What Are Post Tags & Why You Should Be Using Them

This is a guest post by Ana Hoffman of Traffic Generation Cafe.

I can’t believe it’s taking me so long to look into the topic of tags and how they can benefit our blogs. To be quite honest, I’ve been clueless on whether to use them or not to begin with or how to use them properly. Judging by the guest posts submissions I get and the tagging used in those posts, looks like I am not alone.

So, the questions of this post:

  • what are tags?
  • what benefit they bring?
  • how to use them the right way.

What Are Tags?

A tag is simply a label or a keyword you assign to your post.

Are they the same as keywords? Yes and no.

Your tags COULD be the same as your keywords, but you can dig much deeper with your tags whereas you are limited with your post keywords to whatever feels natural to the reader. You should still optimize your posts for your chosen keywords.

When you add tags to a post (you do that in the “edit” mode in the right-hand column of your WP dashboard), you are basically telling your blog to automatically create new pages based on those tags.

Take a look at the image below; these are some of the tags I am thinking of assigning to this post:

blogging tags image

So, in addition to creating a page for this post, my blog will automatically create 3 additional pages titled “what are tags“, “blogging tags“, and “keyword research“.

Should you bother using tags?

My main problem with tags was the fear of duplicate content.

Contrary to popular belief, duplicate content is not syndicating the same article to several directories. Duplicate content happens when Google finds different paths to the same content on your site.

For instance, the same post on your blog can be accessed via the main post page, category, archives – by month, day, year, whatever, etc. We the readers understand that it’s still the same article and have no problem finding it different ways.

However, to the search engines that’s the definition of the duplicate content.

Getting back to tags now. In my uneducated and unresearched opinion, tags would simply create yet another path to the same content.

Wrong!

What are the benefits of using tags?

When you use tags, you instantly create new pages for your blog that are fully indexable, searchable, and rankable. In other words, you create additional content that can bring search engine visitors.

The magic really happens when you start using the same tags over and over again. This way, you start sending more and more link juice to the tag pages, thus potentially increase their importance as far as search engines are concerned and hopefully get them ranked higher.

Let me also remind you that all of this happens behind the scenes without your active participation. All YOU need to do is to add proper tags to each post.

Tips to Make the Most of Your Tags

1. Research your tags like you would any keyword. What’s the point of ranking on search engines for something no one is searching for?

2. Use the same tags consistently.

3. Avoid duplicate content issues by displaying excerpts on your archive pages instead of full posts. You really want to give your readers just a hint of the content and direct them back to the original posts.

To accomplish that, open your archive.php of your theme and replace the_content with the_excerpt.

4. Track your tag performance.

Thanks to Google Analytics, it’s free and easy, and you have no excuse to not do it. Here are the instruction on how to set up your tracking.

From your dashboard, click on “Advanced Segments” in the left sidebar, then “Create New Custom Segment“.

track tags google analytics

Find “Landing page” in the drop-down menu under Dimensions => Content, and drag and drop it to the right.

Set condition to “Contains” and value to “/tag/“(WordPress default for tags).

analytics tag tracking image

You will also need to name your segment (“Tags” would be appropriate) and you are all set.

Now in order to check on your traffic from tags from your dashboard, all you do is click on “Advanced Segments” in your top right corner this time, check “Tags” segment and click “Apply“.

tags tracking in analytics

This is what you will see as a result:

tags results graph

As you can see from the graph, my tag traffic (orange line) is absolutely flat, since I haven’t paid any attention to tags in the past.

That’s all about to change now though.

Marketing Takeaway

Start using your tags the smart way today. Not much else to say. Unless you want to eat some hay. What do you say? :)

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Comments

  1. says

    I’ve found that when used properly, Tags can be a fantastic source of additional traffic source. I hadn’t thought about the duplicate content problem though (so thanks for the except fix).

    What are you thoughts on auto tag plugins? Do you use them?

  2. says

    I am so gonna do this in Analytics now (1 AM here).

    I was thinking about this indexing thing and turned my tags to nofollow. Why? Because some of my tags are the same as categories. I know it is a different looking URL but I wasn’t sure about this.

    Ana, would you advise me on this? Should I un-nofollow (lol) my tags and what if one or two of them are the same as categories.
    I can’t imagine changing all those URLs and messing up my links….again.

    Thanks for the tutorial.
    Brankica just posted Keyword Questions from Wordtracker Research your market’s needs

  3. says

    Hey Ana, you sure do get around, not bad for a shiela :D

    Thanks for opening my eyes as I never really knew what they were there for. I always assumed them to be another form of keywords.

