Let’s Get Real – This Is What Your WordPress Tags Are Like

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They’re like that junk drawer in your kitchen. You don’t even REMEMBER what you’ve got in there! Not very useful for the USER either I’d say.

And that’s on a good day…

For Some, WordPress Tag Archives Are More Like THIS

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What do you HAVE in there… and WHY?!

But for most of us, this is what tag archives are like… we just started throwing stuff in there years ago…

Why noindex Tag Archives?

Little while back, when I did a post on Moz all about SEO for WordPress. In it, I recommend to NOT index tag pages (in favor of indexing categories and individual posts) yet many folks had differing opinions about this. I will say that in some cases it may make sense to index tag pages – but as a default rule of thumb – I do not. Few of my reasons for this:

  • It’s better to rank an individual post or category archive instead.
  • Tag archives have a high probability of being thin or near duplicates of post or category pages.
  • For large sites especially, tag archives can start to number in the thousands, like 10,000+ (as you will see).
  • Customarily, tag archives are not customized the way category archives are. Many category archives are (and can be) customized with descriptions of the category and other content unique to that category archive at the top. Basically this never happens with tag archives.
  • Some will say “well, these tag archives rank well!” – and to that I’d ask them to look at how well those rankings turn into traffic that performs once on site. I would encourage everyone to review your metrics for what happens once someone makes it to your site through a tag versus page, post or category.

Great! So we can all see that in general you don’t want to index tags?

You don’t need them anymore… it’s time to let go of the past.

Let’s Determine If Its Safe To De-Index Your Tag Archives! Here’s How.

So then a big issue I run into ALL. OF. THE. TIME. are sites that have been indexing tag archives all along. The sites have been around for quite a while, and in some cases there are literally over ten thousand tag pages indexed. Yikes!! Like in the case of the person asking about this very issue in the Moz public Q&A. My answer to him is basically the rough draft for this post. And its a resource I’ve wanted to put together for a while.

The goals of this post are to decide if you should de-index tag archives and then briefly explain how to safely remove them.

It’s gonna go like this:

  1. Export a Landing Page Report from Analytics
  2. Export a Top Pages Report from Webmaster Tools
  3. Combine Reports With a vlookup In Excel
  4. Decide if You Need Them (You Probably Won’t)
  5. How To Remove Them

1. Run This Analytics Landing Page Report

We’re going to generate a report of landing pages (tag archives only), where traffic is from organic Google search.

Step one: Set date to past three months (this is to match it with what’s available in webmaster tools)

Step Two: Create an advanced segment for google organic traffic

Reminder: set for only the current profile

Step Three: Drill down into landing pages

Step Four: Filter for tag archives only

Reminder: Show more rows… you may need to increase this depending on how many tag pages are in the report

Step Five: Export the report to CSV

2. Run This Top Pages Report From Webmaster Tools

Now we’re going to get the top pages from webmaster tools. This is mostly for the impressions data. We want to see how many times the tag pages are showing in search results at all. If they’re not even showing as much as other pages, then its even further cause to remove them. Google must be telling you something when they don’t even return pages in results.

Step One: Set yo’ dates… 3 months, same as analytics

Step Two: Go to “top pages” and set filters – in this case, I like to filter out image search and the only way to do that here is to show “web” results only.

Step Three (you thought there would be more?): Export!!

3. Mashem’ Up In Excel

I’m going to assume you know how to clean up that data and stuff like that in excel (remove dashes etc).

Step One: Combine both CSVs into one file and save as an excel file. You know how to do that right?

Step Two: Prep webmaster tools URLs – in order to keep things clean and do our vlookup, we’re just going to remove the http://www.domain.com from the URLs in the analytics report:

Step Three: Make some room for analytics! You’re inviting them over – don’t make ‘em sit on the floor…

Step Four: Hookup yo’ vlookup – depending on what cells you’re using, its going to look something like this:

=VLOOKUP(A60,analytics!$A$2:$F$19,2,FALSE)

Thanks John and Mike for the assistance. Even though I’ve done these a million times in the last few months, seemed to still mess it up this one time – and then announce I messed it up publicly on Twitter. That’s a rule right? Tell everyone publicly of your ineptitude? Yeaahh. Stop talking Dan… no, stop talking…

Step Five: Sort, filter, throw ‘em around… do whatever you need to do to analyze the data

You’ll end up with a report that looks something like this:

4. Use the Data To Decide If You Need Them (You Probably Won’t)

My site isn’t the best to use as an example for analysis for a few reasons;

