If you are uncertain about how to use tags on your blog or if tagging posts is even important in the grand scheme of things, the answer is yes – but only if you are tagging correctly and if your WordPress system is set up properly for the search engines.
Bloggers often confuse tags with keywords and then create a lot of redundant tags instead of creating one or two concise tags that cover the topic succinctly. The whole idea of using tags is to reuse them, thus building up tag topic authority for each tag.
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to tagging posts because all you are really doing with excessive tagging is diluting your tag topic authority. It’s more effective for SEO and usability to have one tag that can be recycled over and over again for other articles that relate to the same topic.
Here is an example of redundant tagging. Let’s say you write an article about USDA Loans. Correct tags would look something like this: Government Home Loans, No Money Down Home Loans, USDA Home Loans, Mortgage Programs. Redundant tags for the same topic might look something like this: USDA Home Loans, USDA Home Loan Programs, No Money Down Loan Programs, No Money Down Government Home Loans, USDA Government Loans, etc … ad infinitum. Remember, tags are not keywords. They are primarily used for organizing the topics you write about and for building up topic authority for each tag used.
A tag cloud, or “hot topic navigation” as I like to call it, is a navigation option that you can add to the sidebar of your blog and depending on how many times a tag is re-used, it will appear larger or smaller in size within the cloud. Tags clouds provide visitors with a quick and easy way to navigate through specific topics on your blog that they are most interested in reading about, especially if you have a lot of content on your site.
When a visitor clicks on a tag within the tag cloud, they are brought to an archival page of excerpts (350-400 words) of related articles that were tagged the same way. They can now quickly scan the page of articles and decide what they want to read. I have found that the average site visitor will not take the time to wade through months of post archives and are more likely to click on a specific tag within your tag cloud than a broader category if they are looking for specific information.
Tag and Tag Cloud Uniformity
It’s important that post tags be concise and uniform so get into the habit of choosing from “most used tags” rather than continuously creating new and redundant tags for the same topic. With many content management systems, tags and tag clouds are case sensitive so make sure the letters of your tags are all upper case or the first letter of each word is upper case or all the letters of each word are lower case. Although it is true that some themes are smarter than others when it comes to tags, and will auto-correct or make all tags upper case (not necessarily in the cloud), you will find that its best to tag uniformly and stick to it – And for a number of reasons.
For example, let’s say that you write a post about foreclosures in North Carolina and tag your post “Foreclosures North Carolina.” Down the road you write another post and tag it “North Carolina Foreclosures.“ Further down the road you write another post and tag it “foreclosures (lower case f) North Carolina.”
What you’ve actually done is created 3 separate tag archival feed pages for the exact same topic and diluted the topic authority for each tag. If a site visitor clicks on “Foreclosures North Carolina” within the tag cloud, they will only have access to posts tagged exactly that way, even though you may have written other great posts about the same topic tagged in a slightly different way.
Some content management systems or WordPress themes will not create a new tag that starts with upper case if the same tag has already been created in lower case. Instead, it will revert back to the original lower case tag. If this is the case, go back into the dashboard and fix the tag from there once and for all. This will also correct the tag in previous posts utilizing the same tag.
Cleaning Up Your Tags and Tag Cloud
If you already have a tag cloud that has a mix of upper and lower case tags and/or filled with a lot redundant tags, I suggest that you take a step back and do a little tag house cleaning. I prefer to make the first letter of each word upper case as it is easier to see where one tag ends and the other begins within the cloud.
If you have a lot of redundant tags, you should consolidate and delete the unwanted tags then go through your posts from the dashboard and re-tag them properly. This will not only make your tag cloud more user friendly and most importantly, it will maximize the tag topic authority for the concise tags you keep.
The tag cloud to the right is a good example of how a tag cloud should look – neat, clean, uniform, easy to read and geo-targeted (if you have specific target markets as in real estate). Remember, tag clouds are an optional feature and if you don’t want to use one on your blog that’s OK too.
Opening up Tags or Categories to the Search Engines
You will need to choose whether to open up post categories OR tags to the search engines. Never open both up as you can run into duplicate content issues. Choose what you allow to be indexed within the XML Sitemap under “Sitemap Content.” If you open up tags, “Use No- index for Archives” and “Use No-index for Categories” should be checked off. “Use No-index for Posts” should be unchecked.
When to Use Tags or Categories
If you publish 2 to 3 blog posts per week, I recommend that you open up tags to the search engines. If you are posting only 1 to 4 times per month, I recommend that you open up categories to the search engines. The reason being that categories tend to be more general than tags and the more you post, the stronger your tags will be. For example, you could have 3 to 4 tags for a specific post that’s filed once under one category and archive page.
If you choose to open up tags, make sure that your tag archive pages display only post excerpts around 350-400 characters rather than the entire post, which will avoid duplicate content issues. This also make it a lot easier for your readers to quickly scan the tag archive page for post titles that look interesting to read.
For most self-hosted WordPress users, you have the option of choosing “Display Post Excerpts” in Archives under Theme Settings. The content archives option will affect any blog listings page including: archive, author, blog, category, search and tag pages. You can also modify your archives.php or use an archive limit content plug in.
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