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Tags and categories: heroes or villains?

Posted by Sue Summers, 5 Sep, 2017 | No Comments »

In WordPress, tags and categories are arguably amongst your most powerful friends. They can organise your site’s content, improve your ranking in search engines, and increase your page views, as well as help visitors to your website find what they’re looking for.

Use tags and categories correctly, and you’ll have search engine crawlers and web readers flying through your web page like Spider-Man through a tall streetscape, giving it a chance to turn from mild-mannered unknown to superhero. Set them up poorly, however, and they’ll be the villains, with the victims including lost potential backlinks, your SEO ranking, and your customers.

Tags vs Categories

Categories in WordPress help you organise related posts in a structural group. Categories are generally broad, their purpose being to help identify what your blog is essentially about, and help readers find the right content on your site. As categories are hierarchical, you can also structure in subcategories.

Tags are more specific, and help describe your categories. Where categories are like the contents listing of your website, tags are akin to an index. Unlike categories, tags are not hierarchical. If you have a travel blog, categories might be the countries you’ve visited, and tags might include the style of holiday eg. adventure, gourmet, poolside, beach, whitewater rafting, cycling, surfing.

Tags also provide a way to cross-reference information, or filter contents using an alternate term. Say you have an online shop. Your categories may be used for the different types of garments – such as Tops, Skirts, Pants, Shoes, Accessories – and then you could use tags for colours and sizes. This allows users to narrow down their search criteria and find what they’re looking for. So, categories are the primary structural filter, and tags provide a way to cross-reference with other criteria.

Using tags and categories – keep it simple

The key here is less is more. Limit posts to one or two categories, and use no more than 5-10 categories on your site. When considering tags for your posts, tag only the topics most relevant to its content. If there’s no obvious tag for a post, it doesn’t necessarily need a tag. What’s important to your site’s visibility is that you research well and select the most relevant keyword phrases for your site for use in your tags and categories. Think about what your readers would be interested in, and use categories and tags that will direct them to your website. A great plugin that will help you create and manage your tags is Simple Tags. Or, if you have even simpler needs you can use the built in WordPress tag manager.

Keep your tags tidy

Make sure that your tag list doesn’t blow out to an unmanageable, ugly pile of words by carrying out regular tag maintenance. Settle on a clear system (such as the above example using colour and size tags), and stick with it. Then, on a regular basis (how regular will depend on the size/complexity of your blog), check in to ensure the tags on your site are consistent, relevant, and helpful. Clean up those ‘tag villains’ and topics of interest will be easier for your site’s visitors to find.

More tag tools

If your site has an extensive list of tags you may like to consider using a good-looking tag cloud plugin such as 3D Tag Cloud, or a tool that displays your categories and tags like a book index, like Multi-column Tag Map.

You can manage your categories and tags with Meta Tag Manager, and you can shine them up to attract more search engine attention with Yoast SEO.

And if you expect your users to be drilling down using categories and tags, an advanced search tool like Relevanssi could be a helpful and attractive addition to your site.

Speaking of drilling down, if the thought of spending hours being your blog’s librarian is too boring to bear, or if you know your time and talents would be far better spent creating your next masterpiece or running your business, it might be worth enlisting the help of a web developer. We here at Enigma are quite happy to don the superlibrarian’s cape for you – just flash the Enig-Signal somewhere above the city at night, or use our contact page.

In today’s densely populated online world, it’s more important than ever to be smart about how you use tags and categories. Never mind your hero status: the very success of your WordPress site may depend on it.

Do you think your WordPress site might be held back by an unkempt and unfit bunch of tags and categories? Or can you help other readers with your own experiences in tag-wrangling? Use the comments below to ask any questions, or share your advice.

Sue Summers

Sue Summers is a creative entrepreneur currently working as a writer and musician. She has 20 years of experience in broadcast media post-production, a diploma in sound production, a keen interest in WordPress, and an addiction to throwing frisbees.
Sue Summers

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