  1. I don’t have category pages indexed at the moment (don’t ask!)
  2. Its not a large site in comparison
  3. Organic traffic volume isn’t huge

But with that said, when you analyze your site, some things to look for across the metrics;

Impressions – compare impressions of just tag pages to the rest of your site (you can do this right within webmaster tools… in fact… ok… I’ll give you an example)

Check out this site’s impressions of its highest performing pages (this is not my site, it has been made anonymous):

Now… check out the impressions of tag pages. There’s only 2 in the top 500! And they had only 90 impressions (compared to 27,000+)

So I de-indexed tag pages on June 20th… 9,000 of them to be exact. Did it affect traffic?

Nope…unless by “affect” you take that to mean “up and to the right”.

Ok ok.. I kid a little. Am I saying de-indexing tag pages improved traffic? Not really (although I didn’t dig that deep to determine the exact cause of this increase here). I AM saying de-indexing tag pages definitely did NOT hurt.

Impressions vs. Clicks / Visits – secondly, if your tag archives are getting a ton of impressions, but little clicks (thus visits)… why leave them in? Better to (in the long run) return pages that get clicks. These are going to be the individual posts, because they’ll naturally have better titles etc.

Avg. Position – I think this one’s obvious, but if you have a tag archive “ranking” but its consistently position 20-30 and beyond – can it. Unless (for some strange reason) you’ve been creating custom tag archive pages you’re not actively optimizing them… so they’e not going to magically start ranking better.

5. How To Safely Remove Tag Pages From the Index

aka LET’S DO THIS

Yeah, cause most SEO’s look like that guy… no image credit for YOU

Although I’ve had success doing this a bunch of times now, I would still recommend doing this just before some known slow time on your site… like the weekend etc.

Lastly, ONLY de-index tags IF you have your category pages (and the basics of the site for that matter) set up correctly. Please refer to the wordpress guide on Moz to check your category settings.

After all that, if you definitely decide to de-index tags, I would approach the removal process like this:

Before beginning: Set a benchmark and do a site: search in Google for your tag pages:

Just good practice to have a record before you go blowing things up.

Then…

1. Set tag archives to noindex with your SEO plugin (I prefer Yoast)

2. Inspect your site (source code is fine) to see the tag archives have the meta noindex tag on them.

3. Remove tag archives from the XML sitemap. Some people overlook this. You don’t need them in the XML file if they are not being indexed.

4. About 3-4 days later, run the site: search again – see if tag pages have been removed.

5. When tag pages have been removed, watch analytics and webmaster tools like a hawk for any errors or weird traffic dips. Like I said, I’ve yet to have this happen but you never know – without seeing your site, there could be an obscure setting (I doubt it)… but that’s just a friendly disclaimer.

With ANYTHING in SEO you have to use your own brain. Don’t just follow this guide blindly!

Nice Work!!!

 

About Dan Shure

I'm Dan (Google Plus Profile). I've been helping businesses improve their websites since 2007. Improving your bottom line is my number one goal. My obsessive nature and love for SEO as a true craft doesn't hurt either.

18 Comments

  • August 13, 2012 Reply

    Steve

    Hi Dan, thanks for writing this guide. I’d been looking to noindex my blog’s tag pages for a while now and didn’t realise how simply and straightforward process it was (especially as I use Yoast, too). Thanks for explaining it all – only took about 5 mins to do! :-)

  • March 2, 2013 Reply

    Sid

    Hi Dan,

    Excellent post!

    If tag pages do not get any significant traffic, would it make sense to delete them all?

    Lastly: Are all tag pages bad?

    • March 3, 2013 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Hey… thanks. You can still use tags for navigational purposes on the blog. Some users will find that helpful. It’s not that they’re just all “bad” by default – it’s just that they can cause a LOT of near duplicate content and thin pages in the index unintentionally, which can easily be avoided simply by noindexing them.

      • March 5, 2013 Reply

        Sid

        Dan,

        What you have said makes sense, and that’s the reason I have tags on my blog — for navigational purposes. However, with regards to tag pages causing near-duplicate content… don’t you think even category pages falls in the same category? Category pages may not cause a LOT of dup content or thin pages for a smaller site, but it’s still something to think about.

        I have NOINDEXED both tag and category pages after “buying” suggestions from local SEOs. Is this the way we should deal with them? What are your thoughts on this? Appreciate your response.

