Tags: what they are and how to properly use them on the site

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They are basically labels for topics, with which to mark pages and articles related by theme to allow users to navigate the topic quickly and efficiently, discovering all similar content: around the topic of tags, and in particular of WordPress tags, however, there is still a lot of confusion and many myths, which also link them to potential beneficial pushes for SEO. Let’s see together then what the tags are, how to use them and what they really serve – spoiler: no direct SEO benefit, but way to sort the items in more user-friendly taxonomies.

What the tags are

Tags are simply an HTML element expressed with specific keywords that we can add via CMS to every type of web page that we publish on the site, and essentially serve to identify that content through the use of some keywords that describe and summarize the main concepts, such as the protagonists of a story (for a news article) or the characteristics of the product (for e-commerce product pages).

In concrete, it is a system present on WordPress and other CMS to help the site owner to organize the various contents, simplifying the navigation and access by users: when we add a new tag, In fact, we create a container page where you can then group related posts on a certain topic, thus allowing visitors to discover with a single click on the label all the posts identified by that particular tag.

For example, if we run a cooking blog and publish different types of recipes, WordPress tags may include “Salad Recipes”, “Soup Recipes” and “Chicken Recipes”.

The characteristics of tags

The function of tags and tagging is to help link related posts together; technically, they can bring together more different content, not necessarily related to the same category, because they are a rule of classification and sorting alternative to subcategories, in which the selection of documents develops horizontally (horizontal taxonomy) and without hierarchy, useful first of all to facilitate users who carry out searches within the site.

From a practical point of view, we can associate a tag or a list of tags to a web page or any other type of information on the web; usually, the CMS will display the list of tags in the form of links on the relevant web page, allowing the visitor to easily locate other pages related to a particular tag. If we want to “reclassify” the page we will simply need to change the list of tags from the settings, and automatically will also change the connections between the various pages thanks to the specific mechanism of tagging, which therefore does not follow the complex hierarchical system of categories.

Using the same tag on various pages we aggregate all the documents that we intend to approach so from the category of belonging (they are in fact usable under different categories) and without quantitative limits: you can create countless tags and tag content with an infinite number of tags, although this is not recommended.

Obviously, a reckless and not optimized use of tags means creating redundancy and exposing the site to risks, making not only more difficult the navigation for people, but also damaging the SEO in terms of pages not optimized, of quantitative expansion and subsequent waste of crawl budget.

In addition, another controversial aspect of tagging is that it typically does not provide semantic information – and that weighs especially for cases of homonymy and terms that concern different areas (“fishing” for sport/practice or for fruit, for example, opens completely different contexts), leading to inappropriate connections between the “tagged” pages. Then there is a highly subjective factor in the selection of tags, because people might use very different terms to describe the same concept – a problem that is easy to overcome with a keyword research on the topic.

WordPress tags, everything we need to know

The easiest way to add tags is then through WordPress, which uses labels as descriptors for content, which depending on the theme can be invisible or shown on the page, appearing below or above the post content.

There is no limit to adding WordPress tags and, potentially, we can assign create a thousand or more labels and assign them to various articles: obviously, this is an absolutely not recommended practice and normally it is suggested to stick to a maximum of 10 tags per post.

How to add tags to content in WordPress

From a practical point of view, add tags to the WordPress site is a really simple operation: from the admin dashboard just search “Articles” and then use the drop-down menu to find the Tags section, which opens a screen to manage our labels.

In this way, we can set the archive page created by the tags and take care of the optimization.

Alternatively, we can also add tags directly in an article looking for the box that is usually on the right of the screen: just type the tags we want in the text box, separating them with a comma.

Adding a tag: what to know and what to evaluate

As said, adding a tag never used before automatically generates the creation of a new collector page; when we use that tag on a post, this is added to the archive along with the others. In this way, when readers click on the tag they find in an article that has won their interest, they will find a complete overview of all the posts on that topic; at the same time, Google will understand that all the posts in that archive have something in common.

Using tags too casually, adding 10-20 new tags to each post, therefore means creating dozens of archive pages that risk being useless, if not harmful: when an archive tag page contains only 1 or 2 posts, it makes practically no sense because it does not help users to deepen related content, nor does it help Google to understand what the site is about, only worsening the overall performance of the domain, unnecessarily burdened.

For this reason, when adding a tag we should evaluate its future utility, first checking if there are already tags in topics to use, what are the other related topics, if there is a better keyword to use to identify the topic. To be useful, in fact, tags must not be “invented”, but bring back existing words or phrases that people are looking for, possibly the result of a strategic keyword research.

The difference between tags and categories

At this point it is useful to remember what is the difference between categories and tags on WordPress and other CMS, because only by understanding this aspect we can avoid falling into errors that affect the performance of the site.

