How to Use Tags and Categories on your Blog
WordPress’s categories and tag features make it easy to organise your blog posts, improve your website’s search visibility and make finding the right content easier for your readers.
Despite these huge benefits, tags and categories are frequently ignored by bloggers and businesses. When they are used, they’re often used incorrectly, reducing their effectiveness and making it harder for reader to find their way around your blog.
In this guide, we’ll look at the difference between tags and categories, bust some of the more common myths about tagging your content and share a simple method to use tags and categories more effectively on your blog.
What’s the difference between a tag and a category?
When WordPress first launched, it only offered categories as an option to group and organise content. Blogs with lots of posts ended up with hundreds of categories for their content, so tags were introduced as a way to better organise content.
Tags and categories might seem similar, but they’re actually very different. Think of categories as groups for what your posts are about, and tags as groups for what your content includes.
For example, let’s say we’re writing a blog post about PPC advertising. The blog post covers a variety of PPC tactics and includes information about using Facebook Ads, Google AdWords, Twitter and AdRoll.
The category of the post is its subject: PPC. The tags are the specific topics that are included in the post – in this case, Facebook Ads, Google Adwords, Twitter and AdRoll.
@foamcow categories for sorting / arrangement, tags for searching.
— Anthony Killeen (@MrQwest) May 9, 2013
How you can use tags and categories to improve usability
Pretend you manage a large travel blog. Your blog covers hundreds of destinations, from London and Sydney to Florence and Honolulu. How do you effectively manage your tags and categories to make your website as easy to navigate as possible?
The key to effective category and tag management is breaking your categories into subcategories. This becomes important when your blog has lots of content, making it more difficult for users to navigate to a specific category of content.
A great way to organise your content is by intent. Think of what users are interested in reading and use their intent to organise your categories and tags effectively.
Here’s an example using our fictional travel blog – a post about Italian food titled “10 Dishes to Try When Visiting Italy”.
The subject of the post is Food and Drink, more specifically Local Cuisine. Remember, we’re categorising the content based on its subject – not its setting – which is, in this case, the local cuisine of Italy.
A good category structure for this post is Food & Drink / Local Cuisine, with “Food & Drink” as the category and “Local Cuisine” the subcategory. This specifically targets user intent: “I want to read about food and drink.”
But this category alone doesn’t cover the post’s content. It’s specifically about Italian food – something that isn’t mentioned in the category. Someone navigating our blog wouldn’t be able to find this next to other posts about Italian food and culture.
This is where tags come in. We can use tags like Italy, Florence, Rome and Venice to tag the content as being related to Italy and the specific cities the dishes are from, connecting it with other posts about Italian travel, cuisine and culture.
Let’s use another example – one that’s more relevant to small businesses than to a publisher in the travel industry. Imagine you manage a home improvement brand and you’re blogging about “How to Lay Decking”.
In this case, the obvious category is “How-To Guides”. This covers the post’s type, not its topic. Since categories are used in your blog’s navigational menu, it’s much more useful to group posts by type than subject matter.
You can then use tags to group the specific elements listed in the post and make it easier for users to find most posts including these elements. In this case, our tags would be Wood, Garden, Paint, Varnish and Screws.
Think of categories as highways leading people to specific areas of your blog. They are the main routes – the fastest way to specific types of content. Tags are the small streets and alleys that help users quickly find multiple posts with shared elements.
Duplicate content and other common tag and category myths
Some SEOs avoid using tags to group their content out of fear that doing so creates duplicate content, triggering an SEO penalty. Tags are optional (although categories are required) and many bloggers get by without ever using them.
The problem with this approach is that it’s based on false assumptions. While there are penalties for duplicate content, Google has explicitly said it won’t penalise blogs that have archive or tag pages that point to duplicate content via different URLs.
So go ahead and tag to your heart’s content, although you should keep usability in mind when tagging your posts. Stick to about five tags per post so that it’s easy for readers to find similar content without being flooded with unrelated tags.
Another common tag-related fear is that your blog’s tag pages – which aren’t always useful from an SEO perspective – could outrank similar content. This is easy to avoid by noindexing your tag pages and preventing them from appearing in the SERPs.
Are you tagging and categorising your content effectively?
A surprisingly large number of blogs – even high-traffic blogs – fail to categorise and tag their posts correctly. An incredible number of bloggers don’t even use tags at all, making getting around their site significantly more difficult for users
Using tags and categories effectively has a huge range of benefits. Good tagging and categorising not only makes your website easier to navigate, it can also have serious SEO benefits.
Are you tagging and categorising your content effectively? Although it can take some time to set up your blog’s categories, subcategories and tags the right way, doing so is a great way to improve your rankings, traffic and usability.