The Dangers of Deleting Tags on a Blog

Deleting Blog Tags

It’s a pretty simple matter, right? You’ve put tags on your blog posts, and now you want to delete them. Well actually, it’s nothing like as simple as it sounds, and it could cause you major problems. But before we delve into all that, why would anyone want to delete tags?…

REASON 1: REVISION

You may feel your blog needs better organisation. On platforms such as WordPress.com, the temptation is to add popular, generic tags so your posts can be found by larger numbers of users immediately after publication. But popular, generic tags are not always the most fitting, and they may not help your actual blog visitors much. So after your post’s ‘honeymoon’ period of high visibility in the host site’s tag searches, you may get the urge to delete the widely used tags, and instead add more obscure tags, which are much better focused towards your content.

REASON 2: REDUCING DUPLICATE CONTENT

Although Google’s Matt Cutts has expressed that duplicate content should not pose a problem for genuine bloggers (as opposed to deliberate spammers), many people, including some SEO experts, still treat his assurances with scepticism.

Tags are not just words attached to a post. They actually create their own additional pages. Pages which inherently feature the same content as the posts. Duplicate content, in other words. And since there’s still a belief that Google does penalise duplicate content (causing the site to rank less prominently in search), there can develop a sense among bloggers that tag pages, and therefore the tags, need to go.

WordPress.com is of particular concern as regards Google’s indexing of tag pages, because unlike with Blogger (.blogspot), WP.com users cannot access the blog’s HTML code or Robots.TXT file to selectively block Googlebot.

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REASON 3: AVOIDING DEFLECTION OF TRAFFIC

There’s an additional problem with Tumblr. Like WordPress, Tumblr creates tag pages on the subdomain (i.e. your actual blog), and on the root domain (i.e. the main hub and search area of the platform – in Tumblr’s case, www.tumblr.com). However, on the search engines, the tag pages on Tumblr’s root domain will very often outrank the tag pages and the posts on your actual blog. The result is that Google refers web surfers to Tumblr.com rather than to your own subdomain. And when this happens, the surfer may not even find your content, because the communal Tumblr tag page constantly evolves, so someone else’s posts may well have replaced yours at the top.

Tumblr vs WordPress

Above, you can see the difference between Tumblr and WordPress as regards big keyword searches from Google. I searched “wordpress sausages”, and “tumblr sausages”, and look what happened. The top three results for WordPress lead to the homepages of people’s actual WordPress blogs. But the top three results for Tumblr lead to tag pages on Tumblr’s root domain (i.e. not users’ blogs). This is unlikely to affect a Tumblr user for common keywords, but for obscure keywords you may, by tagging a post, be handing your blog traffic, or at least some of it, to the host site.

Upon realising that this is happening, some Tumblr users may decide to delete tags in a bid to stop the fruits of their hard work being poached by Tumblr and its other users.

Additionally, some tag pages can outrank their source posts on the blogs themselves. The web surfer is referred to your blog, but because they hit a tag page rather than the post, they may find it much more difficult to locate what they wanted. Tag pages can be confusing to the reader – especially if your blog allocates a higher number of posts to each one.

There are other, more personal or individual reasons bloggers may want to delete tags, but the three I’ve documented are the most obvious.

SHOULD YOU DELETE?

Whether deleting tags is a good or bad idea depends on a number of things, but typically it’ll be a bad idea.

Firstly, the ill effects of deleting tags can be much greater than the ill effects of duplicate content. When you delete a tag from a post, you may be deleting a page from your blog, so if you delete a lot of tags in one go, you potentially delete a lot of pages in one go. That can make for disaster on the search engines. Apart from the fact that Google sees drastic shrinkage in your site and perhaps perceives unreliability, the tag pages you delete may have been linking to the main posts on your blog, which means you could also be losing a lot of internal links.

WORDPRESS: Let’s say your blog has a sidebar with a Latest Posts widget. Your Latest Posts widget displays links to your 20 most recent posts. Now let’s say you go on a mad rampage deleting tags, and you lose 110 tag pages. You’ve now lost 20 x 110 internal links – that’s 2,200. And that’s only from one sidebar widget.

Your content may be interlinking in other ways too. You may lose default links to the homepage, About page, etc. If you go raving mad deleting tags on a blog you can easily throw 10,000 internal links down the drain in a single moment of hot-headedness. Provided the links were not considered to be spam, then to put it mildly, Google will not interpret the disappearance of 10,000 of them positively. Anyone mass-deleting tags on a WordPress.com blog can expect to see issues with search status.

TUMBLR: On Tumblr, the negative effect may not be so drastic. Tumblr’s inherent SEO is nowhere near as good as that on WordPress, so you may not have so far to fall in the first place. But also, Tumblr blogs are less likely to have sidebar widgets, and the default interlinking of posts and pages is typically sparse. This means an archetypal Tumblr blog will lose far fewer internal links than a WordPress blog when tag pages are deleted. The blog will, however, still shrink, which is clearly a problem. Any measure which suggests to Google that a site is going backwards rather than forwards, is going to be a major risk.

BLOGGER: The situation with Blogger (.blogspot) will depend on whether you previously took the step of blocking Googlebot’s indexing of tag pages. If Google doesn’t have your tag pages indexed in the first place, then deleting them should have no effect on the blog’s presence in Google search.

