WP Tag Machine. OMFG. What can I say? It's a great idea. The plugin does what it says it will do, but… It introduces problems that didn't exist before, and it potentially creates the seeds of it's own undoing. So, our feelings are mixed about this plugin. That's the short-form, quickie summary statement. For more info, continue reading this review of Ankur Shukla's new WordPress plugin.
The Plugins We Love To Hate
As a long time user of WordPress, I both love and hate plugins. For those that don't know the lingo, a WordPress plugin is an optional add-on that enhances standard WordPress in some way. As of the time of this writing, there are literally TENS OF THOUSANDS of plugins, ranging in price from free to hundreds of dollars, ranging in capability from simple set-and-forget fixes for minor WordPress annoyances, to super-complex behemoths every bit as complex as WordPress itself. In some cases, maybe even more so. Check 'em out here, at the WordPress Plugin Repository.
Because basic WordPress itself is open-source and totally free, it has attracted millions upon millions of users, many of whom have graduated from simpler blogging platforms to WordPress because it offers much more in the way of features and capabilities, even straight “out of the box.” This probably explains, in large measure, why it has become the world's number one blogging and site building platform. Check out some of the amazing facts and stats here. With growth and success, not to mention a development team which actively encourages outsiders to improve WordPress, it is probably not surprising that a vast, diverse and thriving ecosystem has grown up around it.
As avid, experienced, battle-hardened WordPress users, we here at Web Marketing Services spend a considerable amount of time looking at, thinking about and quite often buying and trying the “latest, greatest, cutting-edgiest” plugins to come down the pike. Often not without trepidation. Because while things have gotten considerably better in recent years, as WordPress has pushed harder for more developer standardization and plugin creators have gotten more diligent about following the recommendations (if for no other reason than to cut down on their own customer service nightmares), it's still not a sure thing that any new plugin is going to work and play well with others. We don't worry about our sites breaking nearly as much as we once did – though, to be honest and fair, it does still happen. Which, as an aside, is why you should always be thinking about site stability with every move you make.
Fortunately, the days of having a crashed site for long stretches of time, and countless man-hours burned troubleshooting plugin conflicts, are mostly a thing of the past. But that doesn't mean even stable plugins aren't more trouble than they're worth. Far too often for my taste, they are. But that's another discussion for another time. The point is, you can now install new plugins with a fair degree of certainty that they're going to work as advertised, and not conflict with other plugins. Which is one of the reasons I was willing to give WP Tag Machine a try.
Tags, More Tags, Tags Galore
Now here's the thing: Normally, your WP tags are not that important. Why? Because they're a very teeny-tiny factor in SEO! See, most of the time, you're picking tags which are the same or closely related to the keywords you're going after — and those are the very same keywords hundreds or even thousands of other pages out there are also targeting. So, do you see why tags, intrinsically, used this way, have little or no value? It's not that the keywords-as-tags are the “problem.” Google sees them and makes note of them. It's just that, the competition is so fierce for those terms, your tags do little to help you win the ranking wars. In other words, in such cases, post tags can be roughly akin to a total waste of time. It's why many SEO experts, these days, tell you not to even bother with tags (though they do serve other purposes on site, SEO matters aside).
On the other hand, though… there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of keywords out there that nobody is targeting, because they have very little search volume. After all, who goes to the trouble of building content around keywords that aren't generating appreciable amounts of traffic? Nobody, right? I mean, why would they?
But wait! Hold on there! What if you could get all the little onesie and twosie visits to these terms to your site? Aha! Light bulb moment, right? Because all that “little” search traffic, in the aggregate, can amount to hundreds or even thousands of visitors per week. Yeah. Now we're talkin'!
And because nobody else is going after those terms, your keywords-as-tags mean that your site becomes the authority — in some cases, the only authority — for those terms. Which means you rank on page one, easy-peasy, and any time someone looks up those crazy little long-tail keyword you're chasing, they're probably going to click over to your site. Hell, in some cases, yours might be the only site listed for some of these very obscure terms.
So, that's the good news.
WP Tag Machine – Related, Long Tail Keywords On Demand!
The bad news is, who has the time to search for, hunt down and add all those keywords to a post? I know I don't. And if you're a normal person, you don't either. It could take a half an hour, an hour or even more. The research is the easy part, actually. All the typing and clicking is the killer! Which is where WP Tag Machine comes in. What it does, very simply, is go find all those related long-tail keywords, and add them automatically to your posts, as tags. Cool right? Bam!