    Still being a bloke ;) we usually tend to play around with things when they’re staring us in the face and so I’ve always made use of the post tags.
    Sire just posted 10 Essential WordPress Plugins For The Smart Blogger

  4. says

    Ana – very insightful guest post! Learned lots of new things.

    I consistently use tags on my posts, but did not know about the Google Analytics customizations you mention. On that note, once you set it up, is it on a go-forward basis only or does it look retroactively as well?

    It’s amazing how powerful Google Analytics can be. I clearly don’t use it to its full potential and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one (rather, one of many).

    Thanks for the step by step explanation with screenshots as support. Those are always the most helpful.

    Nice to discover Traffic Generation Cafe as well!

    papalogic
    papalogic just posted Go ahead re-use my content- just don’t mess with my circle of traffic!

  5. says

    Ooh I am so glad to read this, Ana, because I have spent countless hours optimizing tags on my site over the last year or so. I was almost shocked when you mentioned the possible problem with Google finding it duplicate content….glad that’s not the case and I had no idea about Google Analytic set up. Great and useful post, thanks Ana!
    Farnoosh just posted How to Awaken- Build and Guard your Dreams

  6. says

    Hi Ana,
    As normal do you write good articles; to using tags is one very important for the SEO in a blog or site. Don’t be afraid to have 15 or 25 tags on every article, so long they are 100% relevant to the text.

  7. says

    Hey Ana,

    I think this post might be the most detailed post I have read on tags. I always knew it was beneficial for me to use tags but I didn’t know for exactly what though. Thanks for the tips on using excerpts on my archive pages to avoid duplicate content. I also like the idea of using Google Analytics to track my tag performance. Great post Ana, I learned a lot.
    John just posted Finding Someones Email For Free – The Best Tool To Find Any Email Address Fast

  8. says

    Tags label a blog post within a category so that the reader can find certain posts faster than browsing the whole category archive. Also it enables the blog author to inter-link blog posts between different categories.

  9. says

    Ana, excellent info here! I do try to be consistent with tags, but I haven’t done the advanced tracking with analytics.

    In addition to my main blog for freelance writers, I also write a hiking blog. I’ve found that I actually make page 1 of Google for a few tags, and also for some categories.

    I’m going to follow your advice here and apply it as best as I can. And I’m headed to my WordPress dashboard right now to see how Thesis handles tags.
    John Soares just posted Why I Won’t Buy Demand Media Stock

  10. says

    Massive proponent of using tags. I ranked for a searchable (if not particularly competitive) phrase on page 1 in Google with the tag phrase, which was handy as immediately they had access to fresh content.

    Didn’t know about the Google Analytics trick. Nifty.
    Rhys just posted Welcome Problogger Readers!

  11. says

    I went through a stage of wondering about my tags and the duplicate content problem, but I never stopped using tags and with the advent of the live Google search I’ve been adding “long tail” tags instead of single words, which does help with the SERPs, I’ve also found that using something like Zemanta, helps with choosing a good selection of tags ;)
    Karen just posted Jeremy Paxman Slips Up With The C Word On Return To Newsnight

  12. says

    There is actually no reason to fear tag pages as duplicate content. Most current blog software automatically enters what is called the “canonical” link element to the main page URL in the header of the source code. This lets Google (and Bing and Yahoo! too) know that the main page is the original source of any material linked to elsewhere on your site. It’s a very useful element/tag.
    Kyle just posted Finally Fast Report- Cyber criminals will invest in cash mules

  13. says

    I could be wrong (that never happens!) but my understanding of duplicate content does NOT include excerpts which is what you will find on archive, category and tag pages… If that is true, then there is no need to worry about what Google indexes (some people hide tag and category pages from being indexed).
    Keith just posted Why You Are Stuck In A Rut

  14. says

    Anna,
    I’m still a bit confused between categories and tags. I’ve been using only categories for the last year. Do you think that my ranking in Google has suffered because of that? I will begin using both categories and tags and make sure they differ from one another from now on.

    Also, where do you find the Google ranking screen. You said to “go to your dashboard.” Sorry, to be dense, but which dashboard?

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
    Angela Artemis just posted Change Your Life In 28 Days With Mind Alchemy

    • says

      Categories and tags are two entirely different things, Angela.

      You were absolutely right to have categories on your blog and you should continue to do so.

      Tags are a good addition, but mostly not for users, since very few users use tags, but mostly to make your blog “bigger”, meaning to add more pages to it, which search engines like.

