Tag cloud is a visual representation or a navigation tool used to visualize the content of a blog or website.
In more technical terms, it is an arbitrary arrangement of keywords displayed on the blog to help viewers search content easily and to help search engine bots classify the site.
A tag cloud typically looks like this –
This screenshot is from this blog only. The big and bolder terms imply the kind of content published on a blog. When you see such tag cloud, you will find that all the tags are linked to specific content pages.
In short, a tag is a keyword in a link.
Historic Significance of Tag Cloud
The use of tag clouds arose in the early 2000 for Web 2.0 blogs and websites. Flickr, Technorati and Del.icio.us were among the first high profile domains to use tag clouds. They are known as “mullets of the Internet” or “keyword cloud”
However, after few years, its use started declining because of its ambivalence usage and benefits.
Types of Tag Cloud
There are three kinds of tag cloud:
Here, the frequency is counted as the number of times a single tag is applied to a single item.
Here, the popularity is counted according to the number of times a single tag is applied to multiple posts.
For instance, if I use the tag “small business” on hundred blog posts, the tag will appear bolder on the tag cloud display.
Tag as Categories
Bloggers using the Blogger platform will know that every tag added is counted as category. You will see that many Blogger-based blogs have huge ‘category’ listing.
Tag Cloud – To add Or not to Add!
The blogosphere is very much divided about the issue of tag clouds, including me. Lets see both its advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of a Tag Cloud
Some say that adding a tag cloud works better than a search box because the keyword cloud gives a viewer a highlighted illustration of a blog’s content. With a widget, you can show what a viewer could expect to find on a blog.
Sometimes categories are less beneficial than tags as tags are more useful in performing keyword classification. This keyword classification shows not only the reader but the webmaster as well the main keywords pulling in traffic.
Dynamic Information Display
Since a cloud tag sorts out the blog’s content, it is supposed to be more comprehensive, informative and dynamic. As a navigation tool, it directs readers into reading various blog pages.
Disadvantages of a Tag Cloud
Passing of Link Juice
The tag cloud is usually displayed as a widget on the sidebar. Some SEO experts believe that using a tag cloud will actually entail passing on the link juice to the sidebar heavily. In other words, the reader will be less interested in the blog page and more on the tag cloud.
As I said in the beginning, tag clouds are actually a meaningless arrangement of words that are hyperlinked. The cloud displays a lot of such keywords and as a result, when a search engine bot indexes the pages, the keyword cluster appear everywhere and sometimes, the bot will classify them as spam.
I am not sure how much any of these points are true or false, but it will be good to bring in what Matt Cutts says about this –
If you watch carefully, Matt neither confirms nor denies the usability of tag clouds but somewhere his attitude is on the other side, that is, tag clouds are not good for SEO and in fact, can harm a blog’s search engine rankings.
Note: Avoid adding fanciful animated tags. Its distracting and not good, the SEO-guru Matt says.
We’re in a Fix!
Now, if we go by what Matt Cutts is saying, we’re definitely in a fix!
Matt always stresses that what is good for the reader is good for site SEO. Therefore, if adding a tag cloud is good, why is it bad to display it on sidebar?
It’s ironic and I don’t have the answer to this dilemma.
Too Much Clutter
Adding a tag cloud section will make the webpage look full of clutter. It is really very distracting.
Adding of a tag cloud will increase the link count on every page. Too many links flowing from a single page is as it is bad and adding tag clouds will increase the problem.
How to add Tag Cloud?
If you are using Blogger platform, every tag added while writing a blog post is displayed on the blog page’s sidebar as categories.
If you are using WordPress, check out the widget section. You have “Add Tags”. Just pull it on the right-side and it will be active.
Alternatives to adding Tag Clouds
If you are swaying to what Matt says, you won’t want to display a tag cloud widget on the sidebar. So, what are the alternatives?
Popular Posts Plugin
Use the ‘popular posts’ plugin which will add the most popular posts on your blog on the blog sidebar. This list will help visitors to navigate around.
Related Posts Plugin
Use the ‘related posts’ plugin to show similar posts at the end of each blog post. It is an awesome way to direct users to similar content in the same niche.
You can choose to display ‘categories’ in the sidebar so the visitor know what all niches you deal with and what to expect from the blog.
What is your take in adding tag cloud and its role in SEO?