My post title is pretty gutsy, right? I'm saying most people use Tags all wrong and that's a strong statement.
Well, it's my opinion. I'll stand by it and do what I can to support it with what follows.
My advice about using Tags on your blog is not about Search Engine Optimization. I'm no SEO expert. Still, I don't believe my opinions and advice are going to run contrary to most common sense SEO.
What I'd really like is to put ‘On Site SEO' out of mind and think purely about the Reader's Experience because that's what Tags are awesome for. (I'm not saying to ignore SEO – just add your SEO focused keywords using an SEO plugin and keep your Tags for Readers.)
There are two built in (no plugin needed) ways to guide your reader to the content the are most interested in: Categories and Tags.
Blogs allow you to create as many Categories and Sub-Categories as you like. Don't let that lead you to going crazy. With too many Categories, you end up with extreme overlap and a hot mess for your Readers to navigate.
If you're posting to your blog and every post ends up being assigned to several Categories, you've overdone it.
Think from the Reader's perspective. They click on a Category that appeals to them and enjoy it some content. They click on another Category – and find almost all the same content. Then another and the same. Frustrated, they leave.
Because you have too many Categories they become what I call “Useless for the User”.
This usually happens when you're creating Categories to express what your blog is about.
You have a Parenting blog and you set up Categories for Parenting, Family, Raising Kids, etc. These aren't Categories – they are the purpose of your blog. They're useless because every post you write ends up in all Categories. You have a Parenting blog, you don't need Categories to show it.
If you have a Lifestyle blog and sometimes write about Parenting, then by all means, have a Parenting Category. Only put a post in that Category when Parenting is the main theme of the content – and don't put it in a dozen other Categories.
Category Tip: Pretend every Category you add is going to cost you $1000. You wouldn't add them willy nilly in that case for sure! Only add a Category if it truly serves your Reader's Experience.
Here at Solo Smarts, I'm blogging for Online Solopreneurs. When it came to identifying Categories I decided to go as simple as can be. Soloprenuer Business (all the blog posts), Solopreneur Podcast (all the podcast episodes), and Solopreneur Quickies (all the curated content).
I could have gone in a completely different direction and created a hot mess. I write about dozens of topics, but there's overlap between them and I'd have a mess in no time. I don't want to go there with Readers finding the same content in ten different Categories… and I don't have to.
I can serve them better by using Blog Tags to identify and connect them with similar content.
Now I'm getting jazzed :) I feel I'm about to blow your mind and set you free from years of confusion.
You were likely introduced to using Tags from an SEO perspective. You were told to pack the Tags area with keywords and keyword phrases, the more the better, because every Tag you add creates an archive page focused on that keyword or phrase.
I'm going to ask you again to do something completely different.
Focus your Reader's Experience.
Tag Tip: If you pretend Categories will cost you $1000, pretend a Tag will cost you $100. Take the addition of Tags seriously and keep the User's Experience foremost in your mind.
If I'm like most first time Readers, I'm arriving on a blog post I'm interested in. When I enjoy your content, I want more. If I've read all the way to the end, I'm usually seeing ‘Meta Info', i.e., the post Categories and Tags.
Look at the amazing choice I have.
Do I want to read something else perfect for Solopreneurs? Great, I'll enjoy anything on the Solopreneur Business blog so I may click on the Category link. Do I want more about Bright Shiny Object Syndrome, I may click on that Tag link and find all of the other content tagged for that topic.
Either way, I've been guided helpfully and I'm having a positive experience on your blog.
Tag Tip: If I were writing one single blog post about Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and never plan to return to the topic again. I would not create the Tag. (Since Tags are helping my Readers find related content, it would have no purpose for them.)
Tag Tip: Say yes to tags that clearly identify the main themes of the post. In this case, Bright Shiny Object Syndrome is the main theme.
Tag Proper Names
I've been podcasting for 12+ years. In that time I've interviewed some guests multiple times. If a Listener enjoys hearing from a guest, they'd likely be interested in his other appearances.
Tag Tip: Tag your podcast guests by their Proper Name so Listeners find other appearances and mentions.
