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Last updated: May 26, 2021
WordPress Tags, some love them and others strongly dislike them. I belong to the second group.
When I started blogging though, I used to create multiple random tags each time I published a new blog post. And as I got older and wiser, I’ve learnt to step away from using WordPress tags.
Tags are a bit out of fashion and they don’t serve much purpose anymore. Plus, there aren’t any SEO benefits of using them either. Or are there?
In this guide, I am going to explain why I believe WordPress Tags are bad for SEO. And if you do want to use them, I explain how to best manage them.
WordPress Tags vs Categories
When starting a brand new WordPress blog, one of the first things you’ll come across is the concept of Categories and Tags. They are both a cornerstone feature within WordPress.
So why is it that WordPress Tags have lost so much ground over the years?
Before we move on, let’s quickly go through the key differences between WordPress Tags and Categories.
A WordPress category groups related blog posts together. As such, categories should be used to define the broad topics, or sub-niches, of your website.
A tag does not – or should not – represent a broad topic or a niche. A WordPress tag can be used to group together content around much smaller topics that don’t deserve to be categories.
WordPress allows you to create posts without tags, but not without a category. Each WordPress post must be assigned to a Category, and tags are optional. So in essence, you don’t need tags in order to run a WordPress website.
Categories can be organized in a hierarchical structure with several levels of sub-categories. With tags, you can’t do this. A parent category lists all the posts that are assigned to itself as well as the posts assigned to its sub-categories.
Remember those famous tag clouds from back in the day? Literally every single WordPress blog out there would have a tag cloud floating around in their sidebar. It was the thing to do.
If you had a blog, you would have a tag cloud. While some still use them, most bloggers have abandoned these tag clouds. Nobody every clicks on them, and all they do is generate a ton of useless internal links.
Read my WordPress Category guide to learn more about how categories can be made SEO friendly.
3 Reasons to Stop Using WordPress Tags
Okay, so WordPress tags are a bit out of fashion. But there are also more legitimate reasons why your website is much better off without tags.
Let’s go through these reasons.
1. Tags Create Thin Content Pages
Thin content basically means content that doesn’t add much value, has little or no substance, and is unlikely to trigger any user engagement. And Google doesn’t like thin content.
Now, the typical Tag page has a title such as “Name of tag – archives”, followed by a list of blog posts.
Other than the excerpts of the blog posts listed in that tag page, there is no content. And if there are very few blog posts, or worse, just one, then the content in this Tag page will be very thin.
In Google’s eyes, a WordPress tag page is another URL within your website. A real page. Just like a 2K words blog post is a real page. The risk here is that if you have tons of tags defined in your website, the amount of thin content in your site will be significant.
Don’t worry, you won’t get penalized by Google that easily. But you can imagine that this doesn’t exactly benefit the overall content quality of your site either.
2. Tags Often Create Duplicate Content Issues
Duplicate content becomes an issue when Google can’t work out which two pages in your site should be ranked higher. As a result, Google may decide to not rank either of them.
In the case of tags though, it’s highly unlikely that any of your tag pages end up high in the SERPs, even when they’re used properly.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that if you have lots of random tags floating around in your site, this will increase the risk of having multiple instances of duplicate content. And this will ultimately downgrade the overall quality of your website.
Duplicate content can also exist between a category and a tag that represent the same topic. For example, if you have a category about flowers and you also have a tag with the same name, you will have two very similar pages within your site.
With tags and categories, it’s important to always use excerpts, not the complete posts. If your tag or category pages display posts in their entirety, this will heavily increase the risk of duplicate content issues. An excerpt of a few lines, or even a few short paragraphs, is the best option.
3. Tags Are Confusing
Yes, WordPress tags often trigger confusion. For readers, for the search engines, as well as for bloggers themselves.
Confusing for readers
Some may think tags are beneficial from a user perspective. But in fact the user experience typically suffers. It’s confusing for your readers as tags make it harder for them to understand the structure of your site.
A clean website structure always results in a better user experience. You basically want to take your readers by the hand and help them navigate through your site.
Confusing for search engines
Confusing for the search engines because the more tags you use, the harder it is for them to understand what your site is really about.
And therefore it’s harder for them to qualify you as an authority in the topics you’re writing about. A ton of tag pages means there is too much going on in your site without a clear structure.
Confusing for bloggers
Confusing for bloggers that use the tags as well. I’ve seen so many websites that have literally created thousands of tags over the years. And lots of these tags only have one or perhaps a handful of posts associated with them. How can one keep track of so much clutter?
What often adds to the confusion is that many bloggers don’t fully understand the essential differences between tags and categories. As a result, they use them interchangeably.
In other words, they would create tags that really should be categories, and create categories that should instead be tags.
How to Properly Manage Tags
I must admit, I am a little opinionated here. Some people swear by using tags. And that’s cool, as long as they manage tags properly. Use WordPress tags the way they should be used and your site will be fine.
So, if you really want to use WordPress tags, keep these four things in mind:
Keep a clear distinction between Categories and Tags:
Categories are the core of your site architecture. The categories should define the topics of your site. Tags perform a far less important role within your site.
Use them to improve navigation:
Add (relevant) tags to a blog post so that readers can read more related posts. But make sure these tags that have at least three or four posts associated with them, otherwise there is not much point.
Use them to improve bounce rate:
Using tags can improve bounce rate if visitors click on them. But for this to happen, these tags need to be relevant and value-adding.
You wouldn’t want tag pages to appear in search results, and you wouldn’t want search engines to crawl tags either. Therefore, it’s recommended to set tag pages to no-index.
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Hopefully this guide to WordPress Tags was helpful. Do you agree with me, or disagree? I would love to know, so don’t hold back.
To conclude this article, let me quickly explain how to no-index tag pages. The easiest way is to use Yoast to exclude WordPress tags from your sitemap and to stop the search engines from indexing them.
All you need to do is set the below option to No and your tags won’t be indexed.
Other WordPress SEO plugins have similar options, so it’s just a matter of going through the settings and configure them appropriately.