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Too Many Tags And Categories?

Posted by on Nov 29, 2011
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A couple of days ago I was reading a guest post by a guy who wrote on the topic of bounce rates. He started that he only had a 2% bounce rate; every person that commented, including yours truly, found that hard to believe. Goodness, the best bounce rate I have on any of my blogs is around 66%. That may have been the most controversial point, but there was something else in that post that got my attention.

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It was his mentioning tags and tag clouds and how, by keeping them relatively low, they can help shape what your blog is all about in a better fashion, as well as help reduce your bounce rate. That one caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. And, by extension, categories as well, which sometimes mirror the tags.

For the uninitiated, categories help people find content they care about quicker. If you look to the right sidebar of mine you’ll see it just before my product pages listing. I have 35 article categories on this blog; in a way that’s a bunch, and I know that some of these can be merged. Not all of them, but some of them; then again, I talk about a wide variety of things on this blog, so maybe that’s not so bad.

However, I also have 1,899 tags and counting on this blog; that might be a bit of overkill. The idea behind tags is to refine what you’re talking about in your blog posts. So, I might be talking SEO in general as a category, but on one day I might be talking about keywords, on another I could be talking about linking, etc. Therefore, one might tend to have more tags than categories.

But how many tags and categories are too many in general? I tend to believe it depends on what it is you’re writing about. Let’s compare this blog to 3 of my other blogs. The first business blog, which I’ve had the longest, has 19 categories and 919 tags. The second business blog, which I’ve only had just under 4 months by now, only has 6 categories and 50 tags. And my finance blog has 45 categories and 901 tags.

Do two of those above look excessive to you? On the surface they do, but in reality I tend to think not. Tags help you zero in on a topic, and search engines seem to take more credence in your tags than they do in categories anyway. I’ve noticed that categories seem to show up in blog readers more often, as they do in my Feedreader program. True, it might help if you could find ways to use similar tags over and over, but sometimes I think it’s imperative that you drill down further, be a bit more specific with your topic.

For instance, my last post was on video blogging. I could have just put “blogging” but that wouldn’t have really been sufficient. So I added “video blogging” to the mix as well as “vlog”, a term a lot of people use. I then decided to toss in a keyword phrase, “future of blogging”; after all, there might be people that search for that phrase, and with all the other keywords it might help make the post prominent enough to be found for that term by some people.

By the way, I will say that it’s possible that either tags or categories will help reduce your bounce rate. If people want to learn more or see more of what you’ve said in the past they might decide to click on your categories or, if you have them somewhere, your tags; I’ve taken mine down but I’m thinking about putting it back up somewhere, probably on the right sidebar again.

What’s your take on tags and categories? I know some people haven’t used them; why not? And while we’re at it, do you pay attention to tag clouds on blogs you visit?
 

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35 Comments »

Gabriele Maidecchi:

I’ve always been very careful about categories but I never gave much attention about tags, for example the only online service in which I am VERY careful about tags is online bookmarks like old Delicious and now Diigo. I have a text file where I wrote all the tags (like 20 or so) I use to save my bookmarks, and I tend to keep them as generic as possible, otherwise it becomes a total mess.
Thinking about it, I guess I should keep a similar list for blog posts too.

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Gabriele, I never tagged early on either, but I finally realized how they could help. Every once in awhile, on other blogs, I actually link to the tags so that if someone clicks on it they can see every instance where I’ve tagged that word in a post. It seems to work well, as when I get Google Alerts that mention those sites they’ll usually mention the tag as what got them there.

November 29th, 2011 | 10:59 AM
Anna:

I like being organized and having my posts categorized but too much is annoying…especially those that are similar in content, but just named differently…When I see this I just quit reading:)
Anna recently posted…composite veneersMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Anna, it’s an interesting thing for sure. I don’t leave because of too many tags or categories though; way too many other things that will drive me from a blog.

