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Forfatter: Simen Eriksen

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Use of tags in WordPress

Keywords (tags) can be an effective tool in WordPress, but most content producers don’t know how to use it effectively. Here’s an introduction to the use of tags on WordPress from Simen Eriksen, advisor and project manager at Dekode.

To personer i forgrunn med et stort arkiv fult av tagger /søkordi bakgrunn

Keywords can be a powerful tool in WordPress, but most content producers do not know how tags work. The most common misperception is that they work as on Instagram. That tagging a WP post with #Americana will increase its relevance in search engines for the query “Americana”.

I took to writing this article as I came across a client with a tag archive of more than 13.000 tags, based on the Instagram logic. It was unfortunate because they had about 2.000 quality posts, but their tagging had not provided them with any benefits. 

Relevancy of tags in SEO

Tags are not relevant when search engines consider the relevancy of a single post. But tag archive pages can* be efficient landing pages if you accumulate many posts that are correctly branded with the same tag. Tag archive pages come “out of the box”, in WordPress. With an abundance of posts on archive pages you are giving users good value on a query for the tag. Value for the users is the one thing Google cares about. Then you need to optimize the archive page further by adding a good description as well as good meta values (Read: Title and meta description), Yoast is a good tool for the latter. 

Screen picture of meta despcription and tags in google

It is quite common for SEO experts to recommend not indexing tag archive pages. This is simply due to the fact that keywords are bloated and unstructured on most sites. You don´t want search engines to spend their capacity indexing 13.000 bad archive pages as this would be detrimental to your site.

*This depends on the competition for keyword/tag in your market. Archive pages have limitations, but if competition is low, they will provide value. In a small market as Norway it is not uncommon for archive pages to rank on top for supplementary keywords. 

Why have good structure on WordPress keywords?

The main value of tags in WordPress is not SEO. It is site functionality, marketing opportunities and insights that derive from good data structure. Good data structure is the key to getting the most out of your current solution and content, as well as paving the way for “next level” functionality. 

Here are some benefits of well structured tags:

  • Precise recommendations of “Relevant posts”.
  • Alternate navigational points on pages
  • Attractive navigational points on posts, that increase site engagement.
  • Improved search results on side searches.
  • Good filters on content archive pages.
  • SEO friendly tag archive pages.
  • Easier to find old, relevant posts you want to link to in a new post.
  • Foundation for personalization, both “in-session” and logged in.
  • Foundation for segmented newsletters.
  • Foundation for content analysis. Why is the content working or not working?
  • Foundation for insight to sell your ad space at a higher cost.

What are tags in WordPress?

Tags are a non-hierarchical alternative to categories. Think of them as relationships that stretch across your categories and content. If your site is about popular culture, “Americana” might not fit as a main or sub category, but it works as a perfect relationship builder between posts belonging to many of your categories. For example:

Music categoryPost about The Eagles Tagged with Americana
Food categoryPost about Apple PieTagged with Americana
Books categoryPost about “All the pretty horses”Tagged with Americana
Fashion categoryPost about PendletonTagged with Americana

While your categories usually strive to be mutually exclusive for intuitive navigation, such a requirement is not important for tags. If visible, keywords are not used for hierarchical navigation.

For the popular culture site above, a book about fashion would belong in the main category “Books”. If your inventory doesn’t support a sub-category for books about fashion, you could tag the book with “Fashion” enabling:

  • Recommendations of other book posts with the “fashion” tag
  • Navigation to the “fashion” tag archive page
  • Possible filter option for “fashion” on an archive page for book posts

How to structure your keywords

WordPress does not make structuring tags easy. You can create tags in your admin tag archive or create tags “on the go” in the post as you are editing. The view in your post looks like this:

A box with auto-suggested tags pops up as you start typing. There is some help from the “Choose from the most used tags” link, but this is not sufficient. It´s impossible to get an easy overview of all the tags you have in play. As a result, content producers tend to create new tags on the fly. Hence the common problem of too many tags, inflating the value of each, since WordPress does not recognize their relation. 

Get an overview

To regain control of your tag use, you should create an overview of all tags your site is using. Group them according to topic or purpose. It can be helpful to create your own “tag categories” to get a clearer picture about what they cover. 

Tag structure must be tailored to each specific site, but a common approach is to think of keywords as a supplement to your regular category structure. Your regular categories will most likely cover your most important keywords, tags can cover a lot of relevant topics your categories cannot cater for. If you index tag archive pages, these should not be duplicates of categories, as they would compete for the same attention.

Reduce number of keywords

When your structure is in place, start deleting synonyms and tags that cover the same topic, keep the most SEO friendly alternatives. This process also means you have to re-tag a lot of posts. The process will be time consuming, but boiling down the tags you have in play is key to increasing their value. 

Content production is way more time consuming than tag production, so the main guideline is to keep the number of tags relatively low vs. number of posts in order to produce as many relevant relationships between posts as possible. Do not create a tag for a rare topic, and do not brand a post with a tag unless there is proper relevance. Keep in mind that the most common issue is overproduction of tags. Controll your tags so they serve a purpose, like those userfriendly tag archive pages.

Tags for internal use

Keep in mind that it is possible to have tags for internal use only, these can provide data to understand why some posts are successful while others tank. Another common purpose is segmentation. If you are doing content marketing for claims insurance you might have tags such as:

  • Happy listing image
  • Sad listing image
  • Size of claim won listed in headline
  • Size of claim won not listed in headline
  • White collar dress sense
  • Relaxed dress sense
  • Blue collar dress sense

In time, the performance of your posts will start making more sense as patterns emerge in the top and bottom of you post rankings. If a majority of you top ranking posts have “happy listing image”, “size of claim won listed in headline” and “relaxed dress sense”, you might consider using more such featured images and headlines.

A new way to structure and assign tags

To help our clients with tagging and to unlock the benefits of better data structure, Dekode has experimented with a new way of assigning both categories and tags to posts. It´s a stricter system where tags cannot be created while editing the post. Both tags and categories are chosen from predefined lists or dropdowns at the bottom of the post. Tags are categorized and there are settings to make both tag assignment and categorization mandatory. Plus an option to hide “tag categories” from users, as some tags are for insight only. We are excited about this work and plan to develop it further, giving clients access to more advanced functionality.