Do I Need to Use Tags on my Blog?

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Mary Fran Wiley
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Very often when we design a blog for a client at Orbit, we leave tags out of our wireframes, designs, and eventual implementations of WordPress. We don’t use tags on our blog to categorize content either, and we have a few reasons. But first, it is important to understand the roles that categories and tags play on a website or blog.

Categories and tags are both taxonomies

Categories and tags are taxonomies.

A taxonomy is simply a way to organize content. With categories, you are structuring information into a hierarchy. This means that categories function like a table of contents for your blog. Tags organize posts on a much more specific level and create relationships across categories.

Another metaphor: your blog is a recipe box and your post is a recipe.

  • Categories would be how you arrange those recipes in the box – by type of dish. You might have sections like Entree, Salad, and Dessert.
  • Tags would be ingredients, tools, and techniques for each of those recipes.

In my recipe box, if you looked for all the recipes that had butter, you would be pulling something from every section.

Do I need both?

No. You absolutely have to have categories. In theory, you could just put every post into the same category, but that wouldn’t be all that useful.

Categories should be large groups of your posts – the subjects that you post about most often. If most of your posts can be in more than one top-level category, your categories are not effectively grouping your content.

Tags, while not necessary, are incredibly helpful, but only if you use them correctly. Abuse them, and you will make them useless to visitors and anger the Google gods at the same time.

If you are only ever going to write about a topic once, then it doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) added to a post as a tag. Creating a tag that connects to just one post will create an archive for that tag that contained just one post. Not helpful to the reader. Plus, you now have two pages with the same content, a practice Google strongly dislikes.

Myth-Busting: Tags are not SEO keywords, unless you have set up a plugin or code to turn them into meta keywords. The role of tags in blogging is different than that of a meta keyword. To learn more about meta keywords, check out this post on SEO best practices.

As a content creator, it is easy to love tags because of how they can help customers explore your blog in a different way. Meaningful tags enhance a reader’s experience. But a blog without them isn’t hindered. Your content will still be categorized and organized. You won’t end up creating duplicate content or useless links. You can still have internal links, and if you want to, you can add a list of posts for further reading to each post.

Tags sound awesome, but they are starting to sound like a lot of work.

They are both of those things. They require diligence on behalf of the blog authors, editors, or admins to make sure that the tags are being implemented consistently across a site and that there are no lone-ranger tags. Different authors will pick different tags for the same post. Do you use singular or plural forms of tags? Are tags a specific type of attribute or are they varied?

This extra work is where I am going to tell you that it is ok to draw the line. It is one more moving part on your site and in your content marketing strategy that isn’t crucial to success. This Orbit blog uses tags only to denote guest posts or posts that we’ve written for another website. That’s it.

Tags require planning and review. Our blog posts gain traction on Google, and we don’t use tags to give our posts any extra juice, create additional indexable pages, or increase internal links. A successful blog is dependent mostly on the content. If that is where you focus your energy, leaving tags off your blog won’t matter.

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Comments (24)
  • Thank you so much for writing this post.

    I’ve been wondering if I still need to use tags on my website. I started my website/blog in 2008 and categories and tags were the norm. However, fast forward to 2013 and people have become pretty sophisticated internet users and Google algorithms seem to change directions like the wind in Cleveland, Ohio. 🙂

    While I was writing a blog post for my website, I wondered, “Do I need to keep using tags? Are they still relevant in 2013?” I may forgo using tags. But I have one question: will it affect/harm my website/blog in anyway?

    Thanks!

    • It should not harm your site in any way, having them is actually more likely to cause problems by creating duplicate content (if you don’t set tag archives to “noindex”).

      The only time it would have a negative impact is if your tag archives are currently ranking in search and you then either deleted all tags from your blog or made the archive “noindex”.

      • I am concerned that maybe I am inadvertently creating duplicate content on my blog since I have been using tags. Is there a way for me to determine this?

  • Really helpful! I was in the same boat as Amandah, wondering whether I still needed to tag posts. It seems a bit archaic.

    However, I do mark some posts under more than one category. I feel like if I had to narrow my categories further I’d have 50 of them! I do know that at least I find them helpful when I’m looking up old posts.

    • Tags are great for exploration and adding another layer of information to a post, but you have to have a strategy for how you are going to use them. Adding 20 tags to a post (how we did it in the early days of blogging) just doesn’t make sense.

      We use tags as a way to tell WordPress to change the display of a post (the guest post label on the blog appears because of a tag).

      I write a food blog and use tags as a way to indicate ingredients and the categories are types of recipes.

      To address your multiple category comment, it is ok sometimes, but if every post fits into multiple categories it might make sense to rethink how you organize your posts.

  • Great post, Mary Fran! One question on have is about this statement:

    “Tags are not SEO keywords, unless you have set up a plugin or code to turn them into meta keywords”

    Google, nor any other search engine that I’m aware of, places any importance on meta keywords, so is this relevent anymore?

    • Meta keywords aren’t really important at all, but a lot of the writers & bloggers I know assume that when they add tags to a post they are adding those keywords to a page rather than adding an additional way of organizing information.

      Does that make sense?

      • So, does that mean we don’t really need Meta keywords in our website pages?

        • The only people that pay attention to meta keywords (that I know of) are competitors. It’s simple to go to a site, view source, and instantly see all the keywords they’re trying to rank for.

      • I see what you’re saying. Thanks for clarifying!

  • Great post Meefs! I am so glad we have an in depth explanation we can now point our clients to when they are making decisions on their blog strategy.

    • Glad you liked it!

  • Great post Mary Fran! Sending off to a few more folks who have been having this same dilemma. It will help them a lot. Thanks!!

    • Thanks, Nick! Let me know if your clients have any questions about this!

  • I am also an uber fan of butter! Great post and excellent definitions!

    • Butter is the best!

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • I have been teaching my clients how to use categories and tags for years giving comparable explanations. Until now I’ve never thought of removing them or had any justification for doing so.

    I think your position makes a lot of sense especially for blogs written by multiple authors or unsophisticated bloggers.

    Thanks for the great post.

  • EXCELLENT! I appreciate this.
    As a solopreneur, it’s great to know when I can stop doing something that’s not making a difference. Now, I can hit the “publish” button and go get some apple juice instead of sitting and trying to load up the tags section before publishing.

  • I notice this blog has tags. Can you explain your use of tags?

  • Hello!!!! Can you tell me how to use tags for my blog post in proper way????

  • This was an answer to my recent discovery that even though I add tags while editing they are not on display according to my settings. Saved me a bit of coding research to display them in a prettier manner than before.. 🙂

  • Thank you! I have been contemplating whether or not to use tags on my blog, and you’ve just convinced me not to bother.

    Much appreciated!

  • Thank you for this post! It helped me reorganize my tags! No wonder I have very low visitors for my blog lol

  • I honestly have to admit that after reading this article I went to my WordPress blog and made the biggest tweaks in years deleting unnecessary tags. Didn’t realize that by creating a tag you are also creating an extra page.. Thanks for the tips.

 
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