November 29th, 2011 | 12:51 PM

This great post Mitch, I’ve checked the article on KissMetrics and it is interesting. I love the tips shared in it. Awesome :)
Olawale Daniel recently posted…Why You Should Disagree to Agree When Choosing a High Speed Internet ConnectionMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Thanks Olawale; I hope it gives some perspective on it all.

November 29th, 2011 | 8:00 PM

Bounce rate lower than 7-8% is technically impossible, even for low level of traffic and high page views. The lowest every bounce rate I’ve seen for about 12 years work in SEO was 28%, on parenting tips forum. Actually bounce rate metrics were introduced by Google about 5-6 years ago, but it easy to calculate it for website before this time.
Regarding categories and tags, this pretty much depends on the blog. I consider wrong practice tagging general terms and always going for key phrases. This way hit both – proper internal linking using tags and targeting keywords. There is nothing wrong if there 5000 different tags and there is no need those tags to be displayed anywhere, another wrong practice which is widely used by bloggers – tag cloud widget. Not using tags is again bad practice as this is cutting chances by half to get picked in “latest” in search engines.

Mother Reply:

Carl, what do you see as the problem in tag clouds?
Mother recently posted……on working together for the childrenMy Profile

Carl Reply:

Tag cloud practice was very popular in the past, as there were many advantages. Nearly 2 years ago, it was officially announced that this is bad practice, as it leads to keyword stuffing, but most importantly adding too many links on the pages which leads to link splitting. I hope you understand what I mean.

Mother Reply:

Well, I looked up the phrases and it seems to me that tags, used as their true purpose (as a guide to particular subjects on the page) seem acceptable. If a blogger is using particular tags just for attention…then BAAADDD! I can think of one instance where I inadvertently used a tag (I’m going to go delete it) and get a lot of hits looking for that subject when it was really just a reference in a particular post. As to the link splitting, I don’t understand how the tags would affect that when I read the different ways to cause it.
All this said, I am inexperienced and appreciate your time in responding and the good information.
Thanks
Mother recently posted……on working together for the childrenMy Profile

Carl Reply:

I think you didn’t get it right. Tagging blog post is good, but using tag cloud widget is not recommended.

Mother Reply:

Okay. Got it. Still not sure I understand why the difference, but I’ll study it. Thanks again.
Mother recently posted……on working together for the childrenMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Carl, I thought about keyword phrases for tags, and I’ve done it on occasion but very rarely because it just seems goofy. Instead, I pop those phrases into All In One SEO and feel better about it. I do agree with you that folks not using tags at all are hurting themselves.

Carl Reply:

For tagging the best plugin is Simple tags (free version), haven’t tried the paid one, but I don’t think it is necessary. By the way, getting back to bounce rate. Actually it seems to be possible, I saw anomaly in GA yesterday and today. It seems that it is showing 0% bounce rate on external traffic sources even if visitor have hit only 1 page. So, it doesn’t seems that everybody have very low bounce rate through error in GA, wow!
Carl recently posted…5 Things You Need To CleanMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Yes, in the article I linked to someone figured out how an error can give someone a low bounce rate, but it’s a false reading. That helps no one.

November 29th, 2011 | 8:46 PM

A bounce rate under 2% sounds really doubtful Mitch. As to tags although I use them on my blog to my recollection I’ve never, every bothered with them on another blog. I’m sure I’m not the only one that ignores them. If it wasn’t for the SEO benefit I doubt I would even use them. That being the case I very much doubt they would decrease any bounce rate by such an amount.

BTW, you have a typo in the third paragraph ;)
Sire recently posted…Life Is Short So Don’t Mess It UpMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Typo fixed; thanks! Yeah, pretty much everyone is discounting that bounce rate, and I’m with you in saying that I doubt tags reduce bounce rate all that much. I still tend to think internal linking probably works best across the board if your article is enough to capture someone’s attention.

