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Learn the Difference Between Keywords and Tags

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What Are Tags?

Keywords vs. Tags

Most article publishing websites and blogs like Hubpages let you tag your posts and articles with descriptive labels like "rugby" and "Australia."

And you've probably heard that you get traffic by using keywords, the words and phrases people type in to search the web with Google or other search engines.

But what is the difference between tags and keywords? They're not the same thing, and they do not work the same way. Unfortunately, many article publishing sites conflate the two.

Tags: An On-Site Filing System

Different websites have different "tagging" systems. These are labels you give your posts, short phrases such as "product review" and "cameras" and "digital cameras" and "Pentax."

On many sites, tags are open-ended: you can invent whatever tags you like, including custom tags that apply to a series of articles so that you can find them in a hurry. (E.G. on my mythology blog, I might have a tag called "cranky goddesses." It's an arbitrary in-house grouping, not something anyone would search for.)

Tags for an article are listed in the sidebar on some websites, or, for blog posts, at the top or bottom of the post. These tags link to what are called "tag pages," an index of all pages sharing those tags. Those "tag pages" link to other pages with the tags.

[UPDATE AUGUST 2014]: Hubpages used to let us tag our articles. However, it's now dropped tags altogether, for reasons I'll explain below.

Keywords: A Search Engine's Way of Classifying Webpages

Search engines see the web in terms of keywords, the words and phrases their users type in to look for things on the web. Search engines match these searches up to the keywords under which they have filed each webpages.

How do search engines decide what keywords to file each webpage under?

Every second of every day, search engine robots are crawling from one link to the next and examining all the text on each page they encounter. Is this a webpage on "box terriers"? Or is it a webpage on "shoe boxes"? Is it a "box terrier t-shirts and gifts" store, or is it a site with information on box terriers?

Search engines look at all parts of each webpage, from titles and URL, to images and clickable links, to decide what keywords each page is relevant for. They even look at which links point to and from a page, and check to see what keywords the pages at the other ends of these links are relevant for.

How search engines treat tags

So what about tags? Do search engines look at tags, a site's in-house filing system, to help determine keywords?

The answer is sometimes, but not very much. Here's why.

Once upon a time, site owners told search engines about in-house tags by embedding a special, invisible HTML code, the "META keywords tag" into their webpages. It looked something like this:

<META name="keywords" contents="brownie recipe,dessert,brownies,low calorie brownies">

In the 90s, search engines would actually trust the META keywords tag to help them decide what a page was about. But then everyone figured out that they could game the system by "stuffing" this tag with popular search phrases. Search engines stopped listening: it was like the boy crying wolf. "You claim your webpage is about 'squirrel humor,'" Google would sniff, "but I'll be the judge of that! Let's see just how many humorous squirrel pictures and jokes I can actually find on this webpage."

So search engines stopped trusting the META keywords tag, and nowadays sites like Hubpages don't even bother to fill them in.

But what about blog tags, Tumblr tags, or the like? Do search engines pay any attention to those?

Answer: sometimes. To search engines, they're just text links, no different from this link buried midway through the article. They're treated as a little less important, since they're in the sidebar.

However, on sites like Hubpages, there's a catch. Google penalizes sites with too much "shallow" content (whatever that means), and websites like Hubpages are afraid of tags pages full of nothing but links incurring a "shallow content" penalty. So Hubpages first hid its tag pages from search engines, and later, lest Google think it was doing something fishy, it ditched them.

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Other sites use tags, however. Also, many social media sites have adopted Twitter's practice of tagging posts with hashtags (tags marked with a # in front), so I think tags will still have a role to play for the foreseeable future.

Google Recognizes Tags

Tumblr creates special pages on its site indexing popular tags, and the most popular pages for those tags. Google has learned that #tags are the only way to make head or tail of the mess that is Tumblr, so Tumblr tag pages show in Google results.

Tumblr creates special pages on its site indexing popular tags, and the most popular pages for those tags. Google has learned that #tags are the only way to make head or tail of the mess that is Tumblr, so Tumblr tag pages show in Google results.

How to Use Tags

This means tags won't help you with keyword SEO -- at least not directly.

Instead, tags are mostly useful as a navigation system for your visitors:

  • They help users identify what your page is about and search for similar articles.
  • They are used by some websites to fill in the "Related Articles" in the sidebar.
  • On some sites, the on-site search box uses tags to help it find posts related to user searches
  • On social media sites using #hashtags, clicking on a #tag will pull up other posts using the same #tag. This is how users find other content that might be interesting to them.

Google takes user-created tags with huge piles of salt. However, there is one way in which tags are still slightly useful for SEO purposes, and have some influence on how search engines determine the keywords for your article.

