blog tags | photo by Julie R Neidlinger

WordPress allows you to use tags and categories to organize your blog for your readers.

Tags are a bit like keywords for the post, extra information that is not as formal as a category. Categories are like the umbrella, and tags are the rain dripping off of the edges. Tags, like categories, can lead your reader on to other related posts, making your blog sticky and reducing the bounce rate as you pull them into your site.

But tag usage can have problems.

1. Consistency

Many bloggers don’t use tags consistently, both in their own blog and across the blogosphere.

It’s not uncommon to see a blog with sloppy tag use where posts might have a tag of “horse” and “Horses” and “horsies” (maybe not the last one, but you get the idea). Some blogs categorize a post, and then tag it with the same word as well. Multiple spellings, inconsistent use, redundancy–tags can get ugly.

2. Bad Categories

Poorly thought-out categories often lead to tags being used to close the gap.

Ideally, you’d have a few broad categories, but if your categories aren’t particularly tight, or you have a few too-broad and a few too-specific categories, you’ll use lots of tags to make sure the post is covered. Without categories that can fully carry your blog’s posts, you turn to tags.

3. Overuse

Readers might see a blog post with two tags, and a blog post with 50+ (yes, I’ve seen that). What kind of help does 50+ tags provide the reader? 20+? 5+? It’s just another decision for them to process, more text and busyness on the screen. When was the last time you navigated a site using tags?

4. Behind The Scenes

Some bloggers use tags as a method of filtering for their use only. Readers might not even see the tags, depending upon the blog’s template. This may seem to be harmless, but what if tags had an effect on SEO?

Do Tags Affect SEO?

On my personal blog, I had been indifferent about tags. I used them because, quite frankly, my categories aren’t well-thought out and I thought another layer of “organization” might help. Each post had one category and a handful of tags. I thought my readers would be happy I had provided such helpful organization.

Then I read John Saddington’s blog post about tags, and by the time I’d finished the post I was already logging into my own WordPress dashboard and deleting tags. According to Saddington, tags merely duplicate data that already exists, possibly creating duplicate content that search engines might penalize.

Several WordPress SEO plugins allow users to blog their tag pages from search engines. I use this feature on my own blog, and find it telling that it is even an option. My fear was that people would begin linking to tag pages and later, if I deleted the tag, there would be even more dead permalinks to manage.

Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team at Google, doesn’t come out directly against using tags, but he does talk about tag clouds.

Some bloggers will prefer tags. Perhaps the way you organize your site and content depends upon them. The three questions you should ask as you use them are:

  1. What are they for?
  2. Why are you using them?
  3. Are you using them to hack poor organization or structure on your blog?

If you have a good answer for these questions, and use tags consistently with restraint, they probably don’t do any damage.

What do you think about the use of tags in WordPress? How do you handle them?