WordPress Tags – Uses and Abuses 14

When you create a post in WordPress, you can create “tags” for your posts.  A lot of people do not really understand the significance of tags, and see them as a “keyword list” much like the “vestigial” keyword meta tag.  To that end, they create long tag lists for each post (I saw one post on a blog the other day that was about 200 words in length, yet there were around 50 tags assigned to that post.  In SEO terms, this is bad, very bad.


To understand why long tag lists is generally a bad idea, let’s look what happens when you create a post. 


When you make a post on your blog, WordPress will put the post on your homepage.  Now, it depends to a certain extent on the templates you use, since some templates may only post a snippet of the post (or maybe an author-defined excerpt).   WordPress also wants to put the post (and often the entire post) on a number of other pages including:

  1. A page specially created to show the post
  2. The category page
  3. On every tag page

Before we consider point three in the list above, can you see how that one post can be duplicated on multiple pages of your site?  Duplicate content on a site is not a good thing!


Let’s consider now the tag pages that are created when you make a post.


If you have 50 tags assigned to a post, that article may be posted 50 times on your blog (on 50 different tag pages). 


If you want to see what a tag page looks like, click on any of the links in the “tag cloud” in the right hand menu of this site.  Click on one of the tags that is large, like the WordPress one.  See how every article I have written and tagged with “Wordpress” appears on that page? 


Tag pages are a little like category pages.  You can assign related posts the same tag, and then those posts will all appear on the same tag page.  It’s just another filing system for your posts.


The way a lot of people use tags is to simply think of a keyword list related to the post they created, and create tags for each keyword.  The biggest problem arises when a particular tag is only used for one post.  In that case, the tag page will only have the one article on it, meaning it is almost identical to the post page created by WordPress for that article.


How to use WordPress tags properly


The tag mindset: Before you use a tag on a post, think in terms of a page being created for each tag you use.  Your article will appear on each of those tag pages.  Is that what you want?  Is that tag going to be used on other relevant posts? 


With this in mind, here is what I suggest you do:


During the design stages of your site, make a list on a piece of paper of all the tags you want to use on your site.  These will be the most important keywords for the niche, but they should be keywords that are different to the categories you have setup for the site.  After all, WordPress will create pages for each category anyway, think of tags as “additional pages” that WordPress will create offering you a secondary way of filing your posts.


As you create posts on your site, refer to the tag list you wrote down, and use only tags on that list.  My all means add new tags over time, but make sure that tags are going to be used more than once.  Don’t create a tag that will only ever be used on a single post on your site.  Also, only use a few of the most relevant tags for each post.


What if my site has a lot of posts with spammy tags on the posts?

Fortunately there is a good plugin to help you manage tags.  This plugin will allow you to mass edit the tags on your posts, and a lot more as well.  You can read more about the plugin here:





Modifying tag pages?


Quite often you’ll find that your tag pages are getting traffic from Google.  I have found that the tag pages often rank very well for the chosen tag (as a keyword phrase).  Depending on the template you are using, the tag page may or may not be where you want to send your visitors.  A good example is the site I setup during my WordPress for Affiliate Sites coaching program.

I had tagged a post for “i-pet glucose meter”.  I found that my post was not ranking too well in Google, but my tag page was in the top 10.  Because of the template I was using, my tag page was just showing the title of my post as a link to the post.  Most people arriving at the tag page would probably have just clicked the back button assuming the information they were looking for was not on my page.  My solution to this was to create a custom tag page for “i-pet glucose meter”.  Here is my custom i-pet glucose meter tag page.  Here is the original post I made that was tagged with i-pet glucose meter.


Do you see how the tag page is NOT showing the original post, but unique content?  That is very different from the other tag pages on this site, which I have modified to show title and excerpt of the pages.  Look at this normal tag page for the tag diabetes mellitus.

Using custom tag pages in the way I did for the i-Pet  glucose meter is just another way you can use WordPress to help your site succeed. 


