Tags or Categories? Which Should You Use in Your Blog Posts?

We incorporate some form of a blog into almost every website we develop. Why?

  • Blogs provide an opportunity to interact with customers and prospects, offering new information about your products and services, your company or your industry in general. In short, they allow you to get and stay connected, and to build relationships.
  • The addition of new content to a website is a good thing to Google, and can help improve your search rankings.

Blogs are most effective when new posts are added on a regular basis. But without good organization, they can turn into a long  list of chaos – or by default, a very random collection of chronologically-entered posts. That’s where categories and tags come in. They help organize blogs and make it easy to find or search for articles of interest. There are many benefits to having neat and tidy categories, but first and foremost, they create a positive user experience and allow you to spend more quality time with your visitors. In this sense, categories are must-haves in a blog.

So what’s the difference between tags and categories and how and when should you use them?

What are Blog Categories?

Categories are like file folders. They should separate blog posts into general topics – in the same way a table of contents organizes content and guides you through a book. Categories should be intuitive – not have some obscure meaning. It should be pretty obvious what types of articles you’ll find in each category. Blog categories can usually be found in the sidebar or in the header or navigation of a blog. Whether in a drop-down menu or a list of clickable links, categories give you a filter that can help you dig deeper into a specific topic. Finally, categories can be hierarchical, so you can have sub-categories, if it makes sense within your blog.

What are Tags?

Using the book analogy, where categories are like the table of contents, think of tags as the index found at the back of a book. In a cookbook, categories would be Main Dishes, Salads, Desserts, etc. and tags would be chicken, spinach, blueberry… If you want recipe ideas and you’re going shopping anyway, leaf through the salad section, pick your favorite and head to the grocery store. But if you have blueberries in the freezer that you’re dying to devour, you’ll want to hone in on recipes that feature your favorite fruit. Tags are different than categories in that they are optional – they help search-ability but aren’t absolutely necessary for organization. And they are not hierarchical. Simply add tags to describe and pick out important concepts in an article.

cloud

A few tips for using categories and tags

  • Don’t overuse tags; a handful for any post is enough; tagging every concept in a post can be overwhelming and clutter your blog
  • Choose your beginning categories carefully (maybe 5-7); they should stand the test of time and be able to accommodate any post you write
    • Of course, you can’t be expected to come up with the perfect system right off the top… remember that you can always add more categories (or subcategories) as you need them, but it’s better to have a smaller selection of  regularly populated categories than dozens of categories with only a couple of articles in each
  • If you find you’re using a specific tag a lot, maybe it’s time to create a category or subcategory for that concept (not always, but you may want to consider…)
  • As with every aspect of your website, think like your customers/visitors think (after all, your website is for them!); use labels for categories that they can relate to and tags that would be of interest to them

Bottom line about when to use categories and tags

Every blog should use categories to organize content, but you don’t need to use both categories and tags. If your blog will be relatively low volume in terms of the number or frequency of articles that you write, tags aren’t necessary.

If we are building your website, through our content strategy phase, we will likely help you come up with suggestions for your initial blog categories. We’ll do this by reviewing your current articles, or if you’re just starting a blog, helping you brainstorm some ideas for articles. Together, we’ll come up with an outline on which to build your blog. Then it’s up to you to keep the ball rolling and use categories and tags that will make it enjoyable for your visitors to drop by and browse through your posts!

  • Great post Cindy! There are also a few SEO considerations regarding the use of tags. There are varying opinions on this, but here’s my ¢2.

    Each tag creates a new “feed”, which can result in large numbers of excess pages on your site. This can adversely affect your site’s optimization, diluting the good content on your site with large volumes of weak and repetitive, or “thin” content.

    Each tag (if displayed in your sidebar or elsewhere) will also create a link from your good content to that thin content. Links can be thought of as the currency of your website and search engines can take strong consideration into where you spend them.

    Unless you are absolutely positive that your users will benefit from tags, I’d skip ’em, or at least keep them to a minimum.

    Though there are exceptions, in most cases where you do use tags I’d suggest asking search engines to ignore them by placing something like this in your robots.txt file:

    Disallow: /tag/ (depending on the directory your tag pages show up under)

    Or by adding something like this to your tag page template:

    Finally, if you’ve already got a mess off tags on your site, and you’re using WordPress, check out this tool for cleaning things up: http://yoast.com/optimizing-tags/.

    • Cindy Joly

      Thanks for weighing in with some SEO advice Nick!

  • Pingback: Blogging 101: Session 2 Review | West Van Digital Librarian()

  • Gregg Murray

    Perfect. Simple and understandable. Props.