This is a common question when starting out with WordPress, but in a nutshell, they are a way of directly categorising posts. I.e. to basically say that this post is about x, y and z, without having to put the post into a more permanent category.
WordPress tags are a way of directly categorising posts without the need of using more structured categories.
If this doesn’t make sense, think of it like this: a hashtag is a way of categorising tweets or posts on most social networks.
Just think, if you ever want to see all tweets or posts about the #WorldCup, #DavidAttenborough or #Python, you can do so by searching on those hashtags and you’ll see all the relevant content. This is tagging in action.
Why use tags?
When used consistently and correctly, they can be a hugely powerful tool for many reasons, including:
- Help you identify what content themes are of interest to your users.
- Allow you to better deliver the right content throughout your user’s journey.
- Better organisation of content across themes, entities and keyphrases, which can be used to keep users on your blog for longer.
Tags vs categories
In WordPress, both tags and categories can be used for categorisation of posts. So do we need both?
Categories are generally used to sort content into different buckets or verticals.
They tend to exist in a hierarchical format and categorisation is usual, though not always, mutually exclusive. I.e. if a post is in one category, it is normally not in another.
In WordPress, you must categorise each post and the category called ‘uncategorized’ is always created by default in a new installation.
Think of categories as chapters in the table of contents at the start of a textbook.
Tags are generally used to indicate that a post contains references to specific people, places, organisations and/or things.
They are not hierarchical in format and are not confined to general buckets like categories. This makes them very flexible and powerful for analysing how users consume your content.
In WordPress, you do not need to add any tags to posts or pages as they are purely optional.
Think of tags in the index at the back of a textbook.
Why don’t people tag more often?
With these significant benefits, why don’t more WordPress websites use tags more often?
The answer is simple, like with most things, it requires effort. Blog and website authors need to be disciplined enough to add relevant tags to a post when they are publishing.
This is why we built Martini Tag Insights to use natural language processing to automatically identify and recommend tags in a few clicks; to make this process easier.
You, of course, don’t have to use this feature (or plugin) but you should be tagging your content if you want to get the most out of it.
Tagging best practices
Here are a few quick best practices that you can use to improve your tagging:
- You want around 3-10 tags per post. The final amount will depend on the content itself, but use this as a rule of thumb.
- Tags types can be many, again depending on the content. See here for more info on types of tags.
- Be consistent. I.e. if you using the tag ‘football’, don’t then switch to ‘soccer’, similarly either pick ‘NSW’ or ‘New South Wales’ and then stick with it.
- You want to use tags that have been used before – that way when searching for that particular tag, a user can see a rich back catalogue of content. However, you don’t want to use the same tags on each post as this will defeat the purpose of tagging.