Categories vs Tags: What are They and How Should You Use Them?

When planning out your website, you’ll need to think about organizing your content. You may even wonder about categories vs tags.

WordPress and other platforms use categories and tags to help organize content.

Categories and Tags can be confusing and be intimidating for many new website owners. I can help you understand what categories and tags actually are. And I can show you how to best use categories and tags on your website.

Categories vs Tags: The Simple Definition

Categories vs tags: What are they and how should you use them on your website?

The simplest explanation I’ve ever heard of what categories and tags are is this:

Categories are the table of contents; Tags are the index.

Let me explain.

In a book, if you turn to the front, you’ll see a listing of chapters in the Table of Contents. This will help you get an overview of what is in the book and where you might want to go to find information.

If you’re looking for specific information, found in a few paragraphs in a chapter, you’ll check the index.

Categories are more of a general overview of a topic. The tags get more specific.

Categories are the primary topic that the content falls under. A post on your website should fit perfectly into one category, but it can fit into several secondary topics, called tags.

Pitfalls in Planning Categories vs Tags

Buying a domain is easy

I’ve  been designing and configuring websites for over a decade now. I have seen one huge pitfall that everyone does, that I feel I must warn against:

Please do not create a long, complex list of categories and subcategories. Keep categories simple, and use tags for the rest.

By the nature of categories, you don’t need and you shouldn’t have 40 of them.

What’s the Focus of this Site?

In fact, as I’ve learned and grown, I’ve pared down my website and tightened up its focus.

You don’t want visitors to wonder, “Just what is the focus for your website, business, and organization, man?”

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Navigation Issues with Categories

Having too many categories makes navigation on your website a nightmare.

Having over 40 categories and subcategories with a complicated series of drop-down menus is not the best method of organizing your site.

That kind of navigation was fine until smartphones and tablets became popular.  With a touchscreen and changing screen sizes, menus like this are not optimal. Such complicated menus do not work well on phones.

How to Plan and Use Categories and Tags

So, what’s the most effective way for a website owner to use categories and tags?

Narrow Down the number of your categories

If a reasonable number of categories don’t cover it, maybe you need a second blog. I did this by dividing this website up to tighten the focus. My other site, on faith, is QuietTimes.Faith.

Think like a visitor

Do these categories make sense for the topics you are covering? Would the average visitor be able to figure out your system at a glance?

People have become more impatient than ever before. If they can’t figure out your site quickly, they will leave.

Remember, in deciding between categories vs tags, use categories for larger divisions in your content, and tags for smaller, more specific topics.

If Possible, Use SEO Friendly Keywords

Categories are a great place for your SEO friendly keywords, to improve your SEO.

Having good SEO or Search Engine Optimization will help visitors find your site easier. Anything you can do to help that is a good idea. Use the relevant keywords people are searching for as Categories and Tags.

Go Easy on Tags too

Categories vs tags: What are they and how should you use them on your website?

Even though tags can be more numerous, it’s still a good idea to not have too many tags either.

The more categories and tags you have, the more chaos you have to control. Simple is better.

Remember What Tags You’ve Created

Keep a written list near your computer so you remember what tags you’ve created.  Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of creating new, but similar, tags to ones you already have when writing a post.

Stay on Topic with Categories and Tags

Looking over your list of tags (and Categories) can help you stay on topic. As you look at which ones you use most often, you see if you stay on topic with your content as planned. My tag listing and in particular my tag cloud helped me to see the areas where I got way too off topic.

A Blog Planner System may help — it helps me!

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