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Last updated: January 17, 2022
WordPress Tags, some love them and others strongly dislike them. I belong to the second group, but I’m not against using tags.
When I started blogging, I used to create multiple random tags each time I published a new blog post. As I got older and wiser, I’ve learnt to step away from using WordPress tags.
Tags have slowly grown 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 you shouldn’t use WordPress Tags. But if you do want to use them, I will 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 random tag clouds from back in the day? Literally every single WordPress blog out there would have a tag cloud floating around in their sidebar or footer. 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 ever clicks on them, and all they do is generate a ton of useless internal links.
Examples of Tags
Let’s have a look at a few examples of how tags can be used properly.
- Category: Dessert
- Tags: Chocolate, Cheese, Fruit
- Category: Weight Lifting
- Tags: Back, Legs, Arms
Of course, this is not set in stone at all, they’re just examples that hopefully make sense.
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 obviously be very thin.
In Google’s eyes, a WordPress tag page is another URL within your website. A real page. Just like a 2,000 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 as you can imagine, having hundreds or thousands of these tag pages, and only, let’s say, 200 decent blog posts in your website, will not benefit the overall quality of your website from a search engine perspective.
2. Tags 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 tag pages floating around in your site, which 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 can often be confusing. For readers, for the search engines, as well as for bloggers themselves.
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 noise and your site lacks a clear structure.
Confusing for readers
While tags (if used properly) can be beneficial from a user perspective, more than often the user experience suffers. Tags can be confusing for your readers as they can make it harder to understand the structure and topics of your website.
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 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.
WordPress Tags SEO Best Practices
I must admit, I am a little opinionated here. Some people swear by using tags. And that’s cool, as long as they are being managed 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:
1. Noindex Tags
To avoid thin and duplicate content issues, and also to avoid potential keyword cannibalization issues, it’s strongly recommended set tag pages to no-index.
This will stop search engines from indexing your tag pages, they won’t appear in search results, and they don’t get crawled as often.
The easiest way to achieve this is by using Yoast. Navigate to Search Experience >> Taxonomies, and set the below option to Off:
Other WordPress SEO plugins have similar options, so it’s just a matter of going through the settings and configure them appropriately.
2. 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.
3. Keep Tags Short
Tags typically consist of only one or two words. In the above examples, the tags Chocolate, Cheese, Fruit, Back, Legs, Arms, are all just one word.
4. Focus on Improving User Experience
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.
5. Focus on Improving Bounce Rate
Using tags can improve bounce rate when visitors are enticed to click on them. But for this to happen, tags need to be relevant and value-adding.
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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.
Website structure is extremely important, and one of the best ways to achieve that is by using WordPress Categories and Tags properly.