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. Sure can. I made ten categories on my blog plus the default uncategorized makes eleven.

        1. Great – but I think you can make many more than that… it’s not a question of how many categories exist on your blog – it’s a matter of how many categories you assign to any given blog post.


          1. Yes, that’s true but l as you wrote ten categories would be the golden rule and that’s ‘ also enough for me. Good tip David! Thank you

  1. Once again thank you so much David, you’ve addressed 2 things that have been bugging me: one about how to use tags effectively and the other, (which has been frustrating me since I set up my blog), about how to organise my writing into categories…in fact I was close to messaging you to ask how you do this on your own site!
    I have categories, I just didn’t know how to get them into a useable menu of options.
    I shall be installing the categories widget tomorrow. Thanks 😊 👍

  2. Great tips David🙏
    It’s always a bit of a dilemma for me. I had heard that if you actually have more that 10 tags it slows things down in SEO. I thought that meant that if you even list them in your tags list and don’t check the box, it is bad to do.
    Maybe it only hurts you if you actually check the box for more that 10? I just added quotes but used to check poetry because I didn’t want to have another item in my list and I thought that was good enough. Also, I thought categories was just for our own tracking and it showed us what categories we were writing more in?
    Oh my hash tags too and another wiget. I just want to write. 🤣🤣 but I do want to know..

    1. Cindy, you can have a trillion tags and categories on your blog – the question is – how many are assigned to any individual post (i.e. ‘checked’, as you say, although ‘checked’ only applies to categories, not to tags).

      And – don’t worry about hashtags on WP.


  3. This is again a detailed yet to the point information. Didn’t know all this matters. Have learnt a lot today. Thanks a lot.

  4. 😀 This is a true but tongue-in-cheek tip on tags. The power of tags: If ALL you want to do is increase your #s then find out what the hot topics are and add those to your posts, whether they have anything to do with your post’s contents or not.

    A little while ago, in a bit of snarky annoyance about getting what I call “fake followers” (people who obviously are not reading the blog, just trying to drum up hits to their own sites), I said that I would start putting in tags for #ketodiet. I did. Once. And my numbers keep going up from people with screen names like “hotnewdiet” and “losewtnow”, as I knew they would. LoL. I have a warped sense of humor. 🙂

  5. Good tips David! I believe #hashtags also work in the WordPress reader and can also provide a nice through-link to Twitter, though I’m never quite sure how they work…

      1. Interesting-when I started out they said they worked with WP, but they’ve probably introduced it as a separate plugin since then…

          1. maybe I’ll have what to write about again a year from now 😉

            In truth, I’m not sure how much further I can take this series… I feel like I’ve covered most of the basics already.

  6. Hi, thanks for this information – I actually thought but never checked that you could search by category rather than by tag. I will have to alter my tagging habits now!

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