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WordPress Categories vs. WordPress Tags

Categories and Tags both do the same two things – they describe a post to which they are attributed and they form a “referential” navigation system for your content.

First, how they describe.

A Category is used to large-scale grouping of posts. So, if you were writing content about automobiles, you’d probably create a Category for each make – “Ford”, “GM”, “Chevy”, etc. Tags would be used to add more detail to what you were talking about. Perhaps obviously, items in the Category “Subaru” would include “Legacy”, “Forrester”, and “Outback”. Tags also may include “V6”, “4 wheel drive”, “manual transmission”, or “moonroof”.

Now, Navigation.

Wordpress Categories and TagsThe reason that you would use Categories and Tags is to aggregate content. If you are an active blogger, you might generate several hundred posts over the course of a year. Your readership may need some help navigating that information. They may be looking for something for which they do not know how to search.

Category lists and Tag clouds are a default WordPress feature. They are displayed prominently in your sidebar or footer, but can be established anywhere with a little work. People can click the word or phrase in your Category or Tag in order to be whisked off to a page of excerpted posts that fall within the Category or Tag.

Categories give your readers a hierarchical navigation structure for your website. If someone is searching google for “Subaru Legacy” and clicks on a result linking to your post about the Subaru Legacy, they may want to understand what your site is about before reading your review. They can see, if you have nicely ordered and displayed Categories, that you write about all cars. They might see, too, that you have 32 posts about Subaru automobiles, and will want to stay and read more if they like your writing.

Conversely, if someone comes to your site wanting to read about Subaru’s, and they do not see the work Subaru anywhere on the homepage, they might skip right out. Or they might find one post on Subaru, but will have an issue finding more posts, and will move on.

Tags create a lateral navigation structure for your writing. You might write about several automobiles that have all wheel drive, for instance. Someone on your site can use tags to navigate to posts that are about all wheel drive, and in this way, could do a comparison between AWD vehicles.

Best Practices.

Use as few Categories as you can. “Few” may be defined based on your subject. I write about my professional development and use 4 Categories. If you do happen to blog about automobiles, you might find yourself needing 25 categories for each auto manufacturer.

Categories can have sub-categories. Sub-categories can be very useful if your content starts to be to complex for users – but also adds complexity!

Use only a few tags per post. Lots of tags on a post can make Google and other search engines downgrade the content (they will assume that the content is spammy, because it is not focused enough).

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