Tag Brand Names
Tagging brand names has multiple benefits for the User's experience on my blog. Especially for new Solopreneurs. They're making decisions about the tools they'll use to build their business and want to collect as much info as possible. When I tag brand names of tools I use, they can find every instance where I've discussed it. – such as when I tag aMember.
Tag Phrases, Not Single Words
Creating a fantastic User experience calls for a willingness to avoid saying the same thing in different tags. Choose one phrase that neatly covers it. For example, ‘Podcasting Tips' covers all of the instances where I mention podcasting.
Tag Tip: Say no to adding multiple tags that all mean the same thing. (Podcast, Podcasting, Podcasts, Podcasters, How to Podcast, Start a Podcast, etc.) This doesn't help the user and it will help you keep your Tags under control.
Choosing phrases will feel a bit awkward at first, but you'll get the hang of it, I promise.
Example #1: You've written a blog post about the “business benefits of going on a personal retreat”. In the past you may have tagged the post with a dozen single words. (Retreat, Burnout, Stress, Mindset, Self-Care, Self-Help, Self-Development, Travel, etc.)
These individual words and two word phrases are almost always repetitive and un-helpful in identifying other related content because they can be applied is so many situations.
Slow down, think about what your post is really about and select a few User focused phrases, like: Overcoming Stress, Business Retreats and Events, and Success Mindset for Entrepreneurs. Self Development is also fine, just leave off the repetitive ‘Self Care and Self Help'.
Example #2: You've interviewed a writer about her success in publishing books. In the past you may have stuffed in as many tags as possible. (Self Publishing, Book Publishing, Publishing on Amazon, Writing, Books, Kindle, Author, Authors, Writers, Writing a Book, Selling a Book, etc.)
Step back, let go of Tag ideas you know you'd probably never use again and focus on the themes that will likely repeat. You may simply end up with: Self Publishing Tips.
Tag Your Blog Post Series
Writing a Blog Post Series is fantastic for bringing Readers back to your blog and becoming a habit for them.
When you launch a new Series, add a Tag for it and use it for all of the related posts. For example: Nicole Dean runs a long standing series called ‘Expert Briefs‘:
The Tag option saves her tons of time in directing readers to other posts in the series. Once she has created the Tag and used it once, she can link to the Tag Archive Page from anywhere within her content if she likes.
Displaying a Tag Cloud
If you're using Tags the way I've suggested, you'll have a Tag Cloud that genuinely reflects the common themes and people you feature on your blog. A Tag Cloud at the bottom of your About Page, a Thank You Page that welcomes new subscribers or the 404 Page would be in good service of your Readers.
Ugh.. So I HAVE Been Doing It All Wrong
What now? Take a deep breath. There's good news and bad news.
The bad news is there's no easy button to correct your tag usage habits of the past. You can delete bad tags from the dashboard, but adding new tags can only be managed on a post by post basis. (If there is some sort of auto tagging plugin, I would not use it.)
At the same time, you could also clean up your Categories.
Will this impact your search standings? It could. If you have Category and Tag pages that get significant traffic from Google, I recommend creating redirects from the old URLs to new relevant URLs before you delete them. Consult a smart SEO person for best practices on this.
If your traffic is minimal, don't even worry about the dead links you're creating. Let your 404 page help visitors find what they were looking for. Removing outdated/no longer useful links is part of keeping a website up to date and won't get you spanked by Google. The updates you make improves User Experience and Google tells us they love that.
The Good News Is It's Worth It!
When you put the User's Experience first and apply thoughtful tags following my tips, you'll helping Readers stay longer, find more of the great content you offer and deepen their trust in you.
It doesn't have to happen at at once. You can book pockets of time for evaluating and correcting your Category and Tag structure and tackle it chunk by chunk until it's done.
While you're at it, you can check your content for other necessary updates.
I'd like you to see this as a valuable ‘Money Task' because it is! Refreshing your older content leads to many opportunities to update and add new profit points.
Another bit of good news: This sort of updating can be outsourced!
Whether you tackle it yourself or delegate it to a smart Virtual Assistant, you'll be glad you did in the long run.