Intuitive Navigation with Tag Clouds

In the thread The Real Blogosphere Kim Krause Berg is interested in

finding someone who can make archives more usable. They are a blog nightmare, I think, for long-time blogs with years of archives. All those pages of posts could be little gems of history, links, and information, with ads and text ads on them to bring in revenue. Blogger sorely lacks ways to deal with sorting blog posts for example. Some software offers categories, which is a big help. Most blogs are immediate resources which could be changed if there was a way to drill into them deeper.

Kim is asking for a solution for existing pages/archives but the whole sub-thread got me thinking about optimizing the intuitive navigation for new visitors. Every first time reader always has to face the problem to handle a new site design and some kind of the blog owners personal content strategy. BTW I responded pretty arrogant that “this (problem) sounds exactly like somebody made the wrong decision for the wrong system architecture” – which I believe is true but not a real answer. So how can we get a flexible solution which suites many platforms and has good usage values for the king – our readers?

I think for big pages tag clouds are a very intuitive tool to understand and to use in these cases. Their look & feel is kind of ‘universal’ and the information compression rate is impressive. I did not implement tag clouds on my pages yet but right now I start to think that this is a good idea. What do you think? How are your experiences with good navigation on huge blogs?

Just today I got a recommendation for from a famous German blogger. He has a site with many articles and is pretty proud of his tag clouds. He only uses it in the article view and he said that he restricts single clouds to his individual WordPress category feeds which caught my curiosity. What you could do with that is to integrate different clouds on your archive page or on a specific ‘tag cloud page’. Textpattern i.e. offers the template tag txp:feed_link which can be used in templates to create different feeds. Of course you can also use external RSS feeds with zoomclouds to offer more content on your page.

I only checked very roughly but it looks promising. Basically they read RSS feeds and you can restrict the time window from ‘actual feed’ over ’24 hours’ in some steps up to ‘forever’. They offer an API, design customization, design templates, tag filters, tag click statistics and you can create more than one tag cloud. One disadvantage though is that every click on a tag first leads to the zoomclouds page so you risk to loose visitors but that’s the rule of the game. For Textpattern I could have a general tag cloud on the front or archive page and I could also easily customize the individual TXP section template pages to have different tag clouds for every section of the site. I believe tag clouds could be a good additional feature maybe combined with a ‘related posts’ block.

Are you using tag clouds? What is your experience? What are the best tag cloud services on the Internet? I am really interested to hear more about that subject!

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26 thoughts on “Intuitive Navigation with Tag Clouds

  1. You need some inspirations on tag clouds? This article is a typical great example list plus some valuable editorial comments.

    This article offers some selected examples of tag clouds, its shortcomings and also some suggestions for tagging data and links in a more profound and effective way.

    Check it out: Tag Clouds Gallery: Examples And Good Practices

  2. I solved the page dependent meta description solution with a nice Textpattern workaround. The same logic might be helpful for other blog/CMS systems.

    Trick: Textpattern with page dependent header meta description

  3. I am looking for a plug-in which only generates a meta-description tag. Somehow a meta-description generator with the following features is not available.


    1. Some pre-defined leading text
    2. if article – The standard TXP keywords for that article (optional: custom field)
    3. if article list – some pre-defined keywords
    4. if search result – some pre-defined keywords
    5. Some pre-defined trailing text
    6. An option to cut the meta-description tag to a maximum length

    A solution would be very welcome! Not only by me!

  4. Sorry guys, haven’t been keeping up.

    The TXP tag cloud will be publically released by the developer once I officially launch my blog on June 12th. That’s all I can say about it right now.

  5. I missed to type “… PM (also)” … thanks Chris (soooorry 🙂

  6. shotoshi do let us know here when it is available, I look forward to hearing more!

  7. Sotoshi, where should I stay tuned? Send me a PM!

    What are the features of your new solution?
    And how would you compare you custom developed plugin to the other existing solutions?

