Tag Cloud Do’s and Don’ts

tag-cloud-dos-and-donts-200x200I have been seeing a disturbing number of blogs with some creepy tag clouds. This isn’t something just recent. The tag cloud tragedies I’ve seen span more than a decade! 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 Do’s and Don’ts

Tag Cloud Don’ts

Tag Cloud Don’t #1:
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:
➡ 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 Don’t #2:

Another Tag Cloud Don’t is listing every tag on your site. For some blogs that have been around for many years or cover a lot of topics, the tag cloud can become really long. If you want your tag cloud displayed in it’s entirety, it might be ideal to only put it on your 404 page to allow people to peruse through it.

Tag Cloud Don’t #3:

Don’t create tags on your site and tag things just to tag them. Tags are important for your website so your visitors can find your article. WordPress doesn’t have the best search capability, but a well organized site that has relevant tags really helps.

Tag Cloud Do’s

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 as mentioned earlier in this article.

As a note, this article is categorized and directed for the WordPress user, but some of this tips can be carried over to other content management systems and blogging platforms.

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

    I gave up displaying a tag cloud long ago because they can get totally out of hand over time and mine did. That goes back to the early blogspot days when categories didn’t exist. I inherited them when I transferred to self hosted Wordpress.

    I can see the use if you have just a few categories and are careful at sensibly sub-categorizing them with tags. As you say you need to display them in an attractive manner too.

  2. says

    Tag clouds are great in theory, but are not necessary for a blog. I also think it makes a sidebar/footer or wherever it may be look outdated and cluttered. Stick with categories!

  3. says

    I never had a tag cloud, because I didn’t like they way they look. I try to make sure my title is specific and this what they can expect, when they click on the post. Thanks for helping blogger’s understand tag clouds and why not to use them.

  4. says

    I don’t use one personally as I find it distracting. However professionally as a marketer they provide a lot of good data that allows you to make decisions when it comes to conversations that people are having about a brand.

  5. Bonnie says

    Very interesting. I don’t think I’ve used those before, or at least I don’t think so? Will have to make sure I don’t.

  6. Melissa Smith says

    I honestly never knew what a tag cloud was until just now. I have a list on mine since I’m on Blogger, but have thought about getting my own domain & having drop-down menus.

  7. says

    This is my first time hearing about them. I’m always happy to come across this kind of information. I’ll be paying attention to see if I see these when I’m visiting other sites.

  8. says

    Tags are critical for linking posts together. I only use general tags and the name of a product. That way, if I talk about the product again, I can find all related posts easily – which is what tag clouds are for.

  9. says

    I mostly use my tags for my own amusement/categorization, and it helps my plugin to find related posts. I use my categories to sort posts and make it easy for readers to find more on a topic.

  10. says

    Hello Nile, I have seen these tag clouds on a few sites and really had no idea why anyone would want one, for me this just didnt look right.

    Great do and don’ts..Thanks for sharing.. Chery :))

  11. says

    Thank you for the great material! I always hated these massive useless tag clouds, especially when there’s ten blog post and fifty tags in the cloud already. I do agree that tags might be good for users and even SEO, but in case you really have hundred of post and there;s much more than one post under each tag – than it helps to find the info. In all other cases it looks and actually is spammy

  12. says

    WordPress tags can be a very simple but effective way of making your blog posts more search engine friendly. But adding Tag Cloud is sidebar or footer should be avoided for sure.

  13. says

    Great post! It is great information. This is the most effective way to learn more and know about tag cloud. This do’s and don’ts are very helpful and useful for choosing to avoid or using them. I will definitely share this article to my friends. I learned and many great insights here. Thanks for sharing this article.

  14. says

    I don’t like cloud tags – it would be interesting (I suppose:-) to know if many people actually click on the tags. Those I’ve seen seem like a waste of space. Good idea to do a review of them Nile, hopefully the people using the bad ones might get rid of them. Would’ve been funny to watch you trying to catch them:-)

  15. says

    Hi Nile! Nice Post to read and apply!

    A tag cloud, if used properly, can make a blog more engaging and increase page views. Design and colors used on a blog decides how visitors engage. Same applies to Tags widget.

    Have A Nice Day!

  16. says

    Tag clouds should go the way of blinking text and gif-ladden sites. They look messy and I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever clicked on one. They look like clutter and my eyes gloss over them like ads. I should be able to figure out the key terms on your site without one.

  17. says

    Well said, tag clouds with generic words in the tags and just one instance of each are not very helpful.

    I’ve pretty much stopped using tags at all. I know it’s a marker that helps people find posts, but I just got fed up of doing it. That said, with the Genesis themes I use the meta keyword field.

    I used to like the Wordle word cloud creator when Java was working.

  18. says

    I have never used Tag Clouds. Never actually felt the need for it. If you list out your contents in a structured manner, there is no real need to use Tag Clouds.

  19. says

    Hi Nile,
    I noticed that you don’t use a tag cloud, is there a reason for this.

    In the past I used a rotating tag cloud because it looked fun, but then stopped using it because of the loading.

    I like your suggestion to use a tag cloud for the 404 page.

    Thank you for sharing your expertise!

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