        • March 5, 2013 Reply

          Dan Shure

          Hey Sid

          Totally valid question. I think categories are fine to index, IF you keep them tightly focused (ie: only 7-10, don’t add posts in more than 2 of them). Even better if you can create some custom content for each category archive, like a description of the category etc like here: http://www.sugarrae.com/seo-sphere/

          Look at it this way – if you have only 7 categories, don’t index sub-pages, that’s only 7 pages in the index. What happens with tags, is people add them freely, and they can grow to be over 100′s of them.

          Hope that helps!
          -Dan

  • March 26, 2013 Reply

    Ram

    I thought that tag pages can get more visits as they have long tail keywords in the url. Now, i realize that those tag pages may not be of much worth. I followed your steps to deindex tag pages.

    Thank you very much for such a useful post :)

    • March 27, 2013 Reply

      Dan Shure

      You bet! And I do think at one point tag pages brought some more traffic, but recently I’ve really seem them drop off. Good to clean em out ;)

  • June 26, 2013 Reply

    jack

    A great aritcle and massive useful information! I just built my first site through wordpress and installed yoast seo plugin, now i have a question, i have already have categories and tags indexed by google, and I just followed ur tips unchecked the noindex for them, but will the already-indexed tag pages be removed automatically by google? or do i have to do something? looking forward to ur reply

    • June 27, 2013 Reply

      Dan Shure

      After you noindex tags, they will gradually be removed. Sometimes it takes a little while, but that’s ok.

  • September 4, 2013 Reply

    Ricky Dawn

    Thanks for the article Dan, I just have one thing to say:

    I personally no-index my category pages as well – I believe because they are essentially just holding duplicate content from 10 different pages they won’t rank well and could potentially cause duplicate content issues, especially when posts are in various categories. And in my various sites, and my clients all of the traffic tends to come from individual pages/posts anyway.

    I no-index follow them because that way it doesn’t slow down indexation and no-index pages do still gain Page Rank and pass link juice (as long as they are followed).

    I can’t see a downside to having categories no-indexed, what do you think?

    Kind Regards,

    Ricky

  • September 4, 2013 Reply

    Nihar

    Great article. I have done all the steps slowly from past half an hour and found out that I have already done my bit on seo plugin from yoast.com and have no index for mysite.com/tag.

    However, From last 7 years. I have lot of tags declared for posts. I think i should remove them or minimize them to few. I think that will improve performance right ?

    Do you suggest any plugin or let the tags be like that but don’t show the tags after the post (Right now, I show tags after the post as href)

  • October 1, 2013 Reply

    Chris

    Finally, a thorough and informative posts about tags and if they should be indexed.
    I just recently created a site and started using the google bundle; every time i would search my site, all I could see were tags.
    It just seemed like it was taking over and to me, i felt that it gave my site the impression of clutter-y and nonsense.

    Thanks the the step-by-step, too. You really helped cleaned my “garage”

  • October 5, 2013 Reply

    Skip

    Really enjoyed this and bizarre coincidence I started going through this process of no-indexing and removing from site map specific tags today with a view to deleting. You can still index tag archives in general but no index specific tags via the Yoast plug in. I have also started adding descriptions to both category and tags and including those descriptions in the templates to ensure more uniqueness. For my site I use categories and tags for different purposes and so duplicate archives are less of an issue. If that’s the case I don’t really see why category archives and tag archives should be treated differently for SEO purposes?

    • October 5, 2013 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Skip that’s the right idea, if you use them correctly then it’s not so bad to have them indexed. Trouble is, most people use them terribly incorrectly, especially tags, so often the easiest option is to no index them – when training them on the correct use of tags has marginal effect on things if any (I find). They seem to be good for very specific navigational purposes, or if the blog is so large enough it makes sense to have landing pages for each tag archive – and as mentions this assumes they are being used well. It sounds like you have things working well on your site though :)

  • June 12, 2014 Reply

    Pijush Mitra

    You clear my doubts, Dan. Thanks :)

  • July 18, 2014 Reply

    Rakesh Narang

    Nice post man!!

    I had checked noindex, follow in yoast but was still seeing tags in search results. I have now removed tags and categories from xml sitemaps as well, thanks to you. Let’s see if the tag results are removed from the site.

    Cheers,
    Rakesh

    • July 18, 2014 Reply

      Dan Shure

      Thanks – it can take some time for Google to deindex, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s up to like 6 months. I wouldn’t worry too much though, as long as the are noindexed, they’ll be removed.

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