In 2004, the Web 2.0 philosophy introduced a new paradigm for the Web that also marked a huge change of direction in the approach to design websites than before. Tag Cloud was probably one of the most popular elements which characterized that period in web design. But are tag clouds really useful?
The main guidelines of the new trend in web design was simplicity, minimalism, central layout, bigger text, bold logos, gradient and reflection effects, which constitute the fundamental basis for a viral revolution of the face of the World Wide Web.
The community of web designers greeted with big enthusiasm the new “2.0” model and the result was a general run to restyle “old style” websites according to the new rules. Tag Cloud was probably one of the most popular elements which characterized that period in web design. That kind of data representation, which uses different font sizes or colors to highlight the relevance of a tag, was an original and new way to list visually tags related to the content of a website and its diffusion and success was immediate.
I have to be honest, I never found really useful tag clouds for browsing a website and finding what I’m looking for concerning a specific tag. Well organized navigation bars and search engines are the better solutions to browse and find everything you need on a website. I think tag clouds work fine with a small number of tags but in most cases, with big lists of tags, they become really difficult to read (this is mainly due to the difference of size between words) and can generate confusion and redundancy especially when similar tags are present.
For example, I am an avid reader of Mashable and I noticed some redundancy in its tag cloud that make it unclear. Here is a screenshot of Mashable’s tag cloud. As you can see redundancy are due to similar terms such as “advertiser – advertising”, “blog – blogging”, “list – lists”, “games – video games”, “social networking – social network”, “video – viral video”.
These duplicates don’t add any valuable information but generate only “noise” and confusion.
The problem of redundancy in tag clouds is widespread on a lot of websites and is mainly due to lack of content optimization. The solution is to provide a better organization of contents or avoid to use that kind of “misleading” tag clouds.
Another very important aspect that discourage the use of tag clouds is users don’t read each single tag but scan the content with the effect that only words with bigger size text capture their attention while smaller size words are ignored. In this way, for the final user, not all contents of a website will have the same “value” and “relevance” and this altered perception can adversely affect the site penalizing the enjoyment of some contents. The following image illustrate which words in a tag cloud capture the attention of users:
My conclusion is tag clouds are not really useful and necessary elements for providing a easier browsing experience to your users. I suggest you to avoid using them on your websites, adopting instead other solutions that allow users to find easily what they are looking for such as well organized navigation bars and internal search engines. This is the death of tag clouds. What’s your opinion? Every opinion is appreciated!