Tips for bloggers #4: Categories and tags

Should you use categories and tags on your blog?

Yes! Categories and tags are relevant to all bloggers – even those who are not concerned with gaining subscribers.

I have been writing this series of blogging tips with an eye towards increasing one’s visibility and appeal to others; but maintaining a taxonomy of blog topics is useful even for those blogging only for themselves.

Keep in mind that you can create menus on your blog that include both tags and categories, making your blog posts easier to navigate. Also, there are widgets for both categories and tags, which you can easily add to your blog. (See: ‘Tag Cloud’ widget, ‘Categories’ widget)

I have not been able to find any experts who suggest that categories and tags are unimportant. The only matter at hand seems to be the issue of best practices.

What are the differences between categories and tags?

In researching this subject, I have come across 3 primary differences between categories and tags on WordPress; and there is an additional difference that I shall suggest below. The three differences are:

  1. Categories are required, and tags are not. If no category is assigned to a blog post, it will automatically be assigned the default category: ‘Uncategorized’.
  2. Categories are hierarchical, and tags are not. This is to say that you can create subcategories, whereas tags have no levels. Every tag you create stands alone.
  3. Categories are intended to be broad, and tags are intended to be specific. Think of categories as the table of contents for your blog; think of tags as your blog’s index words.

The 4th difference, which I consider important, is:

  1. In the ‘WordPress Reader’, you can search by tag, but you cannot search by category. Therefore, you should give your tags names that other WordPress bloggers are likely to search for.

How many categories and tags should one use?

Once you’re convinced that categories and tags are helpful, the natural question becomes: How many per post? (Again, this advice is primarily for those bloggers who want to increase their subscriberships)

Technically, there is no limit. You are free to add any number of categories and tags to your blog posts; but, for at least three reasons, you shouldn’t do so:

  1. Aesthetically, having too many tags and categories makes blog posts unappealing; and it makes them more difficult to identify, which defeats the point.
  2. Search engines will ultimately ignore all of a blog post’s tags and categories if there are too many.
    • Search engines do not, as a rule, distinguish between categories and tags.
  3. Your blog posts may not appear in WordPress Reader under the relevant search topics if they contain too many categories and tags.

So… how many is too many?

From what I’ve garnered from multiple sources, a total of 10 categories and tags is the recommended upper limit per blog post. Some sources suggest a wider range of 5-15, but most agree that 10 is the golden rule. More than that, and your blog posts are likely to get ignored by search engines and by WordPress Reader.

Naming your tags

On the one hand, there will naturally be some topics that are specific to your blog, which you may feel deserve their own tags. This is totally fine. For example, whenever I write a blog post that relates to my father (this blog was created in his memory), I always tag it with ‘Papa’.

This is very convenient because it provides me with a list of all blog posts that relate to Papa.

On the other hand, I am well aware that ‘Papa’ is not something that other bloggers are likely to be searching for in the WordPress Reader; and that’s why I rarely use more than one or two esoteric tags on any given post.

In fact, if I publish a poem, I usually tag it with both ‘poem’ and ‘poetry’, and often with ‘creative writing’ as well. This is based upon searches that I’ve conducted in the WordPress Reader. Sometimes poems appear under the ‘poem’ tag; sometimes they appear under the ‘poetry’ tag; sometimes they appear under both (and, of course, there are other tags relevant to poetry).

So that is the blogger’s challenge: limit yourself to approximately 10 categories and tags that are relevant to you and are also likely to be of popular interest. Keyword research can be time consuming, but it will pay dividends for those who aim to grow their audiences.

45 thoughts on “Tips for bloggers #4: Categories and tags”

  1. I missed this post somehow. Yay for search functions. I appreciate this little series and have tweaked the crap out of my fake-consolidated blogs. Thank you. I had not thought at all about tags in the reader!

  2. The 3rd aspect is very well expressed and comprehensive – TOC vs index.

    However, unlike a book where it is an open page, I wonder how many of us open up the menu to scroll through categories (I do) otherwise simply pick up reads from Home page dynamic blog post displays. Never read anywhere so far, about such percentage of preferences. Nonetheless, I cannot write without categories, even if it is “Miscellaneous”.

    Anyway, I thought hashtags and tags were the same stuff having just different names in different platforms.

    1. Swapnya,

      Anyway, I thought hashtags and tags were the same stuff having just different names in different platforms.

      They serve the same function, basically, but in WordPress you don’t use the ‘#’ symbol, which I’ve seen some bloggers do because they’re used to Twitter…


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