Google’s John Mueller answered a question about tags on blog posts and their impact on rankings. The person asking the question wanted to know if there was any benefit to it.
Article Post Tags
A website normally organizes the content through categorizing the content topics in a way that makes it easy for users to navigate to the topics of interest through the menu navigation system.
Tags are an additional way for users to navigate to similar content. But tags are generally not a part of the formal site navigation.
When a user finishes reading a web page they may find links (called tags) with keywords that link to similar content.
Difference Between Categories and Tags
Categories are generally sections of a website that can be navigated from a menu located at the top of a web page. The purpose of categories is for organizing content in a logical taxonomy of topics.
The purpose of tags is to help site visitors explore similar topics. Tags are typically displayed at the beginning and/or end of an article and sometimes displayed elsewhere along the right or left hand of the page.
History of Blog Post Tag Use
Bloggers in the past used to prolifically link to other articles on a site using keywords in the tags. The reason for doing so was the belief that the keywords used in the tags might influence search engines to rank those articles for the keywords used in the tags.
What ended up happening was that a site would bloat with scores or hundreds of tag archive pages that linked to articles, with many of those tag archive pages listing mostly the same articles.
Those tag pages essentially became duplicate content, thin pages.
The practice of using tags to interlink content thus began to lose popularity. There’s nothing wrong with using tags to help users find similar content.
But overdoing the use of tags can become problematic because of the thin pages created, necessitating technical SEO solutions for essentially self-inflicted problems.
Do Article Category and Post Tags Help Rankings?
The person asking the question wanted to know if there was any benefit of using multiple categories and tags for articles.
“The post category and post tag does it have any impact on ranking of the blog post?”
John Mueller downplayed any SEO benefit while communicating other benefits of using tags.
To the question of whether there is a ranking benefit for using tags, Mueller answered:
So it’s not necessarily that we would try to recognize tags on a page.
But these are links and potentially they go to… category page, your tag page and that could be another page that we could index or that we could use to pick up links to your articles.”
Mueller is saying that the use of tags could be a way to help Google discover more web pages about similar topics.
My preference is to link to articles that are specifically about a given topic. In my experience, links to specific articles tends to get more clicks than a bare keyword that links to an article archive.
In my opinion it’s a better user experience to present a link to a relevant article than to send a user to a page of links.
No SEO “Magic” in Article Tags
Mueller went on to debunk the idea that there’s an “inherent” ranking benefit to tags.
“So it’s not that there’s any inherent… magic around tags. It’s just… it creates more links and more pages within your site.”
Should You Use Post Tags?
Tags have largely fallen out of favor over the past several years and for good reason. Over-reliance on tags can create too many thin pages.
Yet tags can be useful for surfacing content that might be buried deep within the regular category menu structure.
Perhaps the best approach to tags is to integrate it into a well-considered SEO plan. Creating tags on an impromptu basis might be a less sound approach.
Watch the Google Office Hours Hangout from about the eight minute mark: