If you are uncertain about how to use tags on your blog or if tagging posts is even important in the grand scheme of things, the answer is YES – but only if you are tagging correctly and your WordPress system is set up properly for search engine communication.

In my travels as a WordPress blogging coach, I have found that bloggers often confuse tags with keywords and then go about creating a lot of redundant tags instead of one or two really concise tags that would cover the topic quite succinctly – for usability and SEO.

You see, the whole idea of using tags is to reuse them, thus building up tag topic authority for each tag archive page. More isn’t  necessarily better when it comes to tags because all you are really doing with excessive tagging is diluting your tag topic authority.  It’s more effective for SEO and usability ( if you have a tag cloud on your site)  to have one really good descriptive tag that can be recycled for other articles that relate to the same topic.

Redundant Tagging

Here is an example of how redundant tagging might bite you rather than help you. So, let’s say that you’ve written an article about USDA Home Loans. Correct tags would look something like this:  Government Home Loans, No Money Down Home Loans, USDA Home Loans, Mortgage Programs.  Redundant tags for the same topic might look something like this:  USDA Home Loan Programs, No Money Down Loan Programs,  No Money Down Government Home Loans, USDA Government Loans, etc  … ad infinitum.  Remember, tags are not keywords. They’re primarily used for organizing the various topics you write about and for building topic authority for each tag used and reused.

Tag Clouds

A tag cloud, or “hot topic navigation” as I like to call it, is an optional  navigation feature that you can add to the sidebar of your blog.  And depending on how many times a tag is re-used, it will appear larger or smaller in size within the cloud.  Tags clouds may look a little strange (well. I happen to like how they look), but they do provide visitors with a quick and easy way to navigate within the greater categories on your blog for more specific topics. This is especially useful if you have a lot of content on your site.

When a visitor clicks on a tag within the cloud, they are brought to an archive page of excerpts (350-400 words) of related articles that are tagged in the same way (of course, if your blog archives are set up right).  They can now quickly scan the archive page and decide what articles they want to read. I have found that the average site visitor won’t spend more then a split second wading through months of post archives and are more likely to click on a specific tag within your tag cloud than a broader, more generic category.

 Tag Cloud Uniformity

Since it’s so important that post tags be concise and uniform, get into the habit of choosing from “most used tags” rather than continuously creating new and redundant tags for the same topic.  With many content management systems, tags and tag clouds are even case sensitive so make sure your tags are all upper case or the first letter of each word is upper case or all the letters of each word are lower case.  Although some themes are actually smarter than others when it comes to tags and will auto-correct or make all tags upper case (but not  necessarily in the cloud), you will find that its best to tag uniformly and stick to it – and for a number of reasons.

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For example, let’s say that you write a post about foreclosures in North Carolina and tag your post “Foreclosures North Carolina.” Down the road you write another post and tag it North Carolina Foreclosures. Further down the road you write another post and tag it “foreclosures (lower case f)North Carolina.”

What you’ve actually done here is created 3 separate tag archive ages for the exact same topic and diluted the topic authority for each tag.  If someone clicks on “Foreclosures North Carolina” within the tag cloud, they will only have access to posts tagged exactly that way, even though you may have written other great posts about the same topic tagged in a slightly different way.

Some content management systems or WordPress themes will not create a new tag that starts with upper case if the same tag has already been created in lower case. Instead, it will revert back to the original lower case tag. You will then need to go back into the dashboard and fix the tag from there once and for all.  This will also correct the tag  if used in previous posts.

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Tag Cloud House Cleaning

If you already have a tag cloud that has a mix of upper and lower case tags or filled with redundant tags, I recommend that you do a little tag house cleaning. I usually make the first letter of each word upper case as it is much easier to see where one tag ends and the other begins within the cloud.

If you have a lot of redundant tags, you should consolidate and delete the unwanted tags then go through your posts from the dashboard and re-tag them properly. This will make your tag cloud more user- friendly. More importantly, it will maximize the tag topic authority for the concise tags you keep.

The tag cloud to the right is a good example of how a tag cloud should look – neat, clean, uniform, easy to read and geo-targeted (if you have specific target markets as in real estate). Remember, tag clouds are an optional feature and if you don’t want to use one on your blog that’s OK too.

Opening Up Tags or Categories to the Search Engines?

You’ll need to choose whether to open up post categories OR tags to the search engines. Never open both up as you can run into duplicate content issues. Choose what you allow to be indexed within the XML Sitemap under “Sitemap Content.”   If you open up tags, “Use No- index for Archives” and “Use No-index for Categories” should be checked off. “Use No-index for Posts” should be unchecked.

If you publish 2 to 3 blog posts per week, I recommend that you open up tags to the search engines.  If you are posting only 1  to 4 times per month, I recommend that you open up categories to the search engines.  The reason being that categories tend to be more general than tags and the more you post, the stronger your tags will be. For example, you could have 3 to 4 tags for a specific post that’s filed once under one category and archive page.

If you choose to open up tags, make sure that your tag archive pages display only post excerpts around 350-400 characters rather than the entire post, which will help avoid duplicate content issues. This will also make it a lot easier for your readers to quickly scan the archive page for post titles that look interesting.

For most self-hosted WordPress users, you have the option of choosing “Display Post Excerpts” in Archives under Theme Settings. The content archives option will affect any blog listings page including: archive, author, blog, category, search and tag pages.  You can also modify your archives.php or use an archive limit content plug in.

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