displayed in the tag archive page (with all the posts belonging to that tag). A great way to optimize this page is to add more content to it. A well-written description, along some links pointing to the best related posts, is a good starting point.

That is it. Just don’t forget to click on Add New Tag.

Tag Table

The table contains the following columns by default, but you can choose to display/hide columns using the Screen Options:

  • Name: the name of the Tag
  • Description: if you have provided one
  • Slug: the slug of the Tag
  • Count: the number of posts belonging to this Tag

If you click on the number in the Count column, you will be directed to the Posts Screen to manage the Posts in that Tag5. Hovering the cursor over a tag row will reveal the Edit, Quick Edit, and Delete links (under the Name column), which are Immediate Actions. You can also edit a tag by clicking on its name. Importantly, deleting a Tag does not delete the posts in that Tag5.

Above the Table, to the right, is a search box where you can enter a word, or series of words, and click the “Search Tags” button to search and display all the Tags meeting your search words.

Finally, below the table, there is the following statement: tags can be selectively converted to categories using the tag to category converter. This tool, which needs to be installed, can be used to convert tags to categories and vice versa. In doing so, your tag(s) will be removed and category(s) will be assigned to the posts that used to be in those tags.

How to add tags to a post

Every post in WordPress can be filed under one or more Tags. This aids in navigation and allows posts to be grouped with others of similar content.WordPress

When you write a post (Posts > Add New), you can add new tags by using the Tags module (under the Document settings). When you start to type the tag’s name, and if the tag has already been created (see above), the tags box will begin to auto-populate with matching tags. This feature can help you not to create a new tag too close to an existing one.

There’s no need to create a list of tags ahead of time as you don’t necessarily know what your posts will be about. Once you start creating content, however, keep a copy of your tags list on hand so you can try to use the same ones, when it makes sense.Brenda Barron

Of course, you can add new tags here as well. However, if you don’t control how you add tags to posts, you will probably end up with a huge number of tags on your blog (not mentioning duplicate-like tags). The thing is that each tag you create will generate a new archive page. According to Joost de Valk, that is very useful: when people click on the [name’s] tag, they’ll find a complete overview of all posts on that topic. Also, Google will understand all the posts in this archive belong together2. However, the downside of this is the risk of creating duplicate content or at least thin content – two of the aforementioned legitimate reasons why your website is much better off without tags1.

Tagging posts properly

Certainly, there are some guiding principles when it comes to using tags. First thing first, what are tags? Here is a condensed version of the WordPress glossary’s definition:

Tag
A Tag is a keyword that describes all or part of a Post. Think of it like a Category, but smaller in scope. A post may have several tags, many of which relate to it only peripherally.

To be honest, I think that this definition is not really helping, and what is more, misleading! At first, I thought tags were keywords in the sense of significant words that indicate the content of a document. In my area of expertise (see my About page), keywords are tools to help indexers and search engines find relevant (scientific) papers. Indeed, scientific journals require authors to provide 4-8 specific keywords to accompany a manuscript to facilitate online searches. These keywords should represent the content of the manuscript; they indicate core concepts and specific fields of expertise.

Don’t get me wrong, you can (and should) use keywords for your tags. In fact, it is not a bad idea to use labels that encapsulate the recurring topics that run through the post, and perhaps more importantly, through the blog as a whole. In keeping with this idea, you may actually consider doing extensive keyword research to optimize them. However, tags – in WordPress – carry out a different role (than the one described above); the purpose of tags is to relate your posts together. Being a built-in taxonomy, tags act indeed as a grouping system that makes it easier for readers to find information on a specific topic, as well as related content. Once you understand this notion, everything else will make perfect sense.

The purpose of tags is to link related posts together, not just label them.KeriLynn Engel

Again, the key idea here is that tag is a taxonomy. They are used to group together content around much smaller topics that don’t deserve to be categories1. In fact, tags are best used to create groups of content that apply to multiple categories. Of note, a tag doesn’t need to be a summary of the entire post; it could describe just one section3. You can also use them to describe specific details of your post, as long as they fulfill their purpose of linking like posts together and helping readers navigate your site3. Finally, while a post should have more than one tag, you shouldn’t add too many tags to a post2.