I suspect the question you are all dying to ask is does that tag page lead to affiliate commissions for me.  Do I actually sell any of these meters?  Well, here is a screenshot for a couple of days this month.  I have highlighted the page that sent each of these three customers to the merchant:




Used properly, tag pages can work for you.  Used without thought, tag pages can increase duplicate content on your site.

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14 thoughts on “WordPress Tags – Uses and Abuses

  • Clare Swindlehurst

    At last – I think I understand the point of WordPress tags! I was using the headspace plugin a few weeks back and generated tons of tags – which I thought was a good thing – but now I see that I may have fallen into a duplicate content trap 🙁

    I have tried the simple tag plugin before but found that it removed the tag function completely as it said that I needed to switch javascript on – even though it was – so I had to remove it.

    I like your tip about writing a list of tags to use though and think I’ll give that a go.

    I’m interested in your custom tag page – how do i go about making one of those?

  • Pearson Brown

    I thought that Google had made it clear that it would not penalise ‘duplicate content’ within a site where it was caused by a situation like this?

    Thanks as ever for a very clear and useful article.


  • Andy

    Pearson – good point, however, while I think Google are too clever to penalise duplicate content on blogs because of the way they are built, can you see another problem with this duplicate content? Google is likely to put one of the pages into the main index (if it is good enough), and the others will be hidden in supplementary, or not indexed at all. Which page does Google index? If you have the same article on 5 pages, Google will make the choice, and may not use the one you want them to use. A good example was my tag page. My original tag page was being shown for the keyword phrase i-pet glucose meter, not the page I wanted to be shown. That is why I had to make the custom tag page – so that the page that was ranking for that term was one that could get me sales.

    Duplicate content is bad for a number of reasons – possible penalties is one of them.

    On the same note, if a post has 50 tags, and most of those tags are unique to that post, do you really think Google would approve? Common sense tells you that the site is spamming, and Google can easily spot this.

  • Dan

    There is a new tag that the big 3 search engines have agreed upon called the “canonical tag” that will address this problem. This tag will allow one to tell the search engine which version of the page to index.

    I believe this will deal with this issue.

    I’m not sure if I can post a link but this is a link to the interview from Matt Cutts where he specifically talks about wordpress duplicate content and how this tag will help. http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2009/02/18/canonical-tag-announced-googles-matt-cutts-interviewed

    But in the spirit of what Andy wrote, you still shouldn’t have tons of unrelated tags.

  • Stephen

    I have not found the use of tags to be of any trouble frankly. Google will pick one copy and go with it. If you are spamming from your website using tons of tags, then probably you will see your rankings fade. I mean if everyone of your posts includes a tag for “make gazillions”, you are spamming.

    Duplicate content involves identical (or darn near same) content being served on different domains. Even then nothing earth shattering will befall a scraper beyond the DC providing little if any SEO benefit. The first copy will rule, yours is just fluff.

    But who cares anyway? We should be focusing on the users, not bots and how to game the SEs. If you think your users could use more ways to find your content using a tag, go for it.

    This is 2009 and we should be way past gaming the SEs. Google is not stupid. They can detect somebody trying to play games easily these days.

    Fact of the matter is, provide valuable content people want and you are 99% of the way home on this seo stuff.

  • Andy

    HI Stephen
    You state:
    “Google will pick one copy and go with it”

    My point is, do you want Google to pick one copy? I prefer to pick which copy Google indexes as I can control what the visitor sees. If Google picks my tag page to show for a particular keyword phrase, the visitor will not be landing on the post I wanted them to see.

    Also, duplicate content is not just about the same content on different domains (in which case Google will pick the one and often not the original one), its about the same content on one domain, or even similar content on the same domain.

    What I am talking about here is not “gaming” the search engines, it is helping them. I am telling them which pages are important, and which are less so. Google appreciates that…

    • Andy

      You mean on a single post?

      I would use no more than 3-4 per post, and these 3 or 4 would not be the same as any category name you are using.

  • TV

    Google is likely to put one of the pages into the main index (if it is good enough), and the others will be hidden in supplementary, or not indexed at all. Which page does Google index? If you have the same article on 5 pages, Google will make the choice, and may not use the one you want them to use.