Are you confused by WordPress Tags and Categories — and want to learn the difference between the two and how to properly use WordPress Tags?
If so, keep reading so you can learn how to correctly use these tools to organize your website to create the best possible experience for your users and boost your SEO.
What are WordPress Categories?
Here’s a helpful analogy:
If your WordPress site was a filing cabinet, the Categories would be the drawers in the cabinet.
Here’s another way of thinking about Categories — they’re like chapters in a book.
A Category is a general topic under which users drill down for further, more specific information.
Keep your user in mind when creating your Categories — how will they be searching your blog? The answer to this question is central to creating your Categories.
Always make your Categories simple and clear. It may seem fun to get clever, but you’ll very likely confuse your audience and miss out on search engine traffic.
And, don’t overdo it! You don’t want so many drawers that the cabinet becomes totally cumbersome.
Stick with a reasonable number of Categories. It depends on the blog — this could be anywhere from 5 to 20, but is generally around 10.
What Are WordPress Tags?
Sticking with the same filing cabinet analogy, Tags would be the folders inside of the cabinet drawers.
In the book analogy, Tags are like the index.
You might be surprised to learn that WordPress Tags are primarily for organizational purposes, not SEO (although if you’re going to use them, you should definitely optimize them of you want them to give you an SEO boost…see below!).
They are not a way to add a bunch of keywords to your site.
Tags are meant to make your site easier to navigate (which should ALWAYS be one of your top priorities).
Easy navigation not only makes potential clients happy, but also helps you rank higher in search engines.
Just like you don’t want a cumbersome amount of cabinet drawers, you also don’t want so many folders in your drawers (or words on the folder tabs) that it’s cluttered.
So, keep this in mind when you are thinking about Tags for your blog.
Because most people understand Categories, but are confused by Tags, I’m going to mostly focus on the latter in this guide.
Where Do You Use Tags?
The most common place where Tags are used is with blog posts. But…that’s not the only place you can find them!
They’re actually an option on every type of WordPress post, which includes Products, Portfolio items, Events, etc.
If you plan on using them in multiple places, you’ll need to do some extra strategizing so you use them correctly and effectively.
Do You Have to Use WordPress Tags?
While drawers are pretty mandatory in a file cabinet, you can get by without folders.
It’s not always necessary to use WordPress Tags for blogs, products, portfolios, etc.
If a reasonable number of Categories is enough to effectively organize your posts, you can (we say “should”) skip them.
The Scribaceous blog is like this. The Categories are enough to effectively organize the blog, so we didn’t need a bunch of unnecessary Tags cluttering things up.
But, sometimes Categories are not enough.
Here are two instances where we used Tags to make it easier for readers to navigate two blogs we manage:
- A fitness blog with 20 Categories and an additional 20+ specific fitness programs. We used the Categories for general organization (Fitness, Nutrition, Motivation, Personal Development, etc.) and the Tags to enable readers to search the posts by program.
- A travel blog with too many destinations to use as Categories. So, in addition to the 14 Categories that included general destinations (U.S., Mexico & Central America, Europe, etc.), we created Tags that enable readers to search for a more specific destination (i.e., California, Belize, France, etc.).
It’s important to take the time to think about whether your website will truly benefit from the use of Tags for organizational purposes.
Creating WordPress Tags
If you do decide it makes sense to use Tags, you’ll need to do some brainstorming and create unique ones that best describe your Blogs, Products, Portfolio items and Events.
You don’t just want to make up Tags up as you go along. It’s important to create, and stick with, a meaningful list of Tags.
A good rule of thumb is to only create a Tag when you’ll have at least five posts to assign to it.
This is because when readers click on Tags to find more related information on your site, they’re not going to be thrilled to find only a post or two.
If you think of a new Tag while writing a post, either go back and tag at least four older posts with the same Tag OR jot it down and wait until you have more content to put it into use.
Conversely, don’t add the same Tag to too many of your posts.
Also, a Tag really shouldn’t be more than two words, so avoid long phrases or sentences.
And, use lower case letters when naming your Tags.
Don’t create Tags that are simply different ways of saying the same thing.
Remember, Tags are not primarily for SEO, but for organization, so to keep them effective and well organized and give each one a different meaning.
You definitely do not want to create a Tag that is a duplication of a category! There’s absolutely no need to do this from either an organizational or SEO standpoint.
What is the Difference Between WordPress Categories & Tags?
Categories are the drawers in your file cabinet and Tags are the file folder.
Categories are the chapters in your book and Tags are the index.
Categories are broad groupings, while Tags are more specific, so if you’re using Tags, you’ll have fewer Categories than tags.
Here are a few examples of the use of Categories and Tags:
- Category: Coffee
- Tags: decaffeinated, whole bean, ground, blends
- Category: Fashion
- Tags: women, men, children
- Category: Photography
- Tags: portraits, landscapes, architecture
You can dive deep with your Tags, but remember to make sure you have a few posts under each one and don’t use so many that end up making them ineffective!
How to Properly Optimize Your Categories & Tags
Did you know the web has over 1.5 billion websites? Only about 200 million are active, but that’s still a LOT of websites!
Your website is a tiny star in the massive internet galaxy. How can you possibly stand out???
I won’t lie. It’s not easy. And, it requires a consistent investment of time and/or money. But, it is possible.
The key is to create an organized, easy-to-navigate site that is search engine optimized (SEO).
WordPress Tags and Categories help you organize your site so it’s easy to navigate and are an opportunity to add additional keywords.
Simply creating Tags and Categories is not enough—you also need to optimize them if you want to reap their full benefit.
The first step in optimizing them is creating the right ones.
What are the Category and Tag names? The ones people use when they’re searching Google for your type of product or service.
Again, when it comes to Categories and Tags, stick with 1-2 words.
It’s fine if Categories and Tags also happen to be keywords used throughout your site, but don’t force them to be keywords.
Stay laser focused on organization, because Google places a BIG emphasis on user experience.
Once you’ve created your Categories and Tags, you’ll want to fully optimize them.
To do this, go the the Category and Tag section, hover over the first one, click on Edit and fill out all of the fields and all of the meta data fields.
The Yoast SEO plugin is a fantastic tool to help you check all the optimization boxes (see below).
Always remember that SEO is a process that happens over time. You can’t optimize your site overnight — consistency and patience are crucial.
How to Use Categories & Tags on Your WordPress Website
Once you’ve created and optimized your Categories and Tags, you’ll want to make sure your Blog, Shop, Portfolio and/or Event sidebars are designed in a way that enables your readers to actually use your Categories and Tags.
At a minimum, your sidebar should include the following, preferably in this order:
- Search by Keyword box
- Categories (either in list or drop down menu form)
- Tags (either in list or drop down menu form; I like to make these more visual like the photo to the right)
Hopefully, you now have a deeper understanding of how to properly use WordPress Tags and Categories on your WordPress website.
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and confused, we understand and we can help.
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