November 30th, 2011 | 12:24 AM

I usually keep them in the part that viewers could easily see them. I’m not fond of too many tags but I like them more organized. Organized means giving readers more ideas on how to search the post they want at a specific place for their convenience.
Sheen Edward recently posted…Areas of Bastop State Park to reopen this weekMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Sheen, my tags show at the end of every post, and I’m not sure whether they’re organized or not; they’re just there. lol

November 30th, 2011 | 12:28 AM
John Dilbeck:

Good morning, Mitch.

Interesting observations.

I pay no attention to bounce rates, so I won’t comment on that.

I am not a good organizer in the real world and that probably carries over, to a lesser extent, into my own personal cyberspace.

I organize by piles and filing totally baffles me, even after taking a class in how to file and hiring someone to teach me. So, perhaps my thoughts are not shared by most.

I’m pretty careful with the categories I choose, but I treat tags as ad hoc “piles” that I can use to find similar posts, but which may be filed in different categories.

I use both categories and tags to find things on my own blogs.

When I’m reading the latest post on a blog, I don’t even notice them.

But, when I’m researching something, I find both tags and categories to be very useful for finding related posts. I find that much more useful than any related posts plug-in I’ve seen.

My mind and that of the person who applied the tags on their blog may not mesh, however. What may be closely related in my own view of the multiverse may not seem related to a reader, and vice versa.

I’m not interested in the number of categories or tags.

I have lots of both on my general blogs, but few of each on a couple of tightly-focused blogs.

For whatever it may be worth. (grin)

Act on your dream!

JD

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Hi John,

For what it’s worth, the reason I even question tags in the first place is because I think there are times when, I trying to be more specific about something, we end up muddying the waters and making it harder for people to find stuff. For instance, I might have a tag on “blogging”, and on another post I might have a tag “blogging tips”. Now reader comes by and sees one of them and decides they want to look at every article on that particular tag, but they’re going to miss a bunch of them because tags won’t look at another tag and say “hey were related”.

To me, that’s where categories come into play. My category called “blogging” will have all the tags, which makes it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for. However, for SEO purposes, the tags become beneficial because there is a difference between “blogging” and “blogging tips”. I’m just using this as an example for pretty much anything else we might decide to write on. I’m probably like you in that I don’t spend a lot of time looking at someone’s tags to go through looking at everything else, but that doesn’t mean that one of my visitors, or your visitors, might not look at a tag and decide to do it. I pretty much think that sometimes we write these things for other people to be able to find other stuff that interests them; there’s nothing wrong with that.

November 30th, 2011 | 11:48 AM

Hey Mitch,

Sergio here, I came because Sire got me interested on this whole tag and categories thing which I’m not very familiar with.

I do care about bounce rate but my blog is relatively new so that number goes up and down like a rollercoaster.

I think categories HAVE to be picked up carefully but I don’t know about tags… some people say they actually click on them, some others say they don’t bother with those.

For me a tag is important not because how Google can see your site or any other technical variable, but to improve user experience.

If an user doesn’t bother to check them out, then what’s the point of tags in the first place?

I thought that it was to separate content and to add a little something to the site’s usability.

So it is indeed a bit confusing to me.

To close my comment out, I don’t think bounce rate is directly affected because of tags or categories, people either find or not what they were looking for.

If they got there by organic search and you did your SEO homework right, I’m pretty sure there’s a big percentage that they found what they were looking for.

Take care and have a great day Mitch!

Sergio
Sergio Felix recently posted…Getting a Mentor, Gurus and Flying SoloMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Thanks for your comment Sergio. Truthfully I think the idea that tags improve bounce rate is a bit of a stretch. However, I use Google Alerts, and I have found that tags are big for SEO because many people search for specific things, and tags can help reinforce that. You mentioned user experience, but there’s no user if they can’t find you on Google, or any other search engine.