      By “dashboard” I meant when you log in to your Google Analytics account, what you see is your dashboard.
      Ana just posted Sunday Coffee with Ana- Traffic Generation at a Glance

  15. says

    Many blog systems allow authors to add free-form tags to a post, along with (or instead of) placing the post into categories. For example, a post may display that it has been tagged with baseball and tickets. Each of those tags is usually a web link leading to an index page listing all of the posts associated with that tag. The blog may have a sidebar listing all the tags in use on that blog, with each tag leading to an index page. To reclassify a post, an author edits its list of tags. All connections between posts are automatically tracked and updated by the blog software; there is no need to relocate the page within a complex hierarchy of categories.

  16. says

    I learned the hard way about using tags. I was strictly categories for the longest time, but then I realized I was missing out on a great way to sort and relate the articles to one another, so I went back and added all the tags.

    Luckily I wasn’t too far in yet. Anyway I just implemented the GA Tags segment so I’m looking forward to seeing what results I can see in my stats. Thanks much!
    John Garrett just posted Black Lightning – 28 Days of Black Super Heroes – Day 1

  17. says

    What do I say?
    I can live by the bay, make things out of clay, what do you say?

    Tag that as a ‘Happy Gilmore quote’ as I know that is searched for a lot – and there you have your first tag visitor :)

    No, wait – this is Kristi’s Blog – D’OH!

    Great Post Ana – one of the best on Tags that I have read I have to say – and something that I will be linking to whenever I reference the blasted things in future.

    Thanks Kristi for having Ana – not that you could ever say no to that face ;)

  18. says

    You’ve really given me something to think about.

    I had avoided using tags because, well, they seemed redundant. I also was under the impression that I could be penalized for “duplicate content.” Google’s mysterious ways can make us a little paranoid sometimes.

    What hadn’t occurred to me is that Tag pages are building more content. And as we know, content attracts search engines. Hmmm…

    Also, is there a maximum length for the excerpts on the tag pages? In other words, if the excerpts are too long, will that somehow anger the Google duplicate content demon?

    Thanks!
    Antonio del Drago just posted Lessons From The Wire- Character Development and Contrast

    • says

      I don’t think you should worry about duplicate content that much, Antonio. I’ve recently read a lot of info on the fact that Google can actually look past what they previously considered duplicate content.

      Just create your excerpts for a user. 2-4 sentences are usually enough.

  19. says

    Until now i’ve though that tags are the same thing as keywords. Hm.. it seems I was wrong. Some directories ask for tags, so it would be useful to start creating some. Great post!

  20. says

    I’ve seen that adding a tag adds an extra page, and honestly, that’s one of the reasons I’ve been unsure of whether I should really be using tags. My thought is that it will spread my page’s page rank thinner than it needs to ie the distribution of page rank to other pages (and other blog posts) will not get as much link juice because I’m creating another page. Thoughts?
    TJ McDowell just posted Make Money With Photography By Cutting Costs

  21. says

    I have been using tags for some time already and I did really noticed some change – I got some traffic from my .. tags. So I agree with everything your wrote.
    By the way, this post should be placed in workbook on SEO – clear presentation of the material. Good job!

  22. says

    Very informative post, Ana.

    On my first blog, I was so undisciplined when it came to adding tags that I have 200+ after 100 posts. On my second blog, I have a very strict pre-planned tag structure, but I no followed, no indexed them because of concerns over the duplicate content (thanks to Thesis I can correct that with just a couple clicks now that I know not to worry).

    Thanks for clearing up my confusion on the whole tag issue.
    Brad Harmon just posted How to Improve Your Twitter Profile

  23. says

    Ana,

    Earlier, i was afraid using tags, by default they are dofollow, but because i use All in One SEO, i can disable this “dofollow” too.

    However i was not sure, but then i went to visit yoast website, and he had with the old theme dofollow tag clouds.

    At the end, i check my visitors stats, most of them click on tag clouds because my content is somehow poor organized, so i guess tag clouds help them alot.

    Because of this reason, i am using tag clouds until today, but i nofollow them.
    Kimi just posted H1 H2 – The importance of heading tags for wordpress post

  24. says

    Hi Ana
    Thank you for bringing up this topic about tags. I am glad that I am not the only one confused about how to use them and how to benefit from them. No doubt about that they create a lot of great link juice to a site, but very quickly had a problem with Google Webmaster tool telling me that I had a lot of duplicate Meta description (Google don’t like that). I kind of panic and removed all tag links from my sitemap.xml to avoid this issue. Also did I block access for search engines with my robots.txt to avoid my tags link to from being indexed. After reading this post it seems clear for me that I will have to fix my Meta description issues and make my tag links be available for Search engines again. Thank you for clearing thinks op about tagging Ana.
    Thomas just posted Windows 7 – Automatic change of default printer

    • says

      Thomas,

      If you in your blog dashboard you go under your post tags, you can edit each tag individually optimizing them for search engines.