Assign between two and five tags per post. Any more than that and you likely are using keywords that are too generic or too lightly covered within the post.Brenda Barron

In keeping with their purpose, you should only create a tag if you are planning to use it again. As already mentioned, each tag that you create will generate a new archive page on your site. The problem – if you create tags that only apply to few posts – is that you are defeating the whole point of using them. Indeed, these (thin content) archive pages won’t help users find other related posts2 and they won’t help Google understand what your site’s about2. In short, you shouldn’t use tags that don’t relate the current post to any other post on your site2.

When you’re planning your blog posts, it’s likely you’ll have some over-arching themes. Those themes are probably your best tags.Joost de Valk

A related issue – one of the more legitimate reasons1 listed in the introduction – is the risk of duplicate content. In particular, duplicate content can exist between a category and a tag that represent the same topic. As a matter of fact, there is no point of using tags that are just duplicates of categories; those posts are already linked together3. Besides, tags should be more specific than categories. The same goes for multiple spellings, single or plural, or similar versions of tags (e.g. “web hosting”, “hosting provider”, “hosting”, “web host”…). If you don’t refer to your tag list, you could end up creating unintentional ‘duplicates’ that compete with one another in search6.

Having a messy tag system (tags that overlap with each other or with categories, or are irrelevant to your audience or target keywords) can harm your website’s usability and SEO.Kerilynn Engel

Should you noindex tags?

Given the risks associated with (misapplied) tags – thin or duplicate content – people often advise to noindex tag archive pages. While this helps prevent you from being flagged for duplicate content, a better approach is to follow the aforementioned principles. If you do so, is it still advisable to noindex tag archives?

No, don’t noindex those pages . . . they are very important pages that you want crawled a lot.Joost de Valk

Actually, the founder and Chief Product Officer of Yoast elaborate his answer further. According to him, you should use these pages to your advantages. Specifically, you should improve on those pages and make them better landing pages. It is worth mentioning that Yoast apply this piece of advice to their own website: they DO NOT noindex their tag archive pages, but instead optimize them.

To do so, you can add some introductory text focused on the topic of that tag. Hence the importance of the description field when you create a tag! You can also add links pointing to the best posts. Also, make sure tags have at least three or four posts associated with them, otherwise there is not much point1. Last, but not least, it is critical to use excerpts, not the complete posts, on these archive pages.

In keeping with best practices, make sure to go through your tags regularly, remove redundant ones and check if you have added any new topics you’re writing about. It can be tricky to clean them up. If you just delete or change them, you could end up with broken links and 404 errors all over. Therefore, the sooner you organize your tags, the better!

When you write your blog post, think about your tags thoroughly. Don’t make it a 2-second afterthought. They’re important for visitors and Google!Joost de Valk

Navigation

Using tags not only organizes your posts, but also improves your blog’s usability and accessibility. Most themes will automatically display the tags assigned to a post either at the beginning or at the end of the post (as part of the post’s metadata). However, a list of tags – strategically placed – can be useful to let your users know the topics you cover on your blog. Fortunately, WordPress comes with a Tag Cloud widget, which – if added to the sidebar – will help your readers to access posts about specific topics with ease.

The more you associate the same tags to your blog content, the more prominence they will take up in the cloud and demonstrate to readers what kinds of topics and themes are most important to you.Brenda Barron

You may have noticed that my “Tag Cloud” is a cloud in name only. For better semantics and accessibility, the developer of the Twenty Seventeen theme have decided to change the tag cloud format to a list, instead of the typical cloud in which the font size of tags varied according to their count. The modified version (since version 1.4) displays all tags alphabetically in the same font size. You can only decide if you want to show the tag counts (checkbox in the widget).

Final word

Tags are not out of fashion1 – tag clouds might be, though – and your blog is NOT better off without1 them. Tags are important and should be an integral part of your blogging experience, just as categories are. High-quality tagging makes it easier for your readers to see what your blog is all about. Using tags properly will make sure that they don’t end up doing more harm than good.

Use WordPress tags the way they should be used and your site will be fine.AJ Mens

1 AJ Mens (2019) Why you should not use WordPress Tags. Blog Pioneer. ^
2 Joost de Valk (2019) Tagging posts properly for users and SEO. Yoast. ^
3 KeriLynn Engel (2014) Best practices for using Categories and Tags in WordPress. Elegant Themes. ^
4 Lucy Barret (2019) 10 best practices of using WordPress Tags & Categories for SEO. ThemeGrill. ^
5 See Posts Tags Screen. ^
6 Brenda Barron (2018) WordPress Categories and Tags: what’s the difference and how to use them. wpmudev. ^

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