Categories are the most general system to group content on a WordPress site, which in fact requires the mandatory indication of (at least) a category for each new post, which otherwise will be flagged generically among the “Uncategorized” (which, on balance, is still a category), while the addition of tags is not mandatory.

A category symbolizes a topic or a group of topics that are connected to each other in some way; wanting to use an analogy, they are a bit like “containers” that collect the pages of the site, while the tags serve to identify more precisely the single content through the use of a series of “keywords”. In a sense, therefore, the categories are meant to indicate the kind of post, so to speak, while the tags go much deeper and indicate the individual things the post talks about; even more precisely, the categories help to bring the hierarchy in the pages, while the tags help to group the contents on the same topic, providing information on specific details of the posts and allowing you to micro-categorize the various contents.

Another difference between categories and tags lies in the hierarchy: the categories follow a strict hierarchical order, and then we can create categories of nesting (subcategories), while the tags are not hierarchical but independent. Also for this reason, although it is possible, it is advisable not to assign a post to more than two or at most three categories, while there is no limit to insertable tags.

Or, better to say, the limit is common sense: the goal of these elements is to better organize the content to make easier access for the reader, without exaggerating by adding new tags to each page created or reporting dozens of unnecessary tags, as mentioned before.

Categories and tags are two examples of a taxonomy system for the site that, if used correctly, can improve the user experience and SEO of the site, but that used badly can create problems. In case of prudent management, in fact, visitors can navigate through content, browse posts related to what they are reading and stay longer on the website.

But a careless use can cause various problems, starting with pages of categories and tag pages with duplicate content, which in practice cannibalize and compete with each other, making it difficult for Google to understand which to reward with visibility in the SERP, evaluating the most relevant between a category and a tag page.

Ultimately, we need to design the site with users in mind, remembering that all search engines want to show users the content that will be most useful to them.

Tags and SEO: a direct boost to the ranking or just a myth?

After these introductory considerations, it’s time to delve into the (alleged) relationship between WordPress tags and SEO and then learn some techniques to write effective tags.

Let’s clear the field immediately: there is no direct influence between the use of tags and ranking, and this practice does not give any practical advantage for SEO (But paradoxically using them too much can, as mentioned, weigh down the site, worsen the UX and cause a negative impact on the SEO of the site as a whole).

Yet, many sites (and people) still use tags in WordPress in search of a mythical SEO boost, convinced that tagging an article with a lot of words and phrases can be a trick to ensure the page more chances to rank in search results. In fact, just this practice is detrimental because it creates clutter and makes it harder for your reader to actually use WordPress tags the way they are meant to be.

Thus, tags (and categories) are not fundamental to SEO per se, but can affect other elements that affect search engine rankings, such as the overall user experience of the site, and more generally can improve the “relationship” between site and readers, convincing them to deepen the themes they are interested in in other posts, which can be easily found using labels.

SEO best practices to write tags and properly manage them

The last point that remains to be deepened is therefore the one related to SEO best practices for tags: if we think that actually our content can benefit from the use of WordPress labels, we can’t write them down and assign random names to content groups.

You need attention, patience and shrewdness to perform a targeted analysis and understand what WordPress tags to use and what terms are best for our goals. As always, we can start from an analysis of the competition to understand how the main competitors move and identify what potential users of the website are looking for, thus obtaining the first indications on the right terms to use in the tags.

Before publishing tags, then, it is good to create an organizational plan to avoid publishing too many pages and to fill them only with one or two posts: it is more useful to limit the number of tags, carefully assigning them to content pages that are actually related.

A preventative plan also helps us to ensure consistency: many people get confused with singular and plural tags and fail to remember which ones they have already used before (although WordPress may suggest labels already used previously), thus risking creating very similar tags and ending up separating content instead of grouping it together. Banal example, in a kitchen blog 10 articles are tagged “salads” and another 10 with the tag “salad”, thus giving birth to two pages of archive that are not that useful.

When creating the tag, it is also important to verify that it does not relate the current post to any other post already published.

And finally we come to three key tips, which in some ways we have already anticipated in the previous paragraphs:

  • Do not add too many tags to a post, but use them wisely.
  • Do not duplicate categories and tags and do not use the same terms in categories and tags. This choice confuses both search engines and website visitors: we must instead use categories for more general topics and tags for more specific topics (for example, “recipes” is a macro-category, “side dishes” a sub-category and “salad” a possible tag).
  • Report with noindex the archive tag pages – the ones you create every time we insert a new tag – and leave the category pages indexable instead. Tag pages do not need to be indexed by Google, and putting noindex serves to avoid duplicate content with categories, for example.