Today’s post is a guest post from talented Web Consultant Matthew Edgar from QW Consulting. Thanks Matthew for your insight into the world of WordPress Tags!
WordPress Tags & SEO
WordPress tags are a great usability enhancement for your blog. Tag pages give your blog readers a great opportunity to find more blog posts that you or your company has written about a certain topic. This keeps readers on your website and the more time a person spends on your website looking at more content typically leads to higher conversions and more customer loyalty. However, when optimizing your blog for search engines there are many factors to consider regarding WordPress tags. They can be an asset if done correctly but can also be a liability if done incorrectly.
It is no secret that Google and Bing measure many different things about the people using their search engines. One of those things is dwell time. Put simply, dwell time is the time between the searcher clicking on a search result and returning to the search result page to find some other result. For example, if the searcher clicks on your blog post from the search results and takes one minute to read that blog before returning to the search results to find something else then dwell time is one minute.
While there is no ideal dwell time to reach, having a longer dwell time for your website typically indicates to Google and Bing that searchers like your website more than other websites. This, along with hundreds of other factors, can have a very positive influence on improving your search rankings.
How does this relate to tags? WordPress tags can be used to help your readers find more blog posts. If the readers who came to your website from Google and Bing are clicking to your tag pages that means those readers are spending more time on your website. That improves your dwell time. It gets better though because if readers are clicking on more blog posts from those tag pages, then those readers are spending even more time on your website.
Google’s Panda Update
In early 2011, Google released what has become known as the Panda update. The Panda update was focused on fighting web spam by removing thin content from the search results. As part of this, Google began taking into account other factors to determine what is and what is not a quality website.
This affects WordPress tag pages in two ways. First, it can be a great thing to help with the Panda update because tag pages can create great and highly usable websites. Like with dwell time, this reflects as a positive signal to Google because tag pages help people engage more with your website.
However, the problem is that tag pages are typically very thin and very redundant pages. After all, that is the point of tag pages. Tag pages are supposed to the list the same blog posts listed elsewhere, but in a different type of grouping around a certain topic (tag). Tag pages are not supposed to have unique content.
This relates to the other big problem with WordPress tags from a search engine standpoint: duplicate content. In particular with WordPress, tag pages are very similar to category pages and often list almost identical content. After all, that is the point of tag pages and category pages: list the blog posts on the website but list them in a different grouping, and often in a different order.
However, Google and Bing search the web via automated computer programs and despite many improvements, those robotic spiders that crawl through the web are still dumb machines. While a human could distinguish the difference between two pages that contain the same list of blog posts, a spider will look at those lists and determine that they are so similar that they should be considered duplicate pages.
In situations where Google and Bing have to deal with duplicate content, they usually reach one of three decisions: index both versions, pick one to index or index neither version. All three of these situations are bad for you and your website.
You want to control what pages Google and Bing show in the search results so you do not want them choosing whether to index your category or tag page. Instead, you want to pick the one that you want Google and Bing to index (more on how to do that later).
You certainly do not want Google and Bing to skip indexing your blog or ignore parts of your blog. Tag pages and category pages can be great landing pages for searchers. They offer searchers lots of options on your website and search traffic to these pages typically spends more time on your website.
You also do not want Google and Bing to index both pages. In that case, the tag page and the category page would compete against each other for searcher’s attention. You have enough competition online without competing against yourself. (Also, this is a rare outcome of duplicate content.)
WordPress Tag Best Practices
All of this leads to the big question: what is the best way to setup WordPress tags for search engines?
To avoid the issues around thin content, category pages are usually the best pages to focus on with search engines instead of tag pages. Category pages in WordPress can contain keyword rich URLs and can contain unique content that differentiates the category page enough to not run the risk of duplicate content.
To avoid the duplicate problems, the best solution is to instruct Google and Bing to ignore the tag pages and instead tell the search engines to index only the category pages. That way Google and Bing do not even know that the tag pages exist so they have no means on including those pages in their search results. Meanwhile, your readers will still see the tag pages.
Together, these solutions also make the experience for the reader of your blog considerably better. By removing the tag pages from the search index, you guide searchers to a more useful page on your website. By improving the category pages to avoid thin content, you also make the category page more unique and more interesting for your readers.
Matthew Edgar, web consultant at QW Consulting, has over a decade of experience working with small business owners helping them grow their business online. To learn more about Matthew and QW Consulting, visit http://www.QWConsulting.com.