On many sites, the "Related Content" links and #hashtags are visible to search engines. One of the ways that search engines decide how "relevant" your page is to a particular keyword is to examine links pointing to and from your page. If your page links to related content, and receives links from related content, it may rank better for a keyword relevant to that content.

Notice that in this case, the actual text of the tag is NOT what the search engine cares about. The tag could say "Flipspittle." But if it links to a page about bald eagles, and your page is about bald eagles, well, score one more relevance point for "bald eagles" searches.

Flipspittle notwithstanding, you want to use tags that are:

  • Relevant to your topic
  • Broad ("brownie recipes") rather than so narrow ("low-calorie gluten-free brownies") that no other articles share that tag

You want to avoid "orphan" tags used by no other pages on your site. Also, don't use ten different variants of the same tag ("box terriers, box terrier puppies, box terrier photos, box terrier gifts", etc). This doesn't help. Just go with "box terriers," which should hook your article up with plenty of "box terrier" hubs.

On a site with multiple users, it's a good idea to click on your tags and make sure that what comes up really does seem to be relevant and related to your topic, at least somewhat.

How to use keywords

I've already written an article on how to research, choose and use good keywords for search engine optimization, so with apologies, let me send you there.


Joanna Blackburn from USA on March 15, 2018:

That makes good since. Now if I could figure out some good ones.

nicey on January 26, 2018:

Hmm...I thought tags were synonyms of keywords. Thanks for explaining the difference.

Reginald Thomas from Connecticut on December 05, 2017:

Thank you for an informative article. This will help me down the road.

Nico Serd on September 09, 2017:

Awesome article!

Ellen (author) from California on August 23, 2014:

Oops. I'm glad you posted, Susan; I needed to update this article to remove references to Hubpages' tags (since Hubpages has dropped tags), and to explain about #hashtags, which seem to be taking over social media platforms.

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on August 23, 2014:

Another clear explanation from you. It's a common error to confuse keywords and tags

Kimberly Vaughn from Midwest on November 11, 2012:

This is a great hub! I had no idea that there was a difference between key words and tags. Voted up!

writerspower on October 08, 2012:

Excellent explanation in simple and easy to understand language. Thanks for this article.

Subodh Sarkar

ExpectGreatThings from Illinois on September 27, 2012:

This was such a useful article. Thank you for taking the time to write it and to respond to all the questions!

Dancing Water on September 06, 2012:

Thank you so much for an informative, well written hug!

greeneryday from Some tropical country on September 05, 2012:

Thanks! So there are ways to integrate the keywords into your hubs without have to modify the META tags in HTML code... you've been really helpful with your answers... really.. really appreciate...

Ellen (author) from California on September 04, 2012:

Basically, just fold those keywords into your article wherever they make sense for human readers.

Also, you can help boost your page's relevance for those terms by including them in some "key places" on the page. Search engines pay extra attention to the words in your section headers (capsule titles), image captions, clickable link text, the title of your page, and URL, so those are good places to use keywords. Just be careful not to overdo it -- if every single section title starts with "blue widgets," to the point that the repetition would be annoying for human readers, back off; search engines notice when you start repeating keywords over and over for them to the point that you alienate your real audience, people!

Search engines also analyze the body text of your article, every single word on the page, and have gotten quite sophisticated at figuring out which words are important. They even look at synonyms, so if you use the word "cell phone," your page could also rank for a "mobile phone" search. They also look for related terms, words that are often used in discussion of a certain topic; so, for example, "peanut butter and jelly" may help boost a page's relevance for the search "sandwiches".

greeneryday from Some tropical country on September 04, 2012:

If google does not "see" the tags, are there another ways to insert keywords in your hubs? I am sorry for this dumb question, I have just learned the difference between tag and keyword from reading this hub. Now I am wondering if there are ways to integrate keywords in your hubs? Anyway, thanks for writing such an informative hub, I have learned something new today. Voted up for interesting!

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on August 07, 2012:

I didn't realize my tags should be broad instead of narrow and that Google doesn't even see them! I'll be paying more attention to keywords from now on. Thanks!

Courtney L J on May 24, 2012:

yes, i had always wondered if a four-word phrase was broken into each of its parts-- thanks!

Ethan Green on May 03, 2012:

What a great article! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this so clearly. As a new hubber, this is just the sort of thing that makes all the difference to how well I'll get on. Much appreciated:-)


Kireina Jewellery from UK on March 28, 2012:

Very awesome thank you! Seo drives me crazy and this is clear, to the point and relevant. Thank you.

Ellen (author) from California on March 26, 2012:

Thanks very much, Dale! I'm so glad it's helping people, and I am of course very grateful for the traffic. :)

Pannonica on March 26, 2012:

Fascinating piece thank you, It seems every day I have to learn more and it's thanks to hubbers like yourself who take the time to explain some of this. Many thanks.

