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Thoughts on Tag Clouds

December 28th, 2015
Muskblog Tag Cloud

I’m not your average blogger. I’ve been at it a long time. I tend to experiment and try different techniques both recommend and not recommended. I can’t say I’m the most successful blogger, but I do have a lot of experience. I’ve been trying to improve my blog, trying to emphasize the positive, trying to make it an asset and one of the things I did to that end was completely overall my WordPress taxonomy.

When I did this I went back and re-tagged all my old posts. I also wrote custom excerpts and added a feature image. I did a pile of editing of the actual text and I still edit old posts when I find typos or bad grammar or just inaccurate information. All these changes have not resulted in search engine domination. I have ten or twelve posts that get the majority of the page views month in and month out. Many of the I put in the “Greatest Hits” section on the sidebar however some I did not.

The Tag Cloud from my CFA Flashcard Blog

Yesterday I promoted and demoted some blog posts to “Greatest Hit” status. I also reread a post by Yoast on category achieves. I overhauled my archives at some point too. My category archives I think used to get a lot of strange keyword referrals but I got rid of unflattering content and I also ranked them lower in my sitemap, but the other thing I did was remove my tag cloud from the sidebar almost everywhere. I’m not sure where I got this advice but the idea is you emphasize your greatest hits and deemphasize random archives. Yoast is advocating greater emphasis on category and tag archives as landing pages complete with custom text and code.

I honestly did try to follow this advice but I’m not sure I wrote enough custom text, I can use HeadSpace or even some custom PHP to add more, but I have put a lot of work into structured meta data because I want things to look their best when they get shared on social media, I’ve never been a keyword stuffer or spammer but I did re-tag hundreds of posts and I think my tag archives in particular never get viewed partially due to removing the tag cloud. I’m thinking of adding it back to at least the front page as I always find tag clouds interesting for three reasons:

  1. They have visual appeal.
  2. They sometimes surprise as they are random but deterministic.
  3. They are keyword rich.

Search engines have gotten smarter. They have deemphasized site wide links and gone after spammers and link networks hard. I looked at Google’s Webmaster Tools for the first time in a long time last night, the link text on my website is often logical (to me) but not very keyword rich, especially the static HTML I’ve been maintaining for twenty years. I put less and less work into my static HTML and more work into my blog and my actual homepage. My Nurgle subdomain used to dominate search engines and now gets no traffic and one reason is the content is old. Freshness or timeliness is a huge ranking factor. Blogs are fresh and thanks to social media and custom PHP and JavaScript my homepage is also fresh.

So back to tag clouds are they good or bad for SEO? Given Yoast’s emphasis on category archives you’d think they must help but I worry like blogrolls and other links in the sidebar search engines would just ignore them, but not every design decision is made for search engines. Having actual intelligent link text along with good UI/UX is what real people need and I honestly think the tag cloud looks cool, I often look at the one of my CFA® Flashcard blog. I’ve put way less work into tagging and optimizing that blog than this one, but people find it because it has good content and some tags/keywords density. That blog is on and is very much barebones and uses the actual text from my actual handmade flashcards of which I’ve now typed out 600, not optimized keyword stuffed marketing jargon. It probably doesn’t do as well as it could in search engines either so I’m going to try linking to it more and I’ve taken to tweeting about it a little more too. Feel free to share my posts on social media too.

The pretty but often ignored bottom of my blog posts

Another reason for my WordPress theme and taxonomy overall was visual appeal. I’m a big fan of structured meta data and thus featured images. When used correctly they allow for improved social sharing and I definitely think they make the recommendations at the bottom of individual posts look better. I also rewrote a lot of post titles to be shorter and punchier. As shown above, every post has small textual links to my category archives. I click these and the recommendations but I’m not sure others click them much, this is something I could track better in Google Analytics perhaps. My blog does not do that well in most social networks, I’m not very viral, I tend to mostly share a post once on Twitter, but I do update and re-share old posts too. Twitter removed their share counts so now I look even less popular but there are a few popular posts on Muskblog, I suggest you start with the Greatest Hits but feel free to browse the category and tag archives.

When I share stuff on Twitter now I’m starting to carefully choose a hashtag sometimes, before I often used them ironically but using them strategically can help you get retweets and increase your Klout.

Do Tag Clouds Help?

Experts disagree naturally, but I think my tag cloud is making a comeback to the sidebar of the frontage of my blog. Individual posts I kinda like the lean and mean look, but the front page side bar is looking a little sparse and who knows it might help with my SEO and at the very least it might motivate me to blog more on certain topics as opposed to certain other topics, just to improve the log of the tag cloud. I also may revisit my tags too in order to make them even more optimal. Below are some other blogger’s views on tags, taxonomy, and tag clouds:

Make sure and leave your opinion on tag clouds in the comments below.


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