Tags and categories are useful signposts when navigating a blog, though the two can easily be confused.
Categories as Headings
Think of categories as chapter headings. A reader coming to your blog to learn about gardening, for example, might want to look for information about propagating plants. A category called ‘Propagation’ would be useful to the reader looking for a specific piece of information.
You can add posts to one or more category so that when the reader clicks on a link, they will be taken to posts which are the most relevant to their search. It is a good idea to display categories in the sidebar of your blog so that readers can see them easily. Your categories should be general topic areas and can encompass more than one main idea. A list of 5-10 categories is sufficient for most blogs. Fewer than five and there is not much reason to use categories, more than ten and the list risks becoming repetitive.
Tags as an Index
Tags are more like the index at the back of a book, usually one word and specific. An individual post can have several tags, but for most posts 2-3 tags is sufficient.
It is important to make sure that you use the same tags and are consistent with details such as capitalization, since words like ‘cuttings’ and ‘Cuttings’ will be stored on your blog as separate tags. You may also want to consider using synonyms. Whereas categories are more useful to somebody who is already reading your blog who wants to find further information, tags are used by search engines when people type in a keyword which relates to your blog.
We recommend 2-3 tags as an appropriate amount to be used in a blog post because you don’t want to overuse tags to the point where you are keyword stuffing, especially with the Google Penguin update. People may think that it will be better to use more tags, but if you use too many tags you may get irrelevant content appearing on blog posts and when your site is being crawled you may even receive a minus credit because of overuse. If you think it is necessary, we say use 5 tags at most, this way you keep the posts which are linked together focused and relevant.
A good example of tags would be for a recipe for vegetarian moussaka. You could use the following tags: ‘recipe’, ‘vegetarian’, ‘moussaka’, all of which relate to the post subject. The post itself may be listed in the category of ‘Recipes’. You can choose not to display tags on the sidebar of your blog, or you can display them as a tag cloud. The advantage of this is that is shows readers straight away some of the most popular topics and subjects covered in the blog in a graphic way by making the most commonly used tags larger. If you choose not to display the tags, there is no real detriment to the reader as the category list should make it easier to find posts of interest. Displaying tags as a list is probably overkill and adds little value to the reader, merely filling up space in the sidebar.
A significant advantage of using tags in blogs is that it will help readers to navigate easily to other related posts which may be of interest to them. For example if they are reading a post under the category ‘Food and Drink’ and are interested in ‘Caribbean Food’, they could choose this tag to find further posts about Caribbean food. Hence it will be easier for the reader to find specific topics which are relevant to them.
From the point of view of the blog, tags encourage people to click through to other posts and ultimately stay longer on the website. Tags will also benefit your search engine optimization (SEO) if you use it correctly and consistently. Try and use tag names that people will be searching for and are not too broad. For example, you’re more likely to get traffic from the tag ‘Caribbean food’ as oppose to ‘Caribbean’ under the category ‘Food and Drink’. Furthermore, tags help to bring less clutter to your blog’s categories and help to make your blog clearer to understand.
Tags and categories can bring plenty of benefits to your blog, so bloggers should focus on using them correctly and consistently, and it is important to understand the difference between the two.
About the Author
Oliver Ortiz works for Expert Market which is a division of MVF Global. Expert Market is a UK-based provider of a wide variety of business related equipment and services. Find him on Twitter@OliOrtiz7 if you would like to connect with him.
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