How-To: Categories Vs. Tags
Categories and tags are pre-set taxonomies that are great tools for organizing your blog content when used properly. The more organized and accessible your content is, the better UX (user experience) and SEO.
Note the phrase “when used properly,” because often times these tools are not used properly and that can produce an antithetical effect.
Let’s dive into the do’s and don’ts of both categories and tags.
Important: While both are used for the organization of content, they are often mistaken for the same thing. They have similarities but are, in fact, different.
Categories are a way to group content into topics or sections. The main difference between categories and tags is that categories are hierarchical. They are essentially your blogs filing system of content for your users to access. No different really from creating email folders or folders on your computer to organize stuff.
- Grouping: You can group content into topics where various content is similar. This is incredibly useful for users wanting to quickly see other posts on a topic.
- Hierarchy: You can create parent (main) categories and create child (subcategories) categories that belong to the parent category. In short, you can create top-level main folders that can have their own sub-folders.
- SEO: On most websites there are category pages that are searchable. Also, category names can appear (depending on how your permalinks are set up) in your URLs which can be important.
- Site definition: When a user sees a list of parent categories, it can quickly tell the user what type of content is located on the blog.
Parent categories are the top level of the category hierarchy.
Example: Let’s say we have a food blog.
Our parent categories could be as follows:
Breakfast / Brunch
How many parent categories should you have?
You can technically have as many as you want. There are a few things to remember.
- You don’t need to show all of your parent categories. Even if you have a site with 20 parent categories, you may just want to show 6.
- Too many parent categories displayed adversely affect the UX. It should be easy to navigate; this isn’t the Cheesecake Factory menu. All sites are different, but I would say 4 to 8 is generally good practice.
- Categories should have content in them. The last thing you want is a bunch of categories with no content or one or two blog posts.
- Do not place a blog post into multiple categories – ever! This creates duplicate content and not only is it bad for SEO it’s bad for UX. This is why your categories should be thought out.
Child Categories (also known as subcategories)
Child categories, often known as subcategories, are the second tier in the category hierarchy. These are the categories that belong to a parent category.
Child categories are very helpful when further organizing your content.
Using our above parent categories on the food blog, if we created some child categories under Lunch, it could look something like this.
Like we’ve discussed under parent categories, you want categories that have content. You don’t have to start with several categories. They can be built out over time.
We can even go a level further and create grandchild categories which would be the third tier and so on. WordPress by default allows three levels down, however there are plugins that let you go even further. Keep in mind though, you want categories with content, so there are limited cases why you would ever want to go further. I rarely use grandchild categories.
Individual category pages can be a great way to increase your blog’s SEO as they are individual search-able pages. Most CMSs (content management systems) like WordPress, let you add a content to them. It is a good idea to write a few paragraphs for each category.
Tags are a great tool also used to organize a blog’s content. Unlike categories, tags are focused on a specific subject, unlike categories that are normally more broad. Tags are also not hierarchical.
Tags on your blog work the same way as hashtags work on social media. If, for example, you search for #wordpress on Twitter, you will get a list of tweets that contain that hashtag. This article itself will most likely use tags like WordPress, UX and so on.
This blog doesn’t have categories for WordPress or UX currently and even if it did, this article isn’t necessarily about WordPress but it’s relevant to WordPress and this is where I would create a tag.
Keep in mind, that when you use a hashtag on social media, you are accessing a database of up to billions of tweets or posts. Your tags allow users to only access your blog’s database.
Make it relevant
The tag should have some relevance to the article itself. Just because a word was mentioned, it doesn’t mean you should tag it. Before you create a tag, think if the user would benefit going to that blog post via that tag. If the user wouldn’t benefit, chances are they will just bounce.
How many tags per post
You can create as many as you want, but keep in mind, you should only create them if there are other blog posts that have the same tag and if the user would benefit going to that blog page.
Important things to know in closing
- You should avoid naming categories and tags the same name.
- If you don’t have a description on your category or tag pages, you may want to tell Google not to index them.
- Don’t put a blog post in multiple categories.
- Don’t create tags and categories unless you have more than one blog post that uses them.
- Things can be changed. If you have been doing it wrong or content has evolved and certain things have changed, you can always remove, add, move. Nothing has to be set in stone.
- MAKE SURE that you are using proper re-directions if you make changes.
- Less is more. This is about UX. It’s about the user being able to navigate your content easily which will also lead to lower bounce rates.