December 19th, 2018

How to Use Tags in WordPress

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

Blog tags are a key way to organize content. Here’s how to use them strategically.

Any business planning to adopt blogging as a serious part of their content strategy is likely to run into a familiar problem: how to help their users discover more of their content.

Fortunately, WordPress incorporated blog tags into their content management system at an early date to help users keep their archives organized. Blog tags not only provide extra structure to a large content library, they make old content more findable by users. Used correctly, and they also provide a small SEO benefit.

If you’re wondering how to use tags in WordPress, here’s where to start.

What happens when you create a blog tag?

Any time you tag a blog post in WordPress, a special archive page is automatically generated. The URL structure of this page follows a pattern something along the lines of:

https : // yoururl . com / tags / example-tag

This archive page will populate with every blog post you tag using that same tag. This means that if you have a series of posts on a same subject, users can find all those posts gathered together in one spot on your tagged page.

Because the tag appears in the archive URL (and usually in the H1 of the tag page), it has the potential to generate some SEO juice. However, because the pages are automatically generated, it’s easy for sites to quickly end up with hundreds of tag pages—each with only one or two posts on them. This isn’t helpful for users, which is why creating a more deliberate strategy is helpful.

However, to do so, it’s important to understand the difference between blog tags and another important content organization tool: categories.

What’s the difference between blog tags and categories?

The best analogy I’ve found is to think of categories as a table of contents, and tags as an index. While blog categories indicate the overarching themes of your blog, tags are a granular itemization of topics.

Categories are also hierarchal in a way tags are not. This means you can create subcategories of posts, such that any blog in a sub category will also appear under the main category.

Tags often overlap, but they are not ordered in that way. A blog tagged “email marketing” may also be tagged “inbound marketing,” but not necessarily. While this makes tagging a more flexible tool, it also makes it easier to get carried away. The biggest problem users run into with tagging is to create too many repetitive tags.

The goal, then, is to keep your strategy refined and focused. That’s where keyword research can help.

What does your keyword research have to say?

Good keyword research isn’t about chasing down high volume terms simply because they show up in a lot of searches. Instead, it’s about targeting words and phrases that are related to your business. If a phrase doesn’t have relevance to your users, there’s no reason to create an archive page devoted to the topic.

For instance, if you’re writing a gardening blog and make a casual reference to Brad Pitt, there’s no reason to tag your blog “Brad Pitt,” because that’s not why your readers have come to your blog. On the other hand, if you’re writing a blog about movie reviews, and you’re likely to review several Brad Pitt movies, tag away.

It can be helpful to use keyword research as a guide for your tagging strategy, but not all keywords are well-suited for blog tags. If you have a particularly loaded or dense phrase, you may want to split that apart so that your blog tags aren’t overly repetitive.

So let’s say you write a blog about tech support scams in the IT industry. You could tag the blog “windows ransomware,” “ransomware attack,” and “ransomware removal,” all of which have some keyword traffic. But in doing so, you will have created three different tags with “ransomware” in the title, none of which are likely to see lots of use in the future. Instead, it’s better to tag the post “ransomware,” and use that tag consistently with all future posts on the subject.

How many blog tags should you use per post?

This depends on what kind of blog you run, and how frequently you post. Let’s say you run a B2B consulting blog. You probably have a fairly tight focus on some large themes. Your blogs usually fall under one or two categories, and they cover 3–6 sub topics substantially enough to be worthy of a tag.

But what about our previous example of the movie review blog? Not only are you likely covering a wide range of titles and genres per post, but it’s likely you’ll cover each of them multiple times. You might want to make sure every post includes tags for the star actors and actresses, a tag for the director, a tag for the title, a tag for the genre, and several other tags based on the film’s content. (“Star Wars,” “Harrison Ford,” “Carrie Fisher,” “Mark Hamill,” “George Lucas,” “space opera,” “science fiction,” “fantasy,” “practical effects,” “accidental genius.”)

It’s clear that every film you review can easily gain 10+ tags. And do you know what? That’s fine. So long as those tags are useful to the reader and likely to be used again, keep adding them.

Do you need to use tag variations?

In the early days of blogging, writers used to use tags as meta keywords, piling as many into a post as possible. Many social media users use hashtags the same way, so that their posts end with a string of variations on a single word or phrase (#vacation #vacay #vacationing #randr #rest #gimmeabreak).

The value of this strategy on social media is debatable, but when it comes to your blog tags, this can be a disaster.

Remember, every time you use a tag, WordPress generates a new archive page and populates it with all blogs using that tag. Now, what happens when you tag one series of posts “travel” and another series “traveling”? Your content gets split across both pages. User A clicks on “travel” and sees half your posts, User B clicks on “traveling” and sees the other half. Neither sees the full picture.

Well, what if you use both tags on every post? For one, it’s inconvenient. And for another, your pages could end up competing with each other for SEO traffic. It’s better to put all your weight behind one page, and trust Google’s algorithm to recognize that “travel advice” and “traveling advice” effectively mean the same thing.

How long should your tags be?

Blog tags should be no longer than a word or short phrase. Unless you have a good reason to use a longer phrase (it’s a well-established phrase in your industry), you’re better off keeping them down to a few words.

For instance, it can be tempting to combine tags to create phrases such as “content marketing and SEO.” But what if you have a blog that’s about content marketing but not SEO? Better to use two tags (“content marketing” and “SEO”) rather than use both at once.

That said, shorter doesn’t necessarily mean better. More words can refine your tag and make it more meaningful. So, rather than tag all your posts with “content,” it may be better to use “content marketing” or “content strategy” instead.

Learning how to use tags in WordPress is worth the effort.

Like many elements of a content strategy, blog tags can seem like a trivial afterthought. On the list of priorities your company has, blog tag strategy is probably pretty low on the list. After all, it is far more urgent to develop a content strategy, do your keyword research, create high-value downloadable content, and optimize for SEO and UX.

However, developing an effective blog tag strategy in WordPress is mostly a matter of consistency. Once you’ve identified the right tags for your website, remembering to tag your posts is just one more step in your optimization checklist, right up there with alt tags, meta descriptions, and title tags.

Furthermore, a good tagging strategy is helpful for your users and for SEO. You’ll generate archive pages with related content, which will give users a new way to explore your site for information. It costs a few extra minutes per post, but provides many benefits for your users.

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