  8. Markus, I’ve been following this discussion with interest as I’ve just had a tag cloud plugin custom developed for my TXP blog which will be released for public consumption soon, once I have ‘launched’ my site. So, stay tuned!

  9. Nick, that’s nice, didn’t know that yet 🙂

    Blaine, another great word “intrinsic” – thanks for that gem. In return I’ll give you “defenestrated” which I like very much.

    I think I have found/implemented a nice compromise on my Textpattern site. What I am doing now is using the mentioned TXP plugin which only uses my own local keywords.

    The archive navigation structure in general now is:

    • Right on top a colorful and pretty childish cloud ‘toy’ from the excerpts on top. I will throw that away again probably because of slow script performance or exchange it against my keyword cloud.
    • Articles by category
    • Articles by date
    • And the site will get more sections which will become the basic structure followed by categories.

    On the front page where I only post the excerpts I now have the keywords as comma separated linked tag list below the excerpts. The keywords links trigger a site wide search for articles tagged with that keyword. Below the keyword-search-result I have a keyword cloud containing all keywords listed alphabetically. All keyword links have clean URLs linking to a /tag/ section (i.e. and all these links have rel=tag!

    On a single article page I have
    a) the keywords listed above the header without links and in the order as I put them into the keyword field.
    b) the keywords listed in the meta keywords header tag
    c) I will also put them in the meta description header tag for single articles.
    d) Below the article I now have the keywords as comma separated linked tag list.

    You may check the features here: It’s a German site but for the point & click navigation check it should be self explaining 🙂

    As you can see right now I am using absolutely no classical navigation structure like a sidebar (this will probably change in the future). Do you think that the navigation is OK (intuitive?) like it is or is it crappy?

  10. So, stick this into your digital SLR or VOIP blog, but leave it off the blog about retiring to Arizona.

    that’s the best advice so far

    horses for courses…

  11. Drupal has a tag cloud module called tagadelic which works pretty nicely. It is available as a big cloud for all of your taxonomy terms or as a block that you can add to the navigation of individual pages/sections of your site.

    While I love these systems, I’ve heard some more typical end users say “it looks like someone just barfed on that page” when I impelemented it on a community site. I think that these are great for sites that have “advanced” users but they can be confusing for a site that is focused on less computer savvy users.

    So, stick this into your digital SLR or VOIP blog, but leave it off the blog about retiring to Arizona.

  12. I thought about tag clouds but in the end settled on a swicki instead for a site I’m developing. It’s useful because it allows me to push my own posts on certain niched topics, but also lets readers search similar sites from sources I’ve suggested.
    For highly niched sites it is very useful because it allows you to provide a means of organizing and promoting your own site, and searching too.

    Link: swickis.

  13. Sebastien: I agree with you that archives are not used by readers, but that’s probably because they are unorganized and thus difficult to navigate. Add to that the likely fact that most people surf blogs instead of actually seriously reading. That is, they probably browse a post or two, but rarely sit down and thoroughly read more than a couple of posts. Unless they’re doing research.

    Markus: There is yet another type of tag cloud that you could create. If you use PFF’s Technorati, etc., tagging feature, you could also these tags for the cloud tags. I find that the despite defining a set of categories on my blog platform, my Technorati tags are never exactly the same as these. So they provide supplemental topic information. What’s more, you could implement this on any blog platform, either locally or externally.

    Another type: A theme pyramid tag cloud? Hmm? I don’t see where Richard referred to that, but it’s actually not a bad idea. Topic-wise, you’ll have a lot of synonmous or related terminology. And you won’t have the extraneous nonsense “tags” that get included if you build a cloud using the text of entire posts (or full-text RSS feeds).

  14. I would not want any intrinsic navigation to my site to have an intermediary offsite middle point. If I implement tag clouds, they’d have to be some sort of local solution.

  15. Well I don’t like tagclouds very much as they are often not very usable nor accessible. I made a study using MapSurface and found archives were not used by users. So I put them in the footer, to favor other navigation schemes like categories and pagination.

