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I'm working on a project where the client wants to add 3-5 hashtags (i.e.: #bikes) to each page of his content.

There is a logical reason for these hash tags (or categories, or keywords); given that it will lead to a clever way of grouping content for visitors. There is nothing spammy or malicious about what he wants, it is 100% for content navigation and associations.

Does Google read and index hashtags differently? Or does it "read" them and understand how a human would read them; where #bike means bike and so on?

In other words, if SEO was the only consideration: Should I use hash tags the way he wants them; where you will see lists like #bikes, #offroad, #trail, etc.? Or would I be better off suppressing the "hashtag" and just listing the words bikes, offroad, trail, etc.?

  • Think about what the visitors will think of those, will they see it as groups or will it confuse them. The norm is to have words that are meaningful hash adds an element of confusion. Stick to what's working around the web with visitors in mind that'll be best for seo. – Abu Nooh Feb 13 '18 at 22:23
  • Is the hash tag the only place that keyword appears in the page? If so that is a problem whether or not Google indexes the words in the hash tag. You need to give Google more signal that just the URL. Google doesn't give words anywhere in the URL much weight right now. – Stephen Ostermiller Feb 13 '18 at 22:24
  • A lot of the pages are a product image, with a title and a description. I'd hazard to guess that roughly 50% will have the words in the hashtags somewhere else on the page, but many may not. – Keith Feb 13 '18 at 22:32
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    Search matches content and not links, however, the semantic value of a link can have a small effect. Also consider, each element of a link from left to right has less value so that parameters and hash tags are of less value than the elements to the left. Circular links, and hash tags can be considered circular but not always, have virtually no value. So it depends on how the link is used. In other words, hash tag terms should have little value if at all short of being abused. Don't abuse them and all should be fine. Do not count on them for much in the way of keyword signalling. Cheers!! – closetnoc Feb 13 '18 at 23:55
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    Are these tags linked? If yes, what does the title of the tag page contain, "#bikes" or "bikes"? – unor Feb 14 '18 at 15:35
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I can think of three cases.

Case 1: # is decoration

If, in your case, the #

  • doesn’t have a technical purpose, and
  • isn’t the only indicator that these are tags,

then you could consider adding the # with CSS (instead of including it in the HTML):

<a href="/tags/bikes" rel="tag">bikes</a>
a[rel="tag"]::before {content:"#";}

In that case, the # is just presentation, it has no semantic meaning, it’s not part of the content.

Search engine bots would have no reason to index the text added via content unless they think it got misused (unlikely in this case). Related question: Can Google crawlers/googlebot read CSS content in before and after elements?

Case 2: # is the only indicator for humans

If other indicators are missing (e.g., there is no label like "Tags:" or similar), then the # would be the only indicator for humans that these links are meant to be tags for the current content, so it should be part of the HTML.

In that case, you could consider adding it outside of the link (like you would place labels outside of the link, too):

#<a href="/tags/bikes" rel="tag">bikes</a>

Case 3: # is part of the tag

If you want the tags to actually contain the #, then it should be part of the link:

<a href="/tags/bikes" rel="tag">#bikes</a>

In that case, the title of the tag page should contain the #, the tag URL should contain the # (percent-encoded), mentions in emails and other documents should contain the # etc.

The SEO affect shouldn’t be relevant here, as the # is part of the tag (just like the "b", the "i" etc.), it is what it is.

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