December 2nd, 2011 | 3:51 PM
Val:

I’m not sure about bounce rates on my blog as I don’t often pay attention to it, I prefer to go on how many posts someone comments on in any one session and on what people tell me. The best thing I ever heard, when I had the first theme in which I had that ‘start here – how to find your way around my blog’ page with masses of inlinks to other posts and pages there, was that a friend of my sister’s had visited and got stuck in my blog for four hours!

I had loads of tags and loads of categories but a few weeks ago I deliberately removed all my tags. I found them messy and didn’t like where they positioned themselves in my theme of choice (I love the theme I use but the tags place themselves to the left of the post and if it’s an image post they really get in the way). There were a couple of other reasons, but they’re not really relevant to your post.

I have far too many categories and need to thin them. However, as I link to a lot of them in posts, it would be quite a headache to make sure I don’t break links and make my posts less accessible, so for now I’ll leave them as they are.

SEO-wise, my blog’s still closed to search engines but I’m wondering about opening it up again (or one of the other blogs I have) and then I’ll re-examine the issue.

In the meantime, and I don’t know if you or your other readers would agree with what is said here, there’s a youtube video from one of the Google people about tags and categories for SEO:

Is it worth spending time creating tags and categories?

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Hi Val,

In a way, Cutts is pretty much saying what I was (wow, when did he shave his head?). A ton of tags is bad; a couple of tags here and there aren’t bad unless you keep hammering the point in the article. See, my thing is that I might be writing about an issue by telling a story and only mention a specific phrase or topic once, so for me the tag helps to reinforce what I’m talking about. But I’ve seen posts that have 15 or more tags; that’s a bit ridiculous.

He’s not wrong about categories either, but one has to decide they want to use categories, at least if one has All In One SEO, which I do have but decided to go with the tags instead. You could do both, but that’s also overkill.

Val Reply:

I generally provide categories to help me find my own posts and to make it easy for other people to find them. In that way, I really really should reduce the number of them.

As for tags, if you think 15 is a lot, I’ve seen some posts with more tags than content, lol!

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

So have I Val; you just want to slap ‘em and say “cut it out!”

December 3rd, 2011 | 8:09 AM

As a new blogger I found your article interesting and helpful. I thought it was best to block the search engines all together with my robots txt. Is this not true? All the seo talk has me confused on what practices are best. Thanks
Jerry recently posted…How To Use Social Media to Advertise Your Business – 10 tips.My Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Jerry, I don’t know why you’d want to block search engines from going through your content unless you don’t want to be found on any search engines. That’s how I’ve always seen it.

December 8th, 2011 | 1:15 PM

I tend to keep my use of tags down, since they can easily look a bit confusing to me if there’s too many of them. But I have had great results when it comes to categories (it helps Google see that I don’t always want a specific post or the index page to show up for every search result), so I do tend to use those. I have never really seen any disadvantages with that.
But then again, I try not to use too many categories either, I don’t think there is a need for that on most blogs.

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Seotjejen, I’m with you on limiting categories, although in some situations they can be useful when you’re talking about one main thing but having different variations of it that you might talk about.

December 11th, 2011 | 1:21 PM

Many thanks for this piece of information. I didnt know that Too Many Tags And Categories affect bounce rate.
Patrick recently posted…PHOTO: ‘PhD Holder’ Lived, Died in Refuse DumpMy Profile

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Absolutely Patrick; good luck with your SEO endeavors.

November 8th, 2012 | 11:53 AM

A big thank you from me as well, I used categories, but disregarded tags completely. I read somewhere that you should be very careful when chosing tags, for example you shouldn’t chose words that are already in the headline or the 1st paragraph and stuff like that, so I got a bit confused and stopped using them. I think I’ll change that now, seeing that this could affect ranking and bounce rate.

Mitch Mitchell Reply:

Tim, the only thing I’d say is to not overuse tags within a post, which I’ve seen from time to time, but otherwise if it happens that your article is about the same thing as your title then go ahead and use it in the tag. It’s better to use multiple tags that categories any day of the week.

November 14th, 2012 | 10:05 AM