When you have to find your way through a place, for example a city or a country, you can use maps. Nowadays, you can have your map with you on a smartphone or tablet and keep track of your travels with GPS. Same is the case with websites as well. The website is a dense structure people have to make their way through to get to their destinations. For a webmaster, the destination of each visitor should be the landing page where the sales are made. But, you have to make sure there are no obstacles to getting there for the people who visit your website.
One of the best, yet often ignored ways to make website navigation better is tag clouds. The issue with tag clouds is that they have been around for quite some time but webmasters generally aren’t familiar with their history or purpose. You might be surprised to learn that the first appearance of a tag cloud was over two decades ago. That was when the first such cloud was created in Germany in 1992. However, that didn’t get much recognition at the time.
As mentioned above, a tag cloud acts as a map of sorts for people to find the pages they are looking for on a website. This is why the number of word cloud websites is constantly on the rise. By definition, the cloud is a ‘weighted’ list of the most popular and commonly used tags with regards to a specific website. Due to their visual appeal and ease of use, tag clouds have become well-known across the world. Even then, most people you meet won’t have any idea when the rise of the tag clouds actually began.
It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that these clouds began to get noticed. The term itself came into being in the 21st century. Originally, they were used for making navigation easier for Web 2.0 users. At that time, the primary purpose of the clouds was to highlight the metadata related to the keywords the website has been optimized for. Slowly and gradually, the clouds began to be used for internal navigation within a website, enabling visitors to find their way easily and without any hassle.
The first time a text cloud was used by a major website was in 2004 when the photo sharing platform Flickr started using them. Their aim was to make it easier for people to find photos according to the tags. Pictures that are uploaded to Flickr have certain tags added to them. The tag cloud enabled users to find all the photos that carried that same tag. Plus, Flickr got the chance to display some of its most popular tags and keywords on the front page itself. Since the users simply had to click on a tag, they didn’t have to bother using the search unless the tag they were looking for was not in the keyword cloud.
After Flicker, several other websites jumped on the bandwagon and began deploying tag clouds to help with navigation. Among the most prominent early entrants into the arena were Technorati and Del.icio.us.
Like most trends on the internet, the rise of the cloud tag led to overuse and eventually, oversaturation. It became difficult for websites to benefit from the clouds as virtually every other website was using them. In fact, Flickr apologized for starting the craze about clouds in 2006. It was at that time that the use of tag clouds decreased rapidly and it was feared that they would fade out like most internet fads eventually do. It had to happen as anyone could create a word cloud using a few word cloud tool available online. Even websites that didn’t need clouds began using them.
However, it wasn’t long before developers and software experts began realizing the importance of clouds for purposes other than just defining the keyword metadata for a website. In particular, it is a great tool for website navigation and a superior way to illustrate text data. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that tag clouds were lucky in the sense that webmasters didn’t abandon them after the first wave died out.
That being said, most of them are still apprehensive about using them. The fear is at the back of their minds that they would fizzle out again. However, this doesn’t seem to be likely given the progress that has been made in cloud generation programs and tactics. Now, tags aren’t simply random keywords. Webmasters try their best to incorporate as many relevant and popular keywords into the tag cloud as possible. For this, they use tools such as SEMrush. SEMrush is a wonderful resource for people looking to find the best keywords that they can use in the form of tags on their website.
This is a brief history of cloud tags that tells you how they evolved over the years.