With the advent of tags built into WordPress 2.3, a whole new generation of bloggers and WordPress users are being introduced to the concept of tagging. Before I ask the question again, here is my definition of tags versus categories.
Categories are your blog’s table of contents. Tags are your blog’s index words.
Categories are large groupings of related articles, and tags are the micro-categories, keywords that describe the content within your blog post.
Every blog must have categories. They are critical to directing your visitors to content that may hold the answer to their searching need and help them find related content. Not every blog needs tags, but many bloggers think they do.
Do You Need Tags on Your Blog?
Why do you have tags on your blog? Because everyone else does? Because you are supposed to? Because they really help you and your readers?
In my article on the Blog Herald asking if tags are working for your blog, many people realized that they had to have tags on their blogs, but when reading other blogs, they rarely clicked on tag links. They realized that if they aren’t using them, their readers aren’t using them. Then why do so many feel tags are necessary on their blogs?
Do you need tags on your blog? If so, why?
Why use something that people aren’t using?
Okay, that’s a dumb question. Haven’t we all littered our blogs with site submission and social bookmarking links at the bottom of our posts? Links that few people use. If they have a social bookmarking or site submission site they love using, they have the bookmarklet or toolbar installed on their browser that makes the process fast and automatic for them. They don’t need your little links to remind them or help them mark your site.
Are tags becoming obsolete and useless just like social site submission links? Then why are we continuing to litter our sites with tags?
Are Readers Using Tags on Your Blog?
If bloggers reading other blogs aren’t clicking the tag links, then are typical readers clicking the tags on your blog? Do you know?
Check your blog statistics. Are your tag links being clicked? What kind of traffic are you getting from your tag links?
What about incoming links from tags? Technorati is the king of tags. How much traffic are you getting from Technorati? Is it from a specific tag page? Or is it from Technorati search pages? Technorati does not limit their searches to specific tags, but every word on your blog, even the untagged links. If your blog post has the terms searched for, it’s listed in Technorati’s search results, whether or not you’ve included tags.
Who else provides tag links to blog content?
However, these categories and tags feature content only using keywords and phrases found in WordPress categories and tags, not every word or tagged link in the blog post. In the paragraph above, every link has a tag attribute (
rel="tag") in it, but none of these will see the inside of a WordPress.com tag or category page.
Many bloggers are learning that the best tag links they can have on their blogs link to their own content, not off their blogs. But tags and some category links in WordPress.com link only to other WordPress.com blogs, not your content, unless you add a manual list of site search tags as I do. Still, these links don’t turn up in my stats very often, so who is using my site search tags, and who is using yours?
What Do You Find When You Dig Through Tags?
When a user clicks on a tag link, what do they expect to find?
When Technorati was new, many people assumed that their tags had to link to Technorati in order to qualify as tags. That was never true. For new bloggers, they liked the idea of providing their readers with other related content, helping them find the answers they needed off their blog, thus returning to visit because of the favor the blogger did for them. This also didn’t work.
I used to monitor the Technorati feed for WordPress and had to change it to remove any mention of “sex”. Still I was besieged with tons of splogs, porn blogs, and just yuk in the feed list as any site with the keyword “WordPress” would be listed in the feed. I finally deleted it from my feed list as it was totally unproductive to scroll through hundreds of spam and porn listings to find anything solid about WordPress information, tips, and techniques.
When a user clicks on a Technorati-linked tag on your blog, what do they see? Does the results speak well for your blog and it’s content? Have you checked recently? Do you like the company your blog’s content is in?
Many frustrated users have found totally unrelated content when clicking off-site tags. After all, there is no predictability with tagging. Anyone could use the “WordPress” tag just because they have a WordPress blog but never blog about WordPress. They can make up any words or phrases in their tags as there are no standards, guidelines, or even any good instructions that help new bloggers write good tag keywords.
No wonder so many got burned and gave up clicking tag links.
Many pro-bloggers started turning their post tag links to their own blog, where they have control over the content results when the visitor clicks the tag link. Tags became a way of helping the reader find related content and dig deeper into the blog, but maybe it was too late. The trend to ignore tag links may have unfortunately caused many bloggers to miss the boat by the time they switched.
Do you use them? Why? Are they working for you on other blogs?
The Tag Struggle on WordPress.com
Understanding that tags only have value when you can control the content generated on a tag’s search results page, many WordPress.com bloggers were thrilled when native tagging was introduced. The original FAQ continues to imply that the tags would list that blog’s content, so many were disappointed to find that the tags took the user to all the WordPress.com blogs using that tag or category, not their content, just like the category listings in the post meta data, which has long been resented by many.
When WordPress.com bloggers complained, they were told that this method actually helped them, increasing their blog traffic and helping them get found.
Again, I ask you, especially WordPress.com users. Do you see a lot of incoming traffic from WordPress.com tag pages? I don’t.
As many of you know, I tend to write a lot about WordPress. I use WordPress as a tag within my posts all the time, yet if you were to click on the tag link for WordPress posts on my blog, you would see a Page Not Found Error, as I do not have the category of “WordPress” nor added a tag via the new built-in WordPress tags for the term “WordPress”. To do so would not take my readers to all of the tagged posts I’ve written about WordPress, but to the WordPress.com tag page for all those using “WordPress” as a tag or category on their blog.
