Tag Cloud Dos and Don’ts

I have been seeing a disturbing number of blogs with some creepy tag clouds. Some have no CSS spacing implemented and others, well, they really are a ‘drag’ on the layout’s load time. I am not going to draw this article out, as I would like feedback from you all on your tag cloud practices.

I get a lot of questions whether if people should use tag clouds on their site or not. I usually ask them if they tried one on their site and made an opinion of its look and whether it fits with their site. Then, I would ask them if they had categories and if it was necessary that they have the tags when they also offer a search form. These are just a few factors I have always considered.

However, I want to focus on the aesthetics of the tag cloud. I have pulled one example of a ‘do’ and one of a don’t. Then I will give you my best advice. Out of respect of the webmasters the screen shots of these tag clouds belong to, I am not naming them.

Tag Cloud Don’t
This tag cloud was actually rotating the tag words. This slowed the load time of the site down and it was annoying as I tried to play catch to click on the tag word. It looked like the big bang theory happened in the sidebar of this person’s page. It was definitely a do not. The tag cloud had no real value except to look like a nifty tool. In fact, the webmaster used it on a Compositio WordPress layout by Design Disease and it severely detracted from the original layout. Also, as a note, the small screen shot was cut down in length from the actual size.

What can be learned from this Don’t:
:arrow: There is no reason to make a tag cloud look like it is a blog all on its own or something you tossed cookies on. Keep your tag clouds simple and relevant to your site.

Tag Cloud Do

This tag cloud is much better than the previous. The tags are spaced well and they are in alphabetical order. Another great example, although the webmaster does not have the tag cloud up anymore. It is a shame as I thought it was one of the best yet. What they did was instead of alphabetical order, they specified the parameter of their tag cloud as largest count to smallest and from that, adjusted the CSS to have a pleasant rainbow type color effect.

The WordPress Codex talks about customizing your tag cloud template by changing the parameters like excluding certain tags, specifying how many should be listed and even the tag order. I recommend taking a look at it and finding out what is best for your blog if you do like to use tag clouds. You may just want to create a tag cloud archive page instead of listing your tags in your sidebar. In fact, it might be a nice addition to your 404 page.

Do you use a tag cloud? Why and what are your suggestions on improving how a tag cloud should be displayed? Any tricks to share?


  1. says

    Hi Nile,

    I have one of those rotating tag clouds, because I think they are fun.
    Yes I agree with you that it could be annoying to ‘play tag/catch’ to get the word you want.

    The reason I like having a tag cloud is that it gives visitors another way to find something that interests them.

    Thanks for the food for thought and the review.

  2. says

    Thanks for clearing this out Nile. I’ve never imagine that the rotating tag cloud can affect the loading speed of our blogs. Rotating tag cloud looks fancy than the static but clicking tags is uncomfortable.

  3. says

    Before I am using the rotatng type of tag cloud but I realized aside from slowing the page load time it really do me no good so I use the conventional tag cloud.

  4. says

    Tag clouds are tricky and although they can be very useful, most are very tacky and not professional. If I am imagining it correctly, I like the idea of going from largest count to smallest count (as long as it is organized correctly). Great post and I will definitely pay more attention to my tag clouds.

  5. says

    oooops! I must admit to being one of the users of the spinning tag cloud! :) I think it was one of the first widgets I ever used all those years ago.

    I see your points and now I have removed it. I remember at first it seemed quite cool but now it has just got too busy.

    Would you recommend a widget for displaying categories rather than tags? Or none?

    Thanks for the tips!


    • says

      Actually, since WordPress 3.0 and the new menu system, you can actually put together a menu in Appearance>Menus and then go to the widgets and insert it into your theme. It can be categories, or pages, or you can make a custom menu for whatever you like.

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