Brandon Lobo on March 25, 2012:

Cool I knew that the tags weren't read by search engines anymore. But I actually thought HP had them as Meta tags. just checked the source code and they're not :) Great hub came here thanks to Dale's post on another thread where he told a person to come over ;)

Dale Hyde from Tropical Paradise on Planet X on March 24, 2012:

Sending more traffic your way. :) Glad I found this hub...I have it bookmarked in my browser beings we can not bookmark them anymore on HP.

Ellen (author) from California on March 22, 2012:

Woot! Keywords vs. tags was one of the questions that puzzled me when I first started out, and several kindly folks (AJ2008, thefluffanutta) finally hammered it through my head. Glad to pass on this useful tidbit.

Dale Hyde from Tropical Paradise on Planet X on March 22, 2012:

Hi Kelleyward! I am tweaking my links in my hubs now, lol, and also I have reviewed the related links on the side and tweaked some tags to do away with some hubs that are not related. Your question got me motivated to research and slide into action.

kelleyward on March 22, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this useful information. I asked the question Dale Hyde posted this to answer. I now understand the difference between the 2!

Dale Hyde from Tropical Paradise on Planet X on March 22, 2012:

I searched for information, on Google, on how to answer a questions on HubPages forums...and this was the first at the top of the Google search page. :) Great job! Most informative, and has given me some totally new insight on keywords as well as tags dealing with search engines. Rather than try to answer the question in the forum I simply linked to this hub as a great source to answer the questions raised. Well done, voted up, interesting and MOST useful!

Greenblood from Toronto, Canada on February 05, 2012:

Thanks ! This article really helped me and now i can cut down lot unnecessary tags. But I wonder why sometimes search engine visitors land on tag results pages.

Devout Maven on February 04, 2012:

Simply Superb & Very Helpful... Good Work. Thanks.

RedElf from Canada on January 26, 2012:

Very useful and very clearly written - easy to understand. Thanks so much!

GClark from United States on November 13, 2011:

Well-written article with useful information.

Bryce from Northern California Coast on November 12, 2011:

Extremely helpful. I've been tinkering with tags and keywords since I came back to HP. Thanks for the clear and enlightening explanation.

AJ2008 on November 04, 2011:

This ia abfab (absolutely fabulous) :)

Thank you for such an interesting and clear explanation about the difference between keywords and tags.

rhysclay from Sunshine Coast, Australia on October 29, 2011:

Excellent article!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on October 05, 2011:


I have often wondered about this - great explanation with concrete terms. I am slowly trying to refine my technique and have learned that the tags recommended may not be the best-the computer is simply picking up words in the article which could be insignificant to the subject matter.

Thank for the important insight.

Marilyn Alexander from Vancouver, Canada on October 05, 2011:

This information is so helpful. I can use this immediately. Also, I can rethink my titles and phrasing throughout my hubs. I had not thought about the effect tags may have on what related hubs come up in the sidebar. That is extremely worthwhile. Thanks.

billabongbob from South Wales, UK on October 04, 2011:

Excellent hub greekgeek, I'll be following the comments on this one for a while. Thanks for taking the time to write about this. Voted up++++

Cloverleaf from Calgary, AB, Canada on October 04, 2011:

Hi greekgeek, I just know that I will be referring to this hub over and over again because it is packed with lots of goodies! Bookmarking and voting up/useful.

Ellen (author) from California on October 04, 2011:

@homesteadbound: Oh, you have some wonderful and important hubs, and those are good questions.

The question of tags comes down to, "What does each website do?" and "how do most users search for/refer to that topic?"

1. Punctuation and Capitalization: People tend to skip punctuation and capitalization when searching. I double-checked Hubpage's search box, and like Google, it's smart enough to match "Alzheimer's" "alzheimers" and "Alzheimer's" interchangeably. So that doesn't matter. Pick what feels comfortable for you.

2. Combining keywords: Tags are a list of things that an article talks about. Put different things as separate tags. So use one tag for "alzheimers" and another for "parkinsons", if an article discusses both. Make sure you've got real meaty content about each tag, not just a one-sentence aside mentioning a disease you don't really talk about much in that article.

3. "Alzheimer's diease" or just "alzheimers"? You have to be careful of keyword stuffing -- using lots and lots of different phrase variations to capture every single possible search with a keyword. But in this case, there really are two different names that many people use for your topic: "Alzhheimer's Disease" and "Alzheimer's". In that case -- possibly using the Google Keywords Tool to double-check and see if one term is vastly more searched than the other -- it's okay to use both, because you don't know which of those two tags other, related hubs are using. Probably some use one, some use the other.

Howard S. from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on October 04, 2011:

@coloringbookskids: Greekgeek has already replied to your keyword question (about 5th up from here). But allow me to add: Although you kept dropping words from one end or the other, you never changed the word order. Google will find any permutation of the words you list, but will list first the specific order requested, then permutations thereof, and finally instances with intervening words.

