Content Tags

Tags are all the rage these days.  We’re seeing them everywhere, but why?

Tags offer a few different benefits. Essentially, tags are a way to quickly visualize what a certain type of content is about. Tag clouds can convey a lot of information very legibly. Take a look, for example, at this tag cloud of Obama’s inauguration speech. Which words stand out to you?

obamatagcloud

I see: new, nation, America, every, people and common. If I hadn’t heard the speech I would have a good idea of what he spoke about and why.  Read Write Web has a great post with a few word clouds from different inauguration speeches. These tag clouds summarize what speech writers at the time found important to the American public.

From a human usability perspective hopefully you can see why this is important. With a tag cloud people can quickly get an idea of what a post or blog is about. With these tags as links, they can drill down to interesting posts in only a couple clicks. From a search engine’s standpoint it’s easy to tell what your content is about also. If you look at the source code of a WordPress blog, for example, you can see that each tag in a tag cloud is explicity said what size it should be. WordPress has implemented tags in a very search friendly way. A lot of SEO is common sense usability. If you build it right for humans, and pay attention to the details, it’s going to be easy for search engines to understand.

The number of tags you use to describe a post is important. Again though, think about it from a usability standpoint. If you litter your content with tags, then the majority of those tags aren’t going to be relevant to the post. It’s the same reason why keywords stuffing doesn’t work. If you litter your content with keywords, just to include keywords … you’re going to confuse your readers, and you’re going to confuse the search engines. How can you tell what a post is really about when the important parts of it are diluted.

Jason Baer over at Convince and Convert has implemented tags well. On average he uses less than 10 associate with each post. He capitalizes tags that should be capitalized (according to a what looks like an AP writing style) and he includes them at the bottom of each post. I wish he would put a cloud in the right hand column, but having them at the bottom of each post gives people a way to continue reading about topic they’re interested in, and it reinforces the content within the post. I also wouldn’t use both categories and tags. Pick one or the other and stick with it. If you use both you run the risk of duplicate content, or having the same content accessible at different URLs. If you’re the New York Times, it would be something to worry about, but the average blogger should spend time on quality content, not duplicate content. Check out Google’s official statement on duplicate content for more info.

When tagging video content, there are a few other things to worry about. When most people use video within a blog post it’s uploaded at a third party provider like YouTube, or UStream for instance. There’s an entire niche around video SEO, but when it comes to content tags the important thing to worry about is making sure that your post is ranking higher than the actual video for the things you’re optimizing for. So make sure the content tags you used on your video, are on your actual post somewhere, in a way search engines can understand them. In the case of LuckyStartups, the startup that interviews startups, their tags are embedded in a flash file, which is useless for search purposes. Their lucky Ustream isn’t optimized that well, and that they have more original text content on the site, or they run the risk of their Ustream videos out ranking their posts.

In summary … Tag your content. Use tags that are relevant to that content. Don’t stuff your tags with keywords you want to rank for. Again, be relevant, but always think about what people might search for.  Don’t use all your tags in every post.  Use tags repeatedly across posts when it’s appropriate.

6 Comments

Shea Beck

Chase – I see “Tags” as a sub-category where as “Categories” are permanent and parent. “Categories” are usually thought of before hand where “Tags” are on the fly. If having both will cause duplicate content, then using more than one tag will also create duplicate content as your theory from above would apply the same way.

tysoncrosbie

Thanks Chase for this post! I’ve learned that I do SEO mostly right, but it keeps changing.. I’ll definitely be implementing some changes going forward.

Chase Granberry

@Shae It depends on how they’re implemented. WordPress doesn’t have any issues like that any more, but it used to be an issue. I’m not sure about other platforms. You’re right in thinking about “Categories” as something more permanent. I guess I just never liked being confined to predetermined categories.

Scott

From what I have read tags are exactly the same as categories as far as search engines. Like you said, one or the other.

Jason Baer

Thanks for the link Chase.

I don’t have a tag cloud because the visuals of it will freak out some of my less-technical readers. You are absolutely right about tags vs. categories and duplicate content. I will be picking one or the other in the new version of the site launching soon.

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