    I also put links in my posts to older relevant ones and trackbacks the old ones, so that users can “follow” the development of a topic.

  16. Update: I just did some research for Textpattern plugins which will create tag clouds and this the search link: – search “cloud”

    All look promising but may favorite at the moment is tru_tags because it uses the standard keyword field in TXP. I am always looking for simple and stable solutions 🙂

  17. I use the WordPress plugin Ultimate Tag Warrior to tag my posts, from this I can generate a very nice tag cloud (mine is color and size weighted) that I’ve put at the top of my main blog page. Readers can immediately see the topics I cover and which ones I cover them most. I think it provides a great blog overview and easy access to the archives that is much more descriptive than categories (unless I were to implement a hundred categories).

  18. Gliks asks “Has anyone implemented this yet in blogger?“. The answer is a simple Yes because you just feed the external service with a RSS feed and from that feed a cloud will be created. Use any RSS feed you like and send through the cloud creating service. It’s up to your imagination which RSS feeds to use, the simple Blogger one, a more sophisticated FedBurner feed or a complex SuprGlue feed.

    One word/disclaimer in between … I have just started yesterday (!) to explore the service. I am in no way saying that this is the best service or whatever. They have a great approach and it was easy to implement my first tag cloud through their service. Please insert the typical disclaimer her: “no affiliate, not working for them, etc.”

    Another definition has to follow … to be precise I am talking about a ‘word cloud’ which can represent everything including tags but as Raj explained before most ‘clouds’ do text analysis and offer a graphical excerpt.

    Raj and Richard … These ‘representations’ of your site/feed/whatever must be as simple to use as a sliced bread. I think every approach to transform them to a research tool with (many or complex) interactive possibilities destroy the intuitive approach for the readers/1st time visitors. If a reader first has to use switches, read instructions, understand the layout or mark check boxes  the whole process goes in the wrong direction! I understand very good what you are saying because that was exactly what my ‘database/researcher hat/head’ was saying about the clouds (since yesterday).

    Raj … Only using the excerpts is what I do now. But my excerpts on that specific page are table of contents for the articles. Most articles contain three to ten sub-headlines which I list in the excerpt. And the sub-headlines are constructed like “Business : Shop : The new Indian grocery”. People having different excerpts or even automatic excerpts should find another way to build the clouds … why not using the full-feed?

    Richard … theme pyramid clouds would be great (!!!) but I have no idea who offers such a feature (for free). Drilling down a subject and getting a more specific cloud on the next page would be an awesome feature. But I am sure that this has to be implemented inside the CMS system and cannot be offered by an external service. I know expensive commercial solutions from publishing houses which are great but also have the disadvantage that they must be trained to understand result clusters.

    Artem … thanks for your comment I have no value to add 🙂

    The last point … zoomclouds offers positive and negative filters. This way you can force words to show up and you can define stop words which will not show up. Right now I am thinking how to use this with i.e. my feed(s) …

  19. I’ve recently been contemplating the use of tag clouds in my site and am pondering a couple extended notions:

    1. I think it would be useful to further distinguish the cloud by date-relevance. What I mean by this is something along the lines of: if a tag has seen an article within the last 30 days, color the tag red (hot!); if the tag’s most recent article is 30-90 days aged, color the tag blue (current) and anything older than 90 days, color it medium gray (dated).

    2. Tags, as far as I can tell right now, are basically one-hit functionality. What I mean by this is: click tagA, get tagA results; click tagB, get tagB results, etc. I’d love to see a checkbox next to each tag that defaults to unchecked and implies the one-hit behavior just described BUT… when the box is checked and a tag is clicked, it drills down into the current result set rather than selecting a new set: click tagA, get tagA results; check the box and click tagB, now get a subset of the tagA results that logically-AND to tagB.

    Haven’t done anything yet becauses I’m still in the brainstorming phase of consideration so if anyone would like to contribute to this idea or even run with it themselves, feel free!

