Categories + Tags: What Are They & How to Use Them

chest of drawers

Confession: I've been blogging almost 6 years, and I don't entirely know the difference between blog tags and categories.  They always seemed like a redundant organization system… like, organize your posts by this and then organize them AGAIN! What's the point of doing it twice?  (Well, for starters, you don't HAVE to do it twice; according to WordPress, it isn't necessary to use categories and tags.)

Between Erica Miller's SEO tip about how many tags to use on your site (25 or less), the SEO posts I've been writing lately, plus your questions, I figured it was time I finally learned the difference AND the best way to utilize them on our sites.

[Edit: Blogger doesn't use the same organizing systems.  Blogger has Labels, which work similarly to WordPress Tags.  If you're on Blogger, this post may not be useful for you, as you don't have the two systems to work within.]

Categories:

Blog categories are used to sort the various topics on your blog.  It's an organization system to help readers find all of the posts on a particular topic very easily.  Simple enough, right?

On a fashion blog, popular categories could be beauty, outfit of the day, sales, or reviews.  If you have a niche blog (say a vintage blog), your categories may be 1940s fashion, 1950s fashion, 1960s fashion, and so on. If your niche is lingerie, you may use categories like bras, panties, garters, corsets, and plus-size lingerie.

Tags:

Tags are best for describing the post in more detail.  So maybe you selected “outfit of the day” as your category.  Tags you might use on a post could include: plus size dresses, plus size shirts, plus size pants, shoes, handbags.

These tags are more specific than “outfit of the day” because the keywords encompass the items in the outfit.  These keywords are also versatile because they can be used outside of just “outfit of the day” posts.  If you're doing a roundup of your favorite sale items at ASOS, you could tag the post handbags, plus size dresses, shoes, jewelry. 

One area that bloggers may end up using too many tags is creating a specific tag for brands or detail-oriented descriptions (I know I've done it!).  It may be better to have a tag for shoes than a tag for Jessica Simpson heels, t-strap heels, sandals, and Manolo Blahniks.

“[In] a nutshell, if categories are the table of contents for your blog, tags represent the index.”

Or as ManageWP describes them, “[In] a nutshell, if categories are the table of contents for your blog, tags represent the index.”

Tips for Using Categories & Tags:

  • Keep terms simple, simple, and descriptive.  You want new readers visiting your site to know what each one means, and you want them to be common enough for search engines to pick them up.  So while having a clever title for all of your outfit posts may be fun (I used to call mine “The Dramatis Personae”) make sure that any categories or tags are something like, “What I Wore” or “Outfit of the Day” for easy searching.
  • While WordPress says there is no limit to how many categories or tags you can have, keep lists small and updated frequently.
  • And on that note… update & use them frequently.  Search engines are pinged when your site has new content, so having a smaller group of categories and tags that are updated frequently works better for your site and the search traffic it receives.
  • That all being said– if every post you create is going into the same 1 category or 3 tags, then your category and tags may be too broad– and it's time to narrow them down to a more relevant term.  If every post you have is an outfit of the day, then maybe OOTD isn't a good category.  Maybe you should break them down by season, by outfit pieces (skirt, blouse, pants, dress), or another system that makes sense to you AND your readers.  Similarly, if your site shares nothing but sales, then maybe you should tag them based on the store.

And that's it! Pretty simple, huh?

Six years later, I'm wondering a) why I didn't figure this out sooner, b) start categorizing and tagging my posts in a much easier and simpler way!

Where do you fall in the spectrum of categories and tags? Using them with reckless and wild abandon? Have a controlled population? Use one, but not the other?

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

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4 Responses

  1. maddie

    Confession time for me too – I didn’t know the difference between category and tags until I read this post. But I have an excuse – I use the plug-in SEO by Yoast so I never felt the need. Should I still be using categories and tags if I am using this plug-in?

    Reply
    • Ashley "Ashe" Robison

      To be honest, I can’t answer that!

      I don’t use the YOAST SEO plugin (I’m on the Thesis theme), so I’m not sure if it does the categorizing for you. I’m not sure if/how the plugin helps with that?

      Categories and Tags help with SEO, but they’re ultimately ways of sorting & finding related content… I see on your site that you have sections for certain topics (pattern-making) for example – do you put it there via Yoast?

      Reply
  2. Erin

    Question: I decided to go in and clean up my Categories and noticed that I can have Parent Categories and then sub-categories under each parent. Thoughts on this?

    Reply