WordPress wouldn’t be what it is without taxonomies. The taxonomies are, in fact, the so-called tags and categories, even if it’s possible for a user to customize their own taxonomy with a different name.
Users apply tags and categories on their posts instead of pages so that they will keep content well-organized for a reader to find what he’s looking for without wondering around for hours.
Tags or categories: understanding the difference
If you want to group a few posts in a bigger unit, you should use categories. Categories make a broad and general division of your content, and they serve to make clear what the website/blog is actually about. Readers find categories extremely helpful, since these taxonomies are hierarchical, and they have smaller units (sub-categories).
We will take a food blog that is publishing meal recipes to be our example. These are the categories that would appear:
Technically, any of these meals can be prepared and eaten during any time of the day, but that doesn’t make the distinction any less common. It was obviously the simplest way for the writer to divide and categorize meals in distinctive groups.
Tags, on the other hand, refer to particular details related to the post, something alike index words on a website. Those represent micro-data for additional categorization of content, and they aren’t hierarchical like categories.
Here are few tags you could meet on a food blog:
Basically, these tags are dietary restrictions, specific ingredients or spices which make content specific even when categories are really broad and refer to all recipe types. If you, as a reader, prefer chicken, it will be very easy for you to find a recipe you like.
Before we dive deeper inside tags and categories, let’s take a look at their basic features and the difference between them, to determine the purpose of each of the two:
- Categories are groups of specific topics;
- Tags don’t point out the content, but they describe it. Their purpose is to explain details of the content and to underline important elements;
- Categories have sub-categories, meaning that they are hierarchical;
- Tags have no sub-tags, meaning that they are not hierarchical;
- The content of all categories and tags is displayed on separate archive pages;
- Each post has one (or maximum two) category, but it can have as many tags as you deem appropriate;
- Posts must be divided into categories, but they don’t have to have tags.
They even seem different from each other: their permalinks (URLs) are recognizably different, and so is their prefix when one is using custom permalink structures. Let us give you an example:
The specifications of category hierarchies
What are they? While categories are pretty clear, sub-categories can get a bit confusing. Are we supposed to use a sub-category or a tag? The truth is that it doesn’t make such a big difference; it’s just a random decision that we have to make. Experienced bloggers adjust these decisions to the browsing preferences of their readers, and they really know how to use different sections of content to attract attention.
Let’s say that the overarching category of this blogger is Main Dishes, which is awesome because it’s neither too broad nor too specific. Inside, there is a subcategory called Chicken. The fact that Main Dishes is the parent category doesn’t make the Chicken articles part of it, but if a specific post is tagged as Crockpot, it still remains a chicken article. Tags are most of the time used for a reader to locate fast the exact recipe he/she are looking for.
Does it make sense to put a single post in few categories?
Many surveys claim that assigning multiple categories to a post can be harmful to the SEO since it can be qualified as duplicate content, and you can be penalized because of it. There is some truth in it, but not entirely. To start with, it has nothing to do with SEO (remember that the main reason why you’re categorizing content is to help users find it). That would only mean you’re not supposed to add a post in few top-rated categories (a website that has only three of them-Advertising, Marketing, and SEO, for instance). What you’re supposed to do in this case is to add it to multiple sub-categories, or to create an umbrella category for all three of them (Business, for instance).
You may not lose your SEO advantages, but you certainly won’t benefit either. An article can fall within the scope of multiple categories here and there, but if it becomes a regular practice, you should try to restructure your categories. There might me categories that are better as tags or the other way around. In fact, you should do whatever it takes to make the user experience better.
While discussing tags, the first thing you should have in mind is that you don’t have to use many of them in a single post. You are supposed to use them based on your estimation of their value, and what they’re supposed to do for your visitors. Search engines and rankings should come second on your list of priorities.
When attaching tags to individual posts, remember the following recommendations:
- Use no more than five tags per post: the more you add, the more confused users are going to be. Therefore, make sure your tags are really specific and users can benefit from them in some way;
- Don’t use the same names for the tags as you did for the categories: Crossing streams don’t help users find what they want easily;
- Don’t use long names for your tags: Three words are the maximum you should use;
- Don’t forget capitalization: Tom Ewer and tom ewer are different tags, and you have to remember that. This is an issue many famous websites neglect, and it doesn’t make users too comfortable when browsing your website;
- Don’t get too creative: A completely unfamiliar tag is not something that will come to a visitor’s mind when looking for content, so apply words you would look for.
Are tags, in fact, Meta keywords?
Blog holders have the tendency of confusing tags with Meta keywords, which is why they exaggerate when adding them. Tags have nothing to do with Meta keywords unless you’re using a WordPress SEO plugin which allows you to use tags in your template. If these plugins are not configured to treat tags as meta keywords by default, it just won’t happen.
Tags and categories: How do they help your SEO?
SEO is not a top priority when adding categories and tags, but an additional benefit from enabling users to navigate content easily.
There are few cases in which tags and categories lead to SEO benefits: search engine crawlers are lead by internal links to explore the content of the website, meaning that no page will remain un-indexed and isolated. The tag/category names will play the role of anchor texts that provide clues to the search engine about the topic of your website, enabling it to associate it with a particular type of browsing results.
Your priority is always users, not search engine bots. That’s step number one when ensuring good rankings because search engines are trying hard to think as a user, and to evaluate content that way. Therefore, make decisions based on usability, and you won’t fall short of SEO benefits.