  20. I am using the tag clouds for my public blogs and not using for my private blogs in the company Intranet (just because the internal software doesn’t support). So from the own experience I can tell that the tag clouds are much more useful and easier to handle. You don’t have to struggle inventing a category structure in advance, you can assign several tags to posts, etc. Eventually much more people actually uses tag clouds to search for your content. Generic categories are usually too broad to really investigate them.

    You could have felt it with a broad Performancing categories. Several times I tried to find a particular post here, failed to get it by searching and had to examine the whole big category to locate what I was looking for. It would be much faster to browse couple of tags related to the topic, than the whole category.

    That said, it doesn’t mean that categories (or tag categorization) is useless. It would be useful to have some tags, that act as categories (you can mandate to attach at least one of those to the every post). It is also be useful to separate single big tag cloud into several clouds with a different purpose.
    For example, I maintain a Symbian Example web-site, where I (and hopefully another guys ) publish and discuss the software code examples. Every “code example” post includes a zip file, “topical” tags and a set of special tags to show what hardware/OS was this example verified on. These “verification” tags are NOT included into the tag cloud not to mix two different ways of categorization. Some time later I’m going to create a tag cloud for the “verification” tags, but it is going to be a separate cloud.

    To conclude the long and messy comment
    1. Tags are useful
    2. You don’t have to completely abandon the idea of categories, when switching to tags. Use the advantages of both systems

  21. Yes, I agree with your comment, but type 1 is compact compared to type 2. I like your 3rd type. Very interesting. What about an “animated” cloud? Take your third type, but put it through a rotation of categories, thus having the tag cloud mutate like a real cloud. This would give insight into all categories. However, you would need to have a visible explanation somewhere for this, else it may be confusing.

    Still, will only using excerpts to create the cloud cover all the depth of topics of your blog? What about using the “synopsis” field of each post and then creating the cloud from that? Provided you write accurate synopses, you’d have a very relevant, organically-changing tag cloud.

  22. A valuable comment as always.

    Type one is definitely not a good tool to drill deeper into the content.

    Type two is what I just did for my site on the archive page but with a little difference. I feed the tag cloud only with my excerpts which presents high relevance results and has the side effect of showing the excerpt in the result page. I restricted the output to 100 words/tags and I will collect/analyze the feed output ‘forever’. The cloud is ordered by relevance which puts the high level keywords to the beginning.

    I will introduce a type three on my site … At the bottom of the articles will be a tag cloud only showing the tags for that category/section. I believe that this will be a great motivation for visitors to just ‘play around’ and stay on my site to read/discover more. I will also add a link to the ‘whole site’ tag cloud.

    I will do some more research for available plugins for Textpattern. I am really starting to like the tag clouds for my sites … until today I was not liking them too but readers/friends feedback told me that visitors like like that toy approach.

  23. Initially, I didn’t like tag clouds, but they’ve sort of grown on me if they’re done right. I’ve seen two different types of tag clouds:

    1. Based on category names. These clouds display the names of your blog’s defined categories. (Obviously, this solution will not work for a platform such as A count of posts for each category is produced, and category name’s size is increased based on the count. But this type does not give you insight into related topics. Instead, it’s a visual paradigm to show category relevance for your blog archives.
    2. Based on the text of your posts. Every single word of every post is counted (with the exception of stopwords such as “as”, “the”, “and”, etc.), and the word is displayed at a font size proportionate to the occurrence count. While this version is theoretically more useful for blogs with hundreds or thousands of posts, the resulting cloud can be overwhelmingly large. The benefit of this type is that it’s not reliant on a blogging platform with categories.

    Technology Evangelist has a tutorial on building a category-based tag cloud for the MovableType blogging platform. I adapted their example for WordPress V1.5( However, my version has a few glitches that need to be worked out: (1) Not alphabetically sorted; (2) The cloud is displayed with one category per line, instead of clustered as a cloud. I’ll fix these problems and turn the code into a free plugin later this year.

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