The subject of WordPress post tags attracts a lot of interest, and creates a lot of conflict, amongst bloggers. But to be honest, the conflict isn’t necessary. If you step back for a minute and brush all the hype/hate to one side, post tags are just another useful way of expanding upon your blog’s ease of navigation and authority. Nothing any more or less exciting than that.
More often than not, post tags are either bullied or given the cold shoulder. Either a blogger thinks that they are some sort of key to SEO success (a la meta tags) and stuffs as many as he possibly can into his posts, or he doesn’t give them a second thought and has no tags at all.
If You Are a Bully…
…I’m afraid this article will disappoint you. Post tags do not unlock the door to sky-high Google rankings. They can however boost your site’s authority and clarify your relevance to specific topics in Google’s eyes, if used effectively.
If You Give The Cold Shoulder…
… you are missing out on a trick. Whilst utilizing post tags won’t change your world, it is another piece of the puzzle that you should put in place if you are dedicated to producing a popular blog.
And For the Rest of You?
If you have an interest in post tags, have utilized them on your blog to an extent, but don’t really know if you are going about things in the right way, I’m here to set you on the right path.
So What Are WordPress Post Tags For?
People don’t half like to complicate things. And that is what has happened with post tags. I’ve got news for you folks: it’s not that complicated. We’re dealing with a really simple concept here.
In order to define tags, you must also define categories. Luckily, Sarah has already produced a solid definition of the two things in her article, Categories and Tags: SEO Best Practices For Sorting Your WordPress Content. You should read that for the full scoop.
For the purposes of this article, I would like to borrow Sarah’s example of a film review blog. Categories might be for the various different genres – “action”, “drama” and “romance” for example. Tags would then drill deeper to link articles together across separate categories. For instance, you might tag any film featuring Josh Brolin with a “Josh Brolin” tag.
This is of real use to your readers. They might read a review on the film “W”, and be interested in reading more reviews of films starring Josh Brolin. Categories aren’t going to help him or her out here (after all, you’re not going to have a category for every single Hollywood actor, are you?), but tags certainly can.
Here’s another way of looking at it – if categories represent the Contents Page of your book (blog), tags represent the Index.
Sounds Good. What About SEO?
I had a feeling that was why you’re really here. And there’s no shame in that – we all love ranking high in the search engines, don’t we?
For those who have used and abused post tags in the hope of higher SERP rankings, I’m afraid I have disappointing news. As far as we know, Google does not give post tag pages any special treatment.
A post tag is referred to with the inclusion of a ‘rel=”tag”’ attribution within the link to the tag itself. Google does not give this attribute any special consideration. As far as it is concerned, a tag page is just another page.
But that does not make post tags useless for SEO purposes. Far from it, in fact. An indexed collection of relevant post tags will provide Google with a wealth of contextual “help” when it comes to ranking your blog.
Consider the following hypothetical situation. A Google bot is roaming around your movie reviews blog, checking out the scenery. It comes across your “Josh Brolin” tag page, which incidentally links to 10 movie reviews featuring Josh Brolin. So it’s seeing 10 different pages, all mentioning Josh Brolin and linking to a page that collects all the relevant pages in one place. Your blog is putting together a very strong case for your inclusion in Google’s rankings for the keyword “Josh Brolin”.
Post Tag Best Practices
So when it comes to tagging, there are benefits both to your blog’s readers and in terms of SEO, but only if you implement a solid tagging strategy. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be difficult. Just follow these steps:
- Tags must always be highly relevant to your content.
- Keep tags short – 2-3 words maximum.
- Tags should be referenced multiple times. If you have a tag that is only referenced by one or two pages, it isn’t relevant enough to your blog and should be deleted.
- When it comes to naming tags, choose consistent capitalization or lowercase. “John Brolin” and “josh brolin” would create two different tags.
Under no circumstances should you skip this step.
A lot has been made of duplicate content since the first Panda update of February this year. Luckily, someone else has gone to considerable lengths to forensically examine every aspect of duplicate content. If you wish to gain an encyclopedic knowledge of how Google treats duplicate content, give this a read: Duplicate Content in a Post-Panda World.
When it comes to the topic of tags, here’s the skinny – Google should only be indexing one archival format on your blog. Categories, author archives, date archives, and so on, should not be indexed. When a Google bots visit your site, they should only see (a) your unique content, and (b) your tags pages.
Believe it or not, you want Google to index as few pages on your blog as possible. Go ahead and type “site:yoururl” into Google. You want to be seeing posts, pages and tags only. Depending on your site’s authority, there is actually a ceiling on the number of pages that Google will index. You don’t want your posts being de-indexed in favor of a random date archive page, do you?
Luckily, ensuring that all the superfluous pages on your blog aren’t indexed is a piece of cake. Just install the Google XML Site Map Generator plugin, head over to the settings page, and check the appropriate boxes:
Incidentally, you should also take time to explore the other options in the plugin – it is an invaluable tool for your blog.
Your theme may also provide you with the option to only index certain pages. If so, be sure to check the relevant boxes.
As you can see, there are plenty of benefits to be had from establishing and maintaining a relevant set of post tags for your WordPress blog. So long as you are going about tagging in the right way, it can only be a good thing. It certainly doesn’t have to be an exercise in head scratching.