Today I imported a client’s existing WordPress blog content into their new WordPress site and I found a mess of categories and tags. Understanding how to use categories and tags is a challenge for most bloggers.
In WordPress, categories and tags are called ‘taxonomies’. The first reason to use taxonomies is to help your site visitors find what they’re looking for. Think of a Public Library—books are shelved in different categories Non-Fiction, Fiction, Children’s Books, Young Adult. This helps you find what you are looking for. What a nightmare if the Library put everything in uncategorized. In the same way, it is easier for site visitors to find all you have to say about a single topic when like-content is properly categorized and tagged.
Beyond usability, a clear site structure can help Google understand and index your site content. Using categories and tags well can improve your site ranking with search engines.
What’s the difference between Categories and Tags?
A good way to understand the difference between categories and tags is to think of a recipe book.
Categories are like a Table of Contents in a recipe book. The Table of Contents divides recipes into categories: Soups, Salads, Grains, Vegetables etc.
Tags are like the Index at the back of the book. The index will further break down the ingredients: Mushrooms, Squash, Spinach, etc. Spinach may be used in a soup or a salad—a tag provides a way to cross-reference across categories.
Are Blog Tags the same as Social Media Hashtags?
Yes and no.
In social media, hashtags link your content with other users on the platform. Hashtags on social media aggregate content from all users. Just like social media hashtags, when a user clicks on a blog tag they will get all the related content that you have tag.
On social media platforms such as Instagram we go hashtag crazy. On social media we use fun long strings of words such as #throwbackthursday or acronyms such as #tbt. But you don’t want to use tags this way on your blog. What you have to remember is that every time you tag a post, you are creating a page—a tag archive page. Before you create a new tag, ask yourself, “Does this archive page add value to my site?” Only add tags and categories when you have a lot to say about a topic.
Tags are not like the old Meta Keyword Tag
Back in the late 1990’s when I first started creating websites we used a meta keyword tag in the code to tell search engines what that page’s main keywords were. The meta keyword tag has not been used by search engines since 2009. Some bloggers have treated blog tags as if they are the same thing as the meta keyword tag. A blog tag in and of itself does not improve SEO. The only way a tag will help your site rank better in Google is if your tag archive page is optimized and shows up in search results.
General guidelines for creating Categories and Tags
- Use categories for broad topics, use tags as descriptive tools to further break down a topic and link related content across categories
- You probably don’t need more than 6-8 categories
- Each post should only be in one category, but can have multiple tags.
- Don’t use the same term for both a category and a tag. If like me you have a category SEO, don’t have a tag SEO as well.
- Don’t have singular and plural versions of a tag. For example you don’t need a tag event and one for events. Just pick one.
- Don’t create a category or tag until you have at least three posts that you want to connect together.
How well have you used categories and tags on your blog?
Further optimize these archive pages by writing category descriptions and adding SEO meta titles and descriptions using the WordPress SEO plugin.
If you take the time to create and maintain a limited set of highly relevant categories and tags, you’ll start to see your tag and category pages ranking in search results sending traffic to your blog.