As I said before, unless you have the word in the tag or the category in a WordPress.com blog, no matter how many tags you may have in your blog content, your post will not come up in the WordPress.com tag page listing.
Taking a look at all the WordPress tips, techniques, and articles about using WordPress that should be under the WordPress.com tag for WordPress.com, if I were to include the “wordpress” tag on my posts, I’m sure my blog posts would be in good company, alongside:
- An announcement that the Blyss Show Burlesque will be on an FM radio station. I’m sure they intend to mention WordPress or thank WordPress.com for their free blog hosting.
- Fill in featuring an out of focus, pixelated picture of a roadside power pole at night. No picture of WordPress or I ♥ WordPress scratched into the sand.
- “Hatman’s awsom club peguin gliches” posts “sites and stuff” which lists two sites to yippyos site and party with less than a dozen words but with the following categories (which are also tags): Blogroll, chicken, club penguin, cp, cp rox, games, hack, hat man, hatman, hi, lol, me, misshin, partys, penguins, pepper, pin, rockhopper, severs, shcool, stuff, stuff you need to know, toolbar, wordpress, wp, yakamo cp. Excellent category/tag coverage for so few words! This looks more like a splog than a legitimate blog, but is probably a kid’s blog.
- Oops is a post on Journaling Faith which apologizes for publishing a post that the author didn’t want published – what that has to do with WordPress…? Okay, it happened on a WordPress blog.
- The Wind by Lady by the Water aka Love Letters is a poem, a love poem – but not to WordPress. In fact, WordPress isn’t even mentioned in the poem at all. Talk about no appreciation for their free blog.
- Eat the Snow by Anemic Royalty addresses the issue of water conservation and the heat wave that hit much of the United States this year with some fun humor and the fact that Georgia is creating a 400-foot slope of snow in 80F temperatures this week. Hmm, no snow in sight, other than man-made, and no WordPress anywhere to be found either.
- Drifting by Golden feri is a poetic ode to romantic sleepiness – and the author isn’t counting WordPress blogs to get her to sleep.
And that’s just on the first page of the tag listing for “wordpress”.
Oh, I found a few articles that mentioned WordPress, but only in passing, not as a topic. I found Installing WordPress about a person trying to install WordPress, but with little detail on the actual installation techniques, and What is the good thing about WordPress by a Japanese blogger practicing writing in English who likes WordPress, then continues the rest of the post on varied and different subjects.
None of these are “bad” but their use of the tag “WordPress” is definitely not right, if I were the tag police. Tags must represent the content, not a guessing game or serve as a reason for people to pick up traffic just because they pick a popular tag name, if tags are to genuinely work as a micro-categorizing method.
If you are hunting for WordPress on WordPress.com tag pages, you will not find one of my posts in that tag collection, as I don’t like the crowd. You would find it under WordPress Tips, WordPress Themes, WordPress News, and WordPress Plugins, though I’ve found totally irrelevant blog posts in those tag/categories in the past, too.
Take one blog post and ask five people to write a list of tags for the post and you might get five sets of different words, with only a few duplicate terms. Each person interprets their content their way, from their perspective on their writing. They may use words they’ve included in the blog post, the “right” way of listing tags, or they may use words they didn’t use in the blog post, just because they want to cover their bases and make sure their point is made.
Others use a serendipitous method of using any combination of words that someone might just stumble upon and discover their blog while digging through tags. The odds are that this method may take a very long time to build up traffic, as it relies upon chance, not strategy.
Are Tags Working For You and Your Blog?
While the excitement of tags in the new version of WordPress is something that has been long awaited, are tags really working? Are they working for you and your blog? Are you getting traffic to your blog from your tags? Are your readers clicking your tags? Where do your tags take your visitors? Is the content there appropriate to the tag’s intent? Do they really appreciate leaving your blog to find more information through tags? Are they using them?
I’m not claiming that tags are dead, but we need to rethink their usefulness from all angles. And if they aren’t working for us or our readers, can they recover? How can we make them work effectively?
- Categories versus Tags – What’s the Difference and Which One?
- Categories versus Tags: Defining the Limitations
- A Tagging Bookmarklet for WordPress and WordPress.com Users
- The Problems With Tags and Tagging
- What Do You Blog About? Check Your Tags
- Tags Are Not Categories – Got It?
- Putting Some Thought Into Blog Categories and Tags
- Keywords Versus Tags
- Using Author Template Tags Outside of the WordPress Loop
- Tags and Tagging in WordPress
- One Year Anniversary Review: Tags, Tagging, and Categories
- Are You Abusing and Misusing Tags?
- Blog Post Category Trauma: How To Help Bloggers With Useless Categories
- Blog Post Category Trauma: Suggestions for Useless Categories
- Blog Post Category Trauma: Fixing Those Useless Categories
- Blog Post Category Trauma: Changing Your Categories in WordPress
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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network, and author of Blogging Tips, What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging.