It seems like many users are confused about the difference between categories and tags, which ones to use and how to show them off on a blog. First thing is first: Do use them — they’re very important. They’re technically optional features, but those who overlook them are also overlooking user experience and better.
The Difference Between Categories and Tags
Tags and categories provide a type of index for your blog or website, allowing your users to navigate and find related content that speaks to their interest. The category is the broad topic that you talk about on your blog, and the tag is a subset of that category. Categories can be more than one word and should properly describe the topic. For example, one category might be “shoes.”
Tags are specific and aim to narrow down the discussion whenever you talk about the subject in a blog post. Unlike categories, most tags are one or two words that indicate specific points of the article. In the shoe category, you might have tags for “heels,” “sneakers” or “canvas.”
One reason this is important is navigation. When you visit the website, you’re free to click on an interesting category to see all articles that were written about that general subject. If you want to know more about a specific topic, such as canvas shoes instead of just shoes in general, then you can click the tag page to see any articles about the specific topic. By adding categories and tags, we extend a hand to our readers and let them choose where they want to go.
Selecting Appropriate Categories and Tags
When you’ve accepted it’s time to add categories and tags, the first thing you’ll want to do is figure out how you want to approach the process. Organization is an important place to begin. Readers need to successfully traverse your blog to find desired information, so think about how you would look for this information as a reader. What words would help you understand the website?
Remember that category titles don’t have to be that short. They represent broad subjects, so you can be as descriptive as you need to be. They can reflect a similar tone as the rest of your blog, or it can be quick and concise. Comedy blogs that incorporate humorous anecdotes might have a category called “My Sorry Life.” More serious, SEO-friendly websites might make that category “Funny Personal Stories” instead. Either way, readers have an idea what they’ll find by clicking on it.
Categories are meant to be broad so that you don’t have to come up with too many of them. If you have a list that grows faster than you can say “help,” stop and take a look at what you’ve come up with so far. If you can successfully categorize your categories, you’re not going broad enough — and there’s nothing wrong with a “Miscellaneous” category.
Tags are short and shouldn’t exceed more than three words. Besides an index, you can think of them as keywords specific to your blog post; after all, they’re designed to aid a search engine in locating your content. Tags may not be the focal point for search ranking compared to titles, links, heading and original content, but they’re still a factor.
Finally, try not to duplicate. Category and tag names should never match; that’s just needlessly confusing, not to mention all kinds of redundant.
Displaying Categories and Tags
It’s not too difficult displaying your category and tag lists. Because the category list works as navigation for your website, you can have a list of them on the side of your website in its own widget. On the other hand, you can also create a menu that rests at the top of your blog, perhaps using dropdown menus, linking to specific category pages. When the reader clicks through to the page, then he or she will see any article you have published to that category.
Now, a category list is one thing. However, each post probably has multiple tags. If you compared all of your tags to all of your categories, the former probably has at least triple the words. In fact, it’s not even that necessary to list all of your tags in one place anyway. For one, they’ll come up in a search on your blog — if you don’t already have a search engine, get one. When someone searches for a keyword, the appropriate tag will appear.
Alternatively, you can display a tag cloud on your sidebar to reflect your most popular keywords if desired. This is an image made up of your tags in varying sizes to show how many articles you write compared to other topics. The ones with more articles usually are larger or brighter than the rest of the tags.
If you haven’t yet implemented categories and tags, I recommend getting started today. As I’ve explained, it’s a very simple thing to get started with and can only help your website when done correctly — but it’s not science, just common sense.