When it comes to SEO, one of the most talked about subjects is categories vs. tags. What exactly is the difference between the two? Are tags similar to implementing meta keywords? What are the SEO benefits of using categories rather than tags? If you pay attention, this particular topic is discussed all over the web. However, most of the available information is incomplete or inconsistent.
Before you can determine which is better to use for your SEO efforts, you have to know what categories and tags actually are. According to the WordPress nomenclature, categories and tags are called ‘taxonomies.’ Basically, their primary function is to sort all your content better to improve your website’s overall usability.
Difference Between Categories and Tags
Categories are intended to group your posts broadly. Think of them as your site’s table of contents or as general topics for your website. Categories are incorporated to help your audience determine what your site is all about. It’s a kind of an assistance of sorts. Because categories are hierarchical, sub-categories can be used as well.
Tags are used to describe the details about your posts specifically. In other words, they serve as index words. Think of them as the micro-data that’s used to micro-categorize all your content. However, tags are not hierarchical.
For instance, you may run a personal blog where you document details about your life. Therefore, your categories could include: Travel, Books, Music, Ramblings, and Food. If you write a post about a place you traveled to over the weekend, you will naturally add it to the Travel category. You could also add tags like Chicago, Galena, Door County, etc.
One of the key differences between categories and tags is that you have to categorize your post, but it isn’t necessary to add tags. If you do not, however, categorize your post, it will just default to the ‘uncategorized’ category and get lost in the crowd. Most people typically rename the category marked ‘uncategorized’ to something such as Ramblings, Other, etc.
Another key difference is the way your tags and category URLs (permalinks) look. If you use a custom permalink structure, your base prefix will appear differently. For example:
Until WordPress 2.5 launched, there wasn’t any built-in support regarding tags. This resulted in extremely long category lists since people were utilizing it to define small details. Tags are meant to prove overall usability for your website. Therefore, there’s no optimal number you should use for categories. The number varies according to the general complexity of your site. But, for the sake of usability, structure, and simplicity, it’s best to use both tags and sub-categories.
Overall, categories are intended to include a collection of posts. It’s a good idea to begin with generic type categories and then create subcategories as your blog or site starts to grow. After maintaining a number of sites, you’ll soon learn that sites tend to evolve. It’s impossible to incorporate all the right categories. It’s likely that you’re only writing a post per day if you’re just starting out.
When to Start Adding Subcategories
Suppose you do some case-study posts where occasionally you interview professionals for some case studies. Since there’s no category labeled ‘professional interviews,’ you’ll add that as a specific tag based on the case-study post. If you discover over time that you’re conducting several interviews for case-studies and your professional interviews tag has more than ten posts in it and continually growing, then it’s time to perhaps start adding ‘professional interviews’ as a sub-category to your primary category labeled ‘case studies.’
Are Sub-Categories Always Necessary?
No. You can leave popular tags simply as tags. Nearly all posts will invariably have a tag for a certain social media channel like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. No need to create those particular categories. Keep in mind that the only reason why you ever want to add sub-categories is to make it easier for your audience to find your content. You can add the ‘professional interviews’ tag somewhere in your site if you like. Remember, the main purpose of tags and categories are to facilitate ease and simplicity for your guests to browse your website.
Assigning One Post to Multiple Categories
You may have read somewhere that assigning posts to more than one category can negatively impact your SEO. Some people claim you can get penalized due to duplicate content. However, this isn’t true. Don’t get too crazy with your SEO efforts. The idea behind efficiently sorting all your content is to enable users to find it easily. Just by the very nature of how top categories should ideally be set up, you really shouldn’t be able to categorize one post into several top-level categories.
Overall, there are no SEO advantages to adding several categories. If you are regularly adding multiple categories to your site, you may want to consider restructuring your site’s categories. Perhaps some of them need to be tags rather than categories. On the other hand, maybe they need to be sub-categories of one huge category. Keep your hierarchy organized for better user experience.
Your website or blog is all about your target audience, not the search engine bots. In reality, the objective of every search engine is to think the way humans think when assessing your site’s content. If you make the majority of your decisions based on visitor usability, you will usually reap the benefits of good SEO. Tags and categories are the two primary default taxonomies that come with the WordPress platform. The majority of advanced sites utilize customized taxonomies for efficiently sorting out all their content along with tags and categories. Essentially, your blog or site is a book that continues to evolve, page by page.
Now that you know the difference between categories vs. tags, you’re ready to get your site organized for maximum efficiency, simplicity, and better overall user experience. Categorizing your topics is really just common sense. How are your topics related? Are they equal in nature or does one naturally come under the other? Pineapples are food, but not all food is pineapples. Therefore, pineapples are naturally a sub-category of food. See the difference?
Author: Kaumil Patel
Kaumil Patel is the Chief Operating Officer of GreenGeeks and has over 13 years of experience in the web hosting industry working for and owning web hosting companies. Kaumil’s expertise is in marketing, business development, operations, acquisitions and mergers.