This is the problem Greegeek was alluding to when she pointed out that "Blue, red and purple widgets" will rank higher for purple widgets than for blue widgets or red widgets. It may also eventually list "red, white and blue flags" because most of those words occur in your title.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on October 04, 2011:

I have a question. I asked in one of the forums but never got an answer, I hope you can help. When entering tags, do I enter Alzheimer's or Alzheimers or does it matter.

And do I enter Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and disease or Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Or does it matter?

Your article is very good and I will be bookmarking it for future reference.

Ellen (author) from California on October 04, 2011:

manthy: I look forward to learning from you! I'm still an SEO journeyman, for all that I've been studying SEO for about four years.

coloringpageskids: Yes, you've got it! A 4 word phrase is sometimes very powerful, because it's got multiple search phrases inside.

You can experiment yourself by picking a 4-5 word phrase and Googling it, then dropping each word in turn. You'll see that the same webpage will pop up for different searches, with Google highlighting just the words in the title you searched.

However, I've noticed something odd about multiple-word titles: if you've got a title like "blue, red and purple widgets" you may find that other pages outrank yours for "blue widgets" "red widgets" and even "purple widgets", whereas if you'd just stuck to "purple widgets" you might have stronger relevance for that. Unfortunately, I don't know whether it's the title that's causing that, or whether it's just that it's hard to have the rest of the page sound equally relevant for all three phrases. (I'm guessing the latter).

For that reason I try to make myself focus a little more and not cram more than 3-4 keywords tops in the title.

And before we get too hung up on keywords and tags, it's always good to remember: they're just the labels, the filing system under which search engines and sites file our articles, which is important because it helps people find our content. But even more important is whether we've got useful, engaging, relevant, interesting, effective content that our visitors will like and (if we're lucky) recommend or link to because it's good enough to serve their purposes. In other words, the title of a book is how people find it when they are browsing a library card catalog, and a good title encourages them to take it down from the shelf, but there has to be something inside for them to read it and recommend it. ;)

Anas Shad from Pakistan on October 03, 2011:

Very useful article. Great info.

Allen Williams from Pennsylvania on October 03, 2011:


This is very interesting. I didn't realize there was a difference but it makes good sense. I enjoyed reading this and it is very useful. Voted up and useful. Thanks for a good hub.

coloringpageskids from USA on October 03, 2011:

Can I ask you a question about titles?

How does Google look at a title like this

high school yearbooks online free

does it see all of the following;

high school

high school yearbooks

high school yearbooks online

high school yearbooks online free

yearbooks online

yearbooks online free

online free

Mark from Alabama,USA on October 03, 2011:

Thanks - I have bookmarked this and I plan to do an indepth study about it, I WILL let you know the results because you have aroused my suspisions ;0)

Thanks for the awesome hub - Voted up and awesome

Ellen (author) from California on October 03, 2011:

coloringpages:Good questions! I don't know Hubpages well enough yet to answer the first one; I'm sorry!

My hunch is that staying focused on your topic is better than the scattershot approach. There's only six slots for "relevant hubs" regardless, so that's all the search engine will see. The readers who visit your Hub are probably less likely to look at a list of 20-30 tags (all very similar) than just 6-12. But that's just as guess.

As for keywords and tags being the same...there may be a minor benefit on Hubpages, in that other hubs in the "Related Hubs" box may emphasize those phrases as well, so it would establish links to and from pages relevant to those phrases. Again, the tag itself wouldn't convince search engines your page is relevant to that keyword, but your CONTENT -- and the other "related pages" content -- might do.

So there's no harm in using, say, your primary keyword in your tags, just in case.

The problem is, the most useful tags tend to be a little too broad for SEO purposes. To use your example, I might tag this hub "keyword SEO" if there were other Hubs using that phrase that might share useful SEO tips for my readers. But I would not select "keyword SEO" as a good keyword for search engine optimization. When I checked Google, I found over a million sites had "keyword seo" in the URL or page title. It's really tough to outrank that many competing pages on the whole web. I'd look for a popular search phrase with fewer competitors, for SEO purposes.

Does that make sense? I'm having a little trouble explaining things clearly today, meh.

coloringpageskids from USA on October 03, 2011:

Wouldn't tags that are also great keywords for an article be the best tags of all?

For example, for this hub

keyword seo, search engine and "good keywords" show up as google recognized keywords for your hub and are relevant and thus usable as tags?

coloringpageskids from USA on October 03, 2011:

If an author makes sure that every tag is relevant to their hub, and that those are not orphans, which is better.

More tags - as many as Hubpages will allow

Minimal tags - no more than five or ten

No difference - it does not matter

Would appreciate your opinion.

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