If you’ve been blogging for more than a few months, you’re in the successful minority.
It takes a lot of effort and dedication to stick with a blog and keep going after the initial excitement has worn off. That’s probably why about 90% of new bloggers quit before their first 6 months.
But not you. Your blog is growing: your readership, your email subscribers, your reputation, your search engine rankings, your…
After you’ve been blogging for any length of time, it’s likely your post tags have gotten a bit out of control.
If your tags are redundant, irrelevant, or even misspelled, it’s time to do a bit of spring cleaning.
Don’t worry – it won’t take as long as you think.
And the benefits of a cleaner, more organized blog will definitely be worth it.
What’s so important about post tags?
Tags, as well as categories, are “taxonomies,” or ways to organize and group things together.
Categories and tags help readers and robots alike to navigate your blog.
Readers can navigate your blog more easily when your post tags are organized in a way that makes sense. Clicking on a post’s tags should help visitors to easily locate blog posts that touch on related topics. This can also improve your bounce rate, as new visitors will more easily be able to find more content to read on your blog that’s related to their interests.
Tags are also a great tool for signaling to search engines what your blog is all about by creating links with keyword-rich anchor text. Tags create internal links which help to establish your website’s architecture, and assist in directing search bots and crawlers to navigate your site.
Internal links also spread what’s known as “link juice” in SEO circles, which means that a page on your website with favorable rankings in search engines can spread that favor to other pages on your website through those links.
Having a messy tag system (tags that overlap with each other or with categories, or are irrelevant to your audience or target keywords) can harm your website’s usability and SEO.
By implementing a cleaner and more organized tag system, you’ll help your readers and robots to better navigate your blog, which could result in a lower bounce rate and better search engine rankings. I’ve personally seen this happen with some of my own websites: just a little tweaking of my post tags to be more specific resulted in a huge boost in rankings for specific keywords.
Best practices for blog tags
Categories and tags act a lot like the table of contents and index of a book, respectively.
Like chapters in a table of contents, your blog’s categories shouldn’t overlap. They’re static and set when your blog is born, and generally won’t change over time. They represent the major topics your blog addresses, and are generally capitalized.
Like an index, tags represent more specific topics, ideas, and themes that are scattered across your blog posts. They can accumulate as your blog grows. They can definitely overlap: a post should have more than one tag. And, like entries in a book’s index, tags are generally lowercase.
Let’s create a fictional example; a blog for a local gym. Their blog categories might be Exercises, Nutrition, and News & Events. Any given blog post should fit into one of those categories, but not more than one.
The tags for our gym blog might include things like:
- Weight loss
- Gym equipment
Tags like these help your readers to find the information they care about most.
They’ll also help you to rank better for targeted keywords. For example, say you have a couple of posts with the “vegan” tag: a recipe in your “Nutrition” category, and an announcement in your “News & Events” category that you now offer vegan smoothies.
Because of your use of the “vegan” tag for both those posts, your site is more likely to rank higher in search results for people in your area searching for “vegan friendly gyms” or related terms.
How to clean up your tags
Are your tags messy, duplicated, irrelevant, or even misspelled?
It can be tricky to try and clean them up. If you just delete or change a tag, you could end up with broken links and 404 errors all over, which can tank your search engine rankings.
Instead, what you want to do is create a 301 redirect, which signals to search engines that the page has been moved permanently. By using a 301 redirect, you won’t lose traffic and search engine rankings due to broken links.
There’s one plugin available called Term Management Tools that can easily merge tags, but it’s no longer under active development and may not work for you. And using outdated plugins is one way your site can be vulnerable to hackers.
Instead, you can change your tags manually, and use a plugin like Redirection to redirect old tags and make sure you don’t cause any 404 errors.
Important notes before we get started
404 error monitoring in WordPress can take additional server resources, which could slow down your website or even cause trouble with your hosting. Be careful when using this plugin, and consider disabling the 404 error monitoring feature when you’re finished merging your tags and fixing any errors.
But be sure to keep the plugin enabled to ensure redirects stay in place.
You could alternatively add any redirects manually to further save on server resources, although using the plugin is easier.
Keep in mind that 404 monitoring with Google Analytics or other outside services is a better option than doing it within the WordPress dashboard as it will reduce the load on your server.
Step 1: Delete unused tags
If you have tags that aren’t assigned to any posts, you can go ahead and delete them without repercussions.
Head over to Posts > Tags in the WordPress dashboard.
In the upper-right corner, click on “Count” to list your tags by the number of times they appear.
Delete any tag with a count of “0.”
Step 2: Choose tags to merge
Take a look at the remaining tags in your list under Posts > Tags, and start looking for similar ones to group together.
Continuing with the gym example above, they might have a “gym equipment” tag, and a “using gym equipment” tag, which can obviously be merged.
Use your best judgment and think about whether a tag merge would benefit readers who are trying to find posts on related topics. Search engines are always improving their algorithms to try and serve up the best content to their users, so it’s best to keep readers in mind first.
In this case, we’ll choose to merge these tags into “using gym equipment,” which is a more specific keyword to target. (You don’t want your gym tutorial blog posts competing with gym equipment for sale on Amazon, right?)
Going forward, we’ll call these tags your “chosen tag” (“using gym equipment” in our example), and your “deprecated tag” (“gym equipment”).
Make note of both of the tags’ slugs for the next step.
Step 3: Set up your redirect
Navigate to Plugins > Add New.
Install and activate the Redirection plugin by downloading the file and uploading it to your blog, or searching for it within your WordPress dashboard.
Click on the new menu option, Tools > Redirection.
Under the “Add new redirection” heading, enter the appropriate URLs, and then click “Add redirection.”
Step 4: Add the chosen tag to applicable posts
Next, you’ll want to add your chosen tag to all the posts that have the deprecated tag instead.
Under Posts > Tags, find your deprecated tag, and click the number under the “Count” column on the far right. This will list all the posts that use this tag.
One by one, click “Quick Edit” under each post. Remove the deprecated tag and add the chosen one in its place.
Keeping your tags organized
Going forward, it might be easy to keep tags organized yourself, but what about if you have other writers on your blog?
If you have other writers who have control over adding tags to their posts, you should include tag rules in your editorial guidelines or writer’s handbook. Tell your writers how many tags to add per post, whether they should add new tags, and your general rules for tags (lowercase, check for duplicates, etc.)
You could also use a plugin like PublishPress Capabilities to prevent authors from being able to add tags altogether. If you have an editor or manager for your blog, tags could be their responsibility, or you could take care of them yourself.
The sooner you organize your tags, the better.
It’s easy to keep pushing this back because it’s not a business critical task but you’ll save more time by getting them in order sooner.