SEO-friendly Blogs: Proper Use of Categories & Tags

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“What’s better for Search Engine Optimization – categories or tags?” This is a topic that is highly discussed and many people have their own ideas regarding the differences between tags and categories, how many categories are too many, is there a limit to the tags that can be assigned to each post, are there any Search Engine Optimization benefits of using tags vs categories and so on. While the discussions regarding these are virtually limitless, the answers are rather incomplete.

Before taking a comprehensive look regarding this topic, it’s important to understand what categories and tags are. In the WordPress catalog, tags and categories are identified as taxonomies whose purpose is to sort out the content in order to enhance the usability of the website. In simpler terms, when a user visits your website, they can browse through the content easily rather than having to chronologically browse (which was how the blogs were first setup).

So what are categories? Categories are all about the wide grouping of the posts, ideally like a table of contents for your website development. It helps in identifying what your blog is all about, thereby helping users to find the right type of content they want to read. The categories are hierarchical so it contains sub categories too. Tags, on the other hand, are intended to illustrate particular details about your posts. Think of it as your website’s index words and since they are micro-data, you could use it to micro-categorize the content as well. Unlike categories, tags however are not hierarchical.

For instance, if you want to have your own blog where you would like to share about your life, the categories would probably be something like food, music, love, travel, etc. So if you write a post about what you had to dinner, you will add it into the ‘food’ category and together with this, you can add tags to it such as cake, pizza, sandwich, etc. Tags are added in order to improve your site’s usability and as far as the optimal number of categories are concerned, there is no specific amount for this and it usually depends on the complexity of your website. Having said that, it is better to utilize tags and sub-categories as well to enhance the structure and usability of the site.

The key difference between categories and tags is that you have to categorize the post and adding tags is not required. If your posts are not categorized, it will be added under the ‘uncategorized’ section which is often named as ‘Ramblings’, ‘Other’ and so on. Categories cover a group of posts and it’s a good idea to start with the generic categories and then work your way with subcategories once your site starts growing. Because you wouldn’t have many posts when you start out on the blog, you could opt for about five categories that have unique content rather than having about 20 categories that aren’t updated.

When should you start adding sub-categories? Well, that depends on your website. For instance, if you write an article interviewing a psychology expert for your lifestyle blog but you don’t have a category called ‘Psychology’. In that situation, you will add that as a tag to your post but if you consistently write articles about psychology, then you might want to add that as a sub-category of your main category ‘Health’. Adding sub-categories however, isn’t mandatory. You can always choose to add tags to your posts but adding sub-categories will make it easier for your visitors to find the content they are looking for. After all, the whole purpose of categories and tags is to make your website easier to browse.

As far as how many categories you choose to assign for each post is concerned, many people believe that multiple categories for a single post can damage Search Engine Optimization and can even get you penalized for duplicate content. This is not completely true and even WordPress allows users to add a post to as many categories as needed. For example, if you write an article about online marketing, then this article can fall under the categories of ‘Search Engine Optimization’, ‘Marketing’ and ‘Advertising’. So there are in fact many occasions where you would need to add more than one category for a post.

There are no specific Search Engine Optimization benefits of adding multiple categories for your posts. If you think that your users can actually benefit from this, then go ahead but if you find this becoming a major issue, then it’s better that you restructure the categories and add sub-categories. WordPress also has no limits to the amount of tags that you can assign to a post. In fact, you can add as many as 1000+ tags but it’s better to narrow it down to what is really relevant so it’s easier for readers to find the content they are after. Ideally, it’s recommended that you add no more than ten tags to your posts.

So the bottom line – Is there any Search Engine Optimization benefit of using tags over categories and vice versa? The answer is no. Tags and categories are meant to work together and when combined, it can go a long way in enhancing the value or usability of your website. Many people focus too much on making their website functional for search engine bots and forget about their users in the process. If you start thinking in terms of how you can enhance your website’s usability, you will undoubtedly implement strategies where you will end up reaping Search Engine Optimization benefits. Ensure that you choose your website’s categories wisely and add tags to relate multiple posts. If any tag is becoming popular, then add it as a sub-category and focus on all ways in which you can make your website as user-friendly as possible.

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