I mean, it only adds 30 seconds or a minute to the time it takes to create a new post, and it can, in theory, bring in enormous real-world benefits to your site and traffic. Over time, it should mean a ton of visits with very little work — beyond the one-time setup — ever being necessary again. Worth it, right? And as the basic plugin is (currently, anyway) at a very reasonable price, it's in the near no-brainer category (not to be confused with WordPress Category*).
* Small WordPress in-joke. Very small. 😉
What WP Tag Machine does for you is give you an edge in your market nobody else has. I mean, it's entirely possible — unless your competition is actually using this plugin — that you'll be the only person in the world (!) making any kind of “effort” to rank for these extremely low competition, long tail keywords. Which is great!
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Is it ever? There's a problem. I would characterize it as a big problem. It's so serious, in fact, that I immediately fired off a note to the developer when I discovered it. And boy, was it an unpleasant discovery! Frankly, I'm surprised that I had to point out this problem, as IMHO it should have been discovered and corrected in beta. I mean, yeah, it's that egregious. Which goes to another pet peeve of mine: Software that is released before it's time. But that, once again, is a different discussion.
Many Little Tags, A Few Big Problems
This “little problem” with WP Tag Machine has nothing to do with functionality; in that department, it seems fine. No, the problem here is aesthetics! Yeah, that's right — the plugin's effect on how your site looks!
But look and feel isn't the worst of it, though it's directly related to the potentially far bigger problem. That being, site SEO itself!
Here's the thing: When you generate all those tags and add them to your post, they show up on your WordPress site! Now, it's true that not all WordPress themes show post tags, in which case it's no worries. Some themes allow you control whether tags show or not. That would work too. But with many WordPress themes, you have no choice but to show your tags (this theme being one of them). This means the tag area becomes, if not a weird-looking distraction, a God-awful, ginormous honkin' eyesore! Heck, on some shorter posts, the tags will take up more real estate than the posts do.
My main SEO-related concern about this plugin is that if too many people start to use it, Google will get wind of it and “fix it” but good. That is, do something with the search ranking algorithm to negate the advantages it provides. This has happened time and time again over the years. SEOs figure out how to game Google's system, and soon everybody and their idiot brother is doing it too. Not too much later, Google sees what's going on and kills it for everybody. But by the nature of what this plugin does, the “tag array” is a natural by-product. Uh oh.
Because of what this plugin is doing “behind the scenes,” the absolute last thing we want to do is draw undue attention to our post tags. Sadly, that's what WP Tag Machine does! In effect, it announces, in glaring neon and at the top of it's lungs, “Look over here! We're gaming Google!” Ugh. And as if that's not bad enough, it gets even worse…
If you're one of those site owner/operators who likes to use a tag cloud on your site, you're in big trouble! For the same reason this plugin bloats out your post tags, it does the same thing to your tag cloud — only far worse. Think about the problem here. Every post generates 100 or more long tail tags. Ten posts would generate 1000+ tags, all going into your tag cloud! Depending on how the tag cloud is coded (i.e. what it's limits are), you may quickly find yourself with a tag cloud that takes up more space on you site than the longest post does!
Further, the plugin offers no way to organize or prioritize tags. This is particularly bad as concerns the tag cloud, because all those plugin-generated tags are going to push out the tags you want the public to see. The purpose of a tag cloud, after all, is to give visitors a way to see at a glance what your site is “about,” and to access content of particular interest by clicking on a tag. If all the tags are “junk” long-tail keywords for which there is, most likely, just one post, the plugin completely demolishes any value in having a tag cloud!
Taking the Good with the Bad
So what is the solution? Well… sorry to say, there isn't one. I'm open to ideas, but I could not find a single plugin on the market that will or can control the output of WP Tag Machine (having to find one plugin to ride herd on another one not being a new phenomenon in WordPress, sad to say). You are left with the binary choice of either using it and dealing with these unpleasant side-effects, or not using it at all.
I dropped the developer (Ankur Shukla) a rather scathing note pointing out these problems and offering a suggestion on how to fix it. Whether I hear back from him or not is unknown at this time (duh). But I hope so. And I hope he decides to make the fixes that are necessary to address the SEO as well as the aesthetics concerns of this plugin. Because, for us, the former is critically important and the latter damn important, and any benefit to be gained from it might well be offset by the ugly stick it just hit this site with, and our concerns about Google.
We're going to let it ride (for the moment), and see if the plugin delivers on any of it's promises. We've got the software installed to monitor whether Google is indexing all those long tail keywords and see whether we're getting additional traffic therefrom.
So if you are not, A) concerned about the SEO ramifications of the bad aesthetics, and/or B) you have a theme that doesn't show post tags, I can tentatively recommend WP Tag Machine. Tentatively. Unfortunately, I cannot unhesitatingly recommend it at this time. Stay tuned. More to come…