      That’s why I don’t recommend to have a million and one tags – that’s pointless, but if you have strategically a few you would like to rank for, then change your description and title for them including your keywords.

      That should take care of any dupe content issues, which are not that big of a deal to begin with, trust me.

      Ana
      Ana just posted How KeywordLuv Can Get You on the First Page of Google

  25. says

    Thanks for the great post anna,

    I also think that Tags is important for optimizing our blog because google will crawl our tags and it will show in search engine result page. For optimizing our tags you can find the best phrase for our tags with google keyword tool or Market Samurai so we have tags that popular on search engine.

  26. says

    I have been using tags ever since I started blogging. I understood they were keywords but I didn’t realise that separate pages are created for them. It makes sense therefore that I should reuse the same keyword tags to create more authority. Thanks for pointing this out to me Ana.

    John
    Tagging in Leamington Spa, England
    John McNally just posted Google &amp Alexa TRAFFIC Update

  27. says

    I stumbled on (what I think) is a unique use for tags. I have a review site where I review lots and lots of heart rate monitors. I assigned different features of the HRM’s to tags. It allowed me to have a cheap ‘search by feature’ function by simply listing the tags. It’s not as useful as a real e-commerce-type search function but it was cheap (free) and easy. I did nofollow the links on each page. I should reconsider that. I didn’t put the tags into my google sitemap file but they are still being indexed.

    The GA tip is awesome. I’ll certainly do that now.
    Larry just posted Garmin Forerunner 110 GPS Watch with Heart Rate Monitor

  28. says

    Hey Ana,

    Surely an eye opener. I haven’t taken tags so seriously so far. I did know that tags play a crucial role with creating more link flow within the site, but just like you I was afraid of the duplicate content issue. Deleted quite some tags because of that.

    The analytics tutorial is excellent. I have set that up. And lol, just like yours, my orange line is also flat lying beneath, poor creature.

    Jane.
    Jane just posted Should You Be Organized In Order To Be Productive

  29. says

    Hello Ana,

    It’s good to see you here.

    I never thought much about tags myself, though I do add tags to my blog post when I publish on a blog, but I just usually added it because it’s an option not because I really knew the benefits, until recently. And after reading your post it made me understand even more.

    A month and a week ago, I started a niche site challenge for a keyword that is fairly competitive. It’s my first niche site so I decided to do it as a challenge to rank the site on the first page of Google in 2 months, this was inspired by Pat Flynn.

    Anyway, I have been working on ranking the site for the keyword. But I am not there yet. But surprisingly the tags (my niche keyword) started ranking really high for the keyword search.

    Using my content strategy, I often add the niche keyword to all the derivative keyword posts I write – Keywords that contain my primary keyword.

    My niche site is experiencing the Google Dance, here today and off tomorrow. As at writing the site is not even on the top 20 pages of Google for the keyword, yet I have a tag post on the second place in Google for my niche keyword, and it’s been there for some days now, beating all except one authority sites on the first page of Google for the same keyword.

    Until I read your post, I couldn’t understand why a post without backlinks and less than 2 weeks old will be on second place for a competitive keyword, whereas the blog I have spent time building links to isn’t even on top 20 for same keyword. Though the last decent ranking for the niche site was on page 7.

    I went into detail because I want people to know this really works, but I believe it worked as fast for me because I have used the keyword repeatedly as tags and the blog itself was optimized for this same keyword.

    Some tips:

    This is not a secret strategy now for ranking sites. I think it depends on the content strategy you’re using and whether the site is optimized for the keyword – That’s if you want to see the fast result with tags.

    It could be seen as a secret to rank smaller niche sites, I mean like in my case where your keyword is competitive, you can have a tag for a post or two in the top of Google and be getting some traffic before your site itself ranks for the keyword. I have just started tracking my tags after reading your post and obviously the tags is responsible for most of the traffic the site is getting now.

    Better to use the niche keyword only repeatedly for posts where it describes the content, not for every single posts you write, this will not be appropriate. Like in my case I was just adding it to the posts where it fit without even knowing I was doing some good. Remember it pays to keep things real.
    Karo just posted My Niche Marketing Strategy : Content Strategy

  30. says

    Love your thorough explanations, Karo – your example of tags ranking highly on Google is awesome.

    One point you made very well: consistency in using the same tags over and over. I think that’s where most bloggers make a mistake – they list every single tag they can think of for every single post, thus completely diluting the purpose of tagging your pages.

    All the best to your first niche site – many more to come!
    Ana just posted What Are Blog Tags and What Can They Do for Your SEO?