However, there may still be indirect consequences, and you still have to consider that visitors may have bookmarked specific tag pages to keep an eye on that particular topic, on your blog. If a bookmarked page disappears, the individual who bookmarked it may simply delete the link from their browser and not replace it. People may also of course have linked to your tag pages on third party sites. Whilst those links are probably not going to be deleted when you remove your tags, any visitors clicking them are going to find an empty or non-existent page, and that’s obviously not going to help your site’s reputation.

If you have allowed Googlebot to index your tag pages on Blogger, then potentially, you’re going to have a problem similar to that on WordPress.com when you delete a lot of tags. A potentially big loss of internal links, and a perceived shrinkage of the site.

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WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?…

DUPLICATE CONTENT: If you’re just worried about duplicate content, easily the best solution is to use a ‘More’, ‘Read More’ or ‘Jump Break’ function within each post. All three of the major free blogging platforms offer this facility. You simply insert a ‘Jump Break’ or ‘More tag’ a few lines into each post, and then everything on your blog other than the actual posts themselves will be reduced to a snippet or taster. Tag pages now appear as a series of titles and snippets, rather than long expanses of content. It’s much easier for visitors to understand and navigate, and equally importantly, search engines can much more easily recognise that the posts should be prioritised and the tag pages are just for support.

Wordpress More Tag

The capture above shows how a post will look on a WordPress tag page once you’ve inserted a ‘More tag’. Only a small taster of text shows, and if readers want to explore the full post they need to click the Continue Reading link. Whether you include a picture in your taster is up to you.

This WILL deal with the problem of self-produced duplicate content, because only a fraction of the post is duplicated, and the real substance of each post remains singular.

On Tumblr, it also means reblogged posts will appear as snippets (on WordPress they do by default), and it should get a lot more people clicking through to your blog. When I implemented this on one Tumblr blog, my traffic very rapidly doubled. It depends how many people are reading your entire posts away from the blog, obviously, but if people are interested enough, and they can’t see the content in full, they will inevitably click through.

REVISION: If your concern is revision, and you want to delete inappropriate tags then replace them with appropriate ones, it gets more complicated. In theory, the set of new tag pages created when you add the new tags, will make up for the loss of the old ones. So the internal link totals may not drop, and your site may not shrink.

However, if some of your existing tag pages have powerful backlinks from third party sites (people have linked to them from major forums or whatever), then you’re going to be losing pages to which Google awards higher status, and replacing them with pages to which, initially, Google awards lower status. That means you’re losing more powerful internal links and replacing them with less powerful ones. No prizes for guessing what happens when you do that.

You may of course find that no one has linked to your existing tag pages, but even so, Google now has some very sophisticated metrics for determining what’s important and what isn’t. I would be very reluctant indeed to delete long established tag pages on blogs which already have a decent presence on the the search engines.

The only solution I can really give here is to use the right tags in the first place. It’s very tempting to use those big, generic tags to attract interest immediately after you publish. But the effect of doing that is incredibly short-term, and those readers are often not very engaged anyway. Most are just looking for posts to ‘Like’, so they can show up in your notifications and get reciprocal attention for themselves. It makes more sense to tag in an organised and properly-focused fashion from the start.

Add extra tags if you need to, but I wouldn’t advise deleting generic tags when you’re not precisely sure what the losses will be.

DEFLECTION OF TRAFFIC: In large part, putting ‘Jump Breaks’ / ‘More tags’ into your posts will solve this problem. On Tumblr, you may still find your posts getting outranked in major keyword searches by Tumblr’s own root domain, but the solution to that is really to increase the status of your own blog, rather than attempting to deprive Tumblr.com of tag pages.

There are some arguments against using tags at all on Tumblr, if you care about your appearance on Google. My busiest Tumblr blog has never used tags and it gets a very healthy stream of traffic from Google. But some of that will be down to indirect issues. For example, not using tags means that far fewer Tumblr users will find your posts internally and reblog them. Reblogs are duplicate content.

Whatever Matt Cutts says, Google does not, ideally, want duplicate content, and in my opinion having it around does pose a risk to search status. Rapid duplication could prove a particular problem when your own blog is new, and Google is not used to crawling it. The search engine might, in a case like that, interpret a duplicate as the original and give it premium ranking. Matt Cutts’ advice on this situation was basically for the victim to serve a DMCA notice, so he’s clearly not that confident in Google’s ability to correctly assess multiple instances of the same content.

CONCLUSION

The potential of tags to cause both positive and negative effects should not be underestimated. The best rule is to decide what you’re going to do and stick with it. You can build a successful blog without any tags at all, but if you build a blog with lots of tags and then delete them, you’re asking for trouble. It’s the chopping and changing that causes havoc – not the basic policy of using or not using tags.

I know from past experience that deleting blog pages which Google perceives as important can have a devastating knock-on effect. Self-duplicated content can be problematic too, but only, in my experience, when you don’t use ‘Jump Breaks’ / ‘More Tags’.

The nature of tag pages means that sometimes you can delete a few tags and not lose an actual page. For instance, if you allot 5 posts to each tag page, and you have 15 posts tagged with “sausages”, you’ll have 3 “sausages” tag pages. You could delete 4 “sausages” tags without losing a page, because it still takes 3 tag pages to house your remaining 11 posts. Delete another 1 tag, however, and tag page #3 vanishes, because your 10 remaining posts will now fit onto just 2 pages. That’s how it works. It’s complicated, but important. Ignore the complexity of tag use at your peril!

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