This is the first article in a series on tips, tricks, and tools to help businesses better manage their content online and get the most from their content marketing strategies.
In this post, we’re looking at tagging and taxonomies – what they are, where to use them, and how to use them right.
What are tags?
Tags are small keywords that you attach to your blog posts, news releases, or other content that act like labels to tell your website browsers what it’s about.
For example, if you were running a food blog and you posted a pie recipe, you might tag it with the word pie, among other things.
One common way that people think of tags is this: if your blog is like a book, your tags are what make up the index. In our recipe example, by tagging all your pie recipes ‘pie’, it lets your browsers flick straight to the index and see all the pie-related recipes or content that you’ve published before.
And that’s the core functionality of CMS tags – they make getting around your site and identifying grouped content faster and easier.
Tags vs Categories
A common question when it comes to tags and taxonomy is:
What’s the difference between a tag and a category?
Well, if your tags are like the index to your blog, your categories are like the chapters listed in the table of contents at the start. They’re the big buckets that your blog is made of.
Staying with our food blog example, you might break your categories into ‘baking & desserts’ ‘meat’ ‘vegetables’ ‘equipment’ ‘bread’ and ‘sauces’
In general, categories are going to be longer than tags (a few words rather than just one or two keywords) and you’ll have fewer of them.
Because while it’s nice to be accurate, the more categories you have, the harder it ends up being for your site visitors to find their way around. And that’s the ultimate goal.
There are few other wee difference as well, like the fact that categories are hierarchical (you can have sub-categories) and tags are not, and the fact that with some content management systems (e.g. WordPress), content needs to belong to at least one category, whereas tags are optional (but recommended).
- Tags are short, typically 1-2 words long and specific.
- You can tag something with multiple tags
- Categories tend to be longer (up to a few words) and more general.
- Your categories are like your table of contents, and your tags are like your index
- Categories are hierarchical and required – tags are neither of these things.
Why you should bother tagging content
So, why would anyone put in all this work? There are a couple of benefits.
As mentioned, tags make it much easier for people to find their way around your site. For example, if someone was looking for a new pie to make and you had a tag for ‘pies’, they could select it and browse all recipes tagged as a pie. It makes their search more efficient than chronologically browsing a full category (e.g. ‘baking and desserts’) in search of a few pie recipes.
Second, there are SEO benefits. Tagging is an on-page SEO ranking factor. Like adding meta descriptions to sites, alt text to images, and structuring your content with H1, H2, and H3 headings, it’s one of those things which might not help much, but is fast and easy to do, so why not?
Tagging Gotchas in SEO
While tags, categories, and taxonomies are, for the most part, pretty fool-proof, there are a couple things you’ll want to watch out for that can impact your SEO.
There are a few potential problems with over tagging.
First, if you’re tagging content with very niche tags, then it’s no use because each tag will only have 1-2 posts in them.
For example, if you use the tag ‘gluten free’ but only have one gluten free recipe, then it’s not particularly useful.
Second, every time you create a new tag, you create a new tag page that pulls all of those tags together. So if someone clicks on your tag for ‘steak’, they’ll be taken to an URL that your CMS creates that has a format similar to this:
However, that can create problems with Google if you have two tags that have largely the same recipes in them. For example, if you have a tag for ‘Mexican’ and a tag of ‘tacos’, and the only Mexican food you ever make is tacos, then you probably have two pages (tag/Mexican and tag/tacos) that look exactly the same – which Google is not fond of.
So when you’re building your tagging taxonomy, you want to use tags that are useful and fairly unique.
Generally speaking, most posts will end up with somewhere around 3-5 tags.
Failing to exclude tag pages from your index
Of course, there are ways to get around those pesky crawler problems we highlighted above. One thing you should be doing regardless of how many tags you have is getting Google to not index your tag pages (e.g. www.url.com/tag/).
The best way to do this is to add a Robox.txt file to your site. Naturally, there’s a WordPress plugin for that. But if you’re using a different CMS, or just want to know how to do it yourself, Google’s written a handy article for you.
Finally, there’s one last thing you should be working to do for your taxonomy, both for your users and for Google crawlers.
Use keywords for tags
A super easy way to improve the SEO footprint of a post is to use your tags as keywords. If you have an overall keyword strategy, simply adapt a few choice items into your tags.
Since your content’s going to match these anyways, it’s an easy way for you to work in more keywords and keep things consistent.
All in all, taxonomy isn’t hard. A good way to think about your tagging and taxonomy is to think: ‘would a user find this a useful categorization of my content?’
If so, then it will probably help your SEO, and you’re on the right track. If not, well then it might be time to rethink how you’re organising17 your content (asking someone not familiar with your site is always useful here too).
But the best way to get your tags right is to learn by doing. Try out your best effort and go from there.
Stay tuned for more updates about content management, tools, tips and tricks as we continue our series on content management tips.