WordPress Tags? What are they and why should you be using them?
Since WordPress 2.3, tags have become an integral part of blogging with WordPress.
Have a look at sidebar on this page. Do you see that large box full of words? That’s a tag cloud.
Each of the words in this box are words I have used as “tags” in the articles on the site. The bigger the word, the more often that tag appears as a tag in articles on this site. You’ll see that from the screenshot, “Wordpress” is the largest word at the moment. That means “Wordpress” has been used as a tag in more articles on this site than any other word. That’s not really a surprise when there is a section on this site purely for WordPress tutorials.
Internet Marketing, and affiliate marketing also have quite large size, and again, there are sections devoted to those topics on this site.
So, what exactly is a tag, and why should you use them?
Think of tags as “Keywords” for a given page.
Do you remember the old meta keyword html tag that was heavily used in the past for search engine optimisation? It was seriously abused, and no longer affects your search rankings (at least not in a positive way). Well, that meta keyword tag was originally used by the search engines as a way to categorise your page. Webmasters would “help” the search engines by including this tag at the top of every web page together with a list of highly related words or phrases to tell the search engines what the page was about.
Tags in WordPress are very similar in their intended use. To help categorise your content. They are actually far more useful to visitors of your site than the old meta keyword tag, because of “tag pages”. Go on, click one of the words in my “tag cloud”. You will end up on a “tag page” that includes all of the posts that have been tagged with that keyword. If yu are a visitor, the tag cloud is a simple way to find the most relevant content on a site. It’s kind of like an idiot proof search box.
Tags don’t just help your visitors though. The tags in the tag cloud get indexed with the rel=”tag” attribute, meaning search engines and other Web 2.0 sites like Technorati can actively search out the tags on your pages to help index your content.
Because search engines know these are tags, they are less likely to penalise you for duplicate content – they know what tag pages are, and their purpose (to help site visitors).
The tag cloud can be added to your sidebar easily enough if your theme is widget enabled. The tag cloud is included in WordPress 2.3. onwards.
Technorati, Tags and Categories
If you look on the Technorati site for a definition of tags, they say:
“Think of a tag as a simple category name. People can categorize their posts, photos and videos with any tag that makes sense”. In fact, I recommend you read this page on Technorati, as it gives a little more information on the use of tags and getting included on the Technorati tag pages.
If you do any searching on the topic of tags and WordPress specifically, there seems to be some confusion over the difference between categories and tags. They do have similar roles in some ways (i.e. allows the user to click a tag in the cloud to be taken to posts related to that tag, in much the same way as categories). What happens though if an article on your site is slightly off-topic, and does not really fit into any of your defined categories? Do you create a new category? Well, you could, but that would lead to a very long category listing as more and more categories are added. Instead, you could just put it into the most relevant category and tag the article with highly related words and phrases instead. Also, another major difference between tags and categories is that categories can be hierarchical (meaning sub-categories), whereas tags are entities in their own right and cannot be “sub-tags”.
One time-intensive process is editing tags on multiple pages if you want to change tags, since you have to load each post individually and then edit the tags, post and then edit the next one. There is a nice little plugin called Simple Tags which can help with this. At the time of writing this, the download pages says its compatible up to WordPress 2.5. but I have it installed on WordPress 2.6.1. and it seems to work well.