Categories vs. tags. Tags vs. keywords. Aren't they all the same or at least similar enough to use the same terms for all three? Sorta, kinda, a little bit -- not really.
Tags are not categories, sentences or phrases. Keywords are not tags. At least to the extent that when you think of "keywords" you are thinking of SEO and keywords. And in almost every case, when site owners are left to their own devices, their SEO obsession kicks in and categories, tags and keywords are one in the same. Or worse...
Many times to the point of over-kill. Making for a site that is not intuitively organized or navigable -- and clearly keyword stuffed to the gills.
Categories, keywords and tags serve different purposes none of which dictates they all be the same phrases repeated ad nauseam to "increase SEO."
Let's Talk Keywords First...
When it comes to SEO, "keywords" applies to the keyword phrases you have investigated and determined your target audience uses to find what you have to offer. Let's face it, the chance that you'll be above the fold on Google for a one-word "keyword" is slim at best. So let's just wash that right out of our hair right now!
So, we look for 2-3 word keyword phrases that we are going to pepper throughout our content, in our post titles, descriptions and alt tags. Over time the consistent and targeted use of these phrases can assist us in gaining relevant rankings -- again, over time.
What confuses many is that SEO Plugins have a keyword field. Why is that field even there if, as we know to be true, for years Google has ignored the meta keyword tag that the SEO field creates? Well, just because the almighty Google ignores a tag doesn't mean it is totally useless. Just pretty much useless. Other engines use this field to varying degrees to get a hint about what a site is about -- but it isn't a major player any longer so no need to obsess over it.
I use that field to type in the 2 or 3 phrases that are specific to the post I am writing and use that as a reminder/guide to be sure those phrases are incorporated. The take-away here is that "keywords" are what are integrated throughout your site -- not just in this one field that the important crawlers disregard. So now we know how to use keywords. Categories coming up!
How to Setup Your WordPress Categories
Categories may very well include some of your keywords -- if it makes sense to do so for the user not SEO. If you find you are adding words to your categories (or tags) solely for the sake of SEO -- you are probably creating a keyword stuffed site -- and that's a big negative.
WordPress themes only have so much width for your category nav bar to display. So we need to use this space judiciously. That means categories are not sentences -- short, sweet and intuitive. 1-2 words are best. Use the terms that what will speak to your site visitors and what they are looking for.
Then when filing posts in your categories, don't file them in every possible category that could possibly apply. Choose the top category and only add a category or two if it really, really applies. This helps site visitors navigate to their category of interest and find only posts that do in fact apply directly to that category. What's the point of categories if every post is filed in every category? That makes for one frustrating user experience!
You don't want to add a new category unless you are confident you will have at least 5 new relevant posts created specifically for that category in the near future.
Categories are general terms to organize your content. Tags help you to further organize your articles within each category.
Let's move on to Tags.
How to Use WordPress Tags...
WordPress is a Content Management system, right? So, let's manage your content! Let's try this analogy:
- Visualize your WordPress site as a file cabinet.
- Your WordPress Categories are the drawers in that file cabinet.
- Your WordPress Tags are the tabbed manila folders that are filed within that drawer (Remember how little that tab is on those folders to write on? Here again, short and sweet!)
Some examples of a simple category structure and a corresponding tag:
CATEGORY: Fruits > TAG: Seeded
CATEGORY: Shoes > TAG: Summer
CATEGORY: New Homes > TAG: Ranch
See how this works? Categories are the general topic guide, the tags allow site visitors once within a category to click on an article of interest and then drill down further within that topic.
You can also have sub or child categories to further organize your data if you need to segment further. The goal is to not add extra clicks but help visitors gravitate to their topic of interest as quickly as possible.
Wrapping up Categories, Child Categories and Tags
Here's a great example of all three!
Child Categories: Local News, National News, World News
Tags: United States, Canada, United Kingdom
Child Categories: Music, Movies, Television
Tags: Adele, Ben Affleck, American Horror Story
Child Categories: NFL, MLB, NBA
Tags: Seahawks, Yankees, Lakers
HT to Torque for the above example!
Warning Will Robinson!
How helpful is it to your site visitors or even search engines if you file every post in every category and tag it with every tag imaginable -- just so we don't miss anything?
Or if your tags are only used once -- they click on a tag and find only the article they just read? Think of a filing cabinet where every drawer you open has the same folders and content within -- that means no organization at all, right?
With that in mind, we do not have singular and plural versions of tags, different versions of the same phrase, capped and lower case tags and tags with just the first letter capped. (Never use all caps as that just makes your tags harder to read.)
Tags should be viewed as another way of tightly organizing the data/content on your site so your site visitors can easily find exactly what they are seeking. And yes, while some tags may be the same as your SEO "keywords", you are creating tags for organizational purposes. What you do not do is create tags for the sole purpose of trying to cover all your SEO keyword bases.
Here are some tips to properly use your tags:
- Create a list of 10-15 tags that can apply to your posts and that are unique in meaning from each other. Tags are only one or two words. Period. Tags are not phrases or sentences -- they're tags. You want to have this list to reflect individual topics that you will have at least 5 posts that can apply to each term on a stand alone basis.
- Tag each post with just two or three tags from that existing list.
- Do not create new tags on the fly -- stick to your list!
- If you think of a new tag, fine, but if it doesn't pass the 5 post rule -- don't add it!
- If you have tags in place that don't fit the above rules, delete them.
The bottom line? Categories and tags should be viewed as ways to better organize your site content first. By being focused, thinking of site visitors and using restraint you'll have a site that is user-friendly while also being SEO'd organically!
At your service,