Each post on your site can have tags, but they should be used sparingly and must make sense to the search engines.

However, if you add too many WordPress tags to your content, you might be penalised in the search results as you will create 100s of new pages on your website.

Tags are best used to subdivide categories and are part of the WordPress Taxonomy.

An example of this would be:

  • You have a category called Baking that lists lots of posts about baking in general
  • You would subdivide this category using WordPress tags
  • These tags would be things like ‘Muffins’, ‘Bread’ and ‘Cakes’

Tags are basically used to break down your categories into more organised sections so your content is organised and can be understood by Google.

What to consider when using WordPress tags for SEO.

As mentioned earlier, too many tags can actually have a negative effect on your website.

If you are conscious about SEO, remember the following:

  • Every time you add a new tag to your WordPress site, you are adding a new ‘page’ that google will index
  • Each tag you add will need a title, a description and should be optimised with Yoast (or a similar SEO plugin)
  • Too many tags will create index bloat
  • Too many tags will also cause duplicate content issues

Let’s look at these in more detail.

What happens when you add a tag to a post in WordPress.

When you add a tag to a new (or existing post), WordPress will add the tag to the Posts > Tags section in your WordPress admin.

This tag will have its own URL and will act as an archive page for any content that uses the tag.

This page will not show in your list of posts or pages as it’s a template file (tag.php) that is built on the fly when a visitor clicks a tag on the front end of your website.

The exact URL of the tag page will be governed by your Permalink structure and the name of the tag (although you can override this).

Every time you add a tag, you need to optimise it.

Tags are ‘pages’ or at least URLs on your site that can be indexed by Google, so each and every time you add a tag, you need to add a description and the Yoast metadata, just as you would optimise a page or post.

This also goes for on-page tag optimisation – your description should be optimised for the search too as tag pages can rank in their own right for niche searches.

Don’t add tags without optimising them as you’ll end up with lots of low-quality pages on your site – search engines don’t like that.

Too many tags will bloat your WordPress website.

If you add 100s of tags to your site, that’s 100s of new pages.

If these pages are low on content, or only have a few tagged posts listed, you are going to increase the number of low-quality pages on your website.

This will reduce the effectiveness of other pages on your site (even ranking pages), and can see your search engine results slip.

Tags can also create duplicate content issues.

If you have tag pages for different tags, but that show the exact same posts (meaning they are all tagged the same) you are going to end up with duplicate content on your site.

Google and other search engines don’t like this as it looks like you are padding out your website with content that is not valuable or authoritative.

If you also don’t bother writing unique descriptions for each tag, the same rule above applies – if each tag has a long(ish) unique description, this can reduce duplicate content issues.

So when and where should you use tags on your WordPress site?

Use them sparingly and only when you absolutely don’t have another tag (or WordPress category) that you can use instead.

Don’t, for one minute, think that adding 100s of tags to your site improves your SEO.

It’s better to think of it from the point of view that every time you add a tag to a post, you make additional content and SEO work for yourself.

That will always make you double-check whether you really do need that new tag.

Tag templates in WordPress themes.

You can also do some fancy stuff with tags and WordPress templates using the WordPress template hierarchy (open an image of this in a new tab).

Tags in WordPress have their own template file, but if this does not exist, WordPress will look for the following:

  • tag-ID.php
    • tag-slug.php
      • tag.php
        • archive.php

So, if WordPress can’t find the first template file, it looks for the next, and if it can’t find any, it uses the default archive.php as this file is in every theme.

So you can create individual tag templates that do different things for different tags.

For example:

tag-21.php could be a template file for a tag archive where the ID of the tag is 21

tag-bananas.php would do the same, but this time uses the name (slug) of the tag. Note that the name and the slug of the tag are not always the same

tag.php could then be the default archive for all other tags that don’t have an ID of 21 or a slug (name) of bananas.

This means that you can get very creative with your tag templates.

Other types of tag in WordPress.

If your WordPress site has custom post types, it can also have custom taxonomies, of which custom tags then become a part.

By default, custom post types can just use the same tags as standard posts (or not use them at all).

If you choose, you can add a custom tag taxonomy to your custom post type to keep things better organised in the WordPress admin.

It should be noted that using custom taxonomies, like tags, in your theme does add an additional layer of complexity to template development as custom taxonomies don’t allow you to use standard WordPress queries (the_tags, etc) without some additional PHP and coding.

To conclude...

Tags can certainly help to further categorise your content, but you should use them sparingly and like all things content, they should be part of an SEO strategy and not added to your site without a plan to do so.

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