- Categories and Tags are for your visitors, not just search engines. Think of your visitors’ needs first.
- Categories and Tags are about navigation and sorting, grouping your content to help visitors find related information.
- Categories and Tags are not fashion statements. Don’t be colorful or imaginative with either.
- Categories are your site’s table of contents.
- Categories help identify what your blog is about.
- Categories represent your body of work on the subject.
- Categories are not for you, they are for your reader.
- Categories help reader know if they are in the right place.
- Categories must encompass collected groups of information.
- Categories must be specific enough to help visitors understand the content within, while not being too general or vague.
- A category that dominates a blog may need to be spun off to a separate blog.
- Categories with only one post tells the reader you don’t know much about that topic.
- Tags are your site’s index words.
- Tags are micro-data or meta-data, more specifically micro-categorization for your site’s content.
- Tags were indexed by Technorati and others as “keywords” and today are just part of the collection of content they index. They are not indexed nor score “extra points” by other indexing services.
- Search engines do not recognize or reward the
rel="tag"which identifies a tag.
- If you can’t write five blog post titles/ideas on a topic, then you don’t have a category.
- If enough posts have the same tag, and it represents your blog purpose and goals, it’s a category.
NOTE: All categories and tags must link to content on your site, through built-in features or WordPress Plugins. Not sure if they link to your content, test it.
The History of Keywords, Categories, and Tags
To get into a search engine, you used to just have a solid content, structure, and keyword development and manually submit your website to the search engines and then wait for them to come cruising through with their robots and spiders. Then came Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which brought with it a more focused attempt for page ranking which considered link exchanges and link popularity, followed closely behind by trackbacks, and pingbacks and their validity as ways to determine the “value” of a site, since the assumption was that the more ways a site was interconnected to other sites, the more value is is presumed to have.
While links had their way with SEO, categories were a natural evolution as they helped to group related content together as sites increased their content. This helped visitors identify the areas of interest to them. The more the content expanded beyond a sole purpose, and the more complicated the sites became, the more categories were necessary. The more specific the categories related to a visitor’s interest, the more “sticky” the site might be as people would spend more time exploring the related content.
As a site develops, it begins with simple categories. On this site, the core categories are:
Over time, I’ve added more subcategories to further group related content together. Under WordPress News, I’ve added WordCamps and WordPress Events to help people find more information on specific news within the WordPress Community.
You can add more categories and subcategories and even sub-sub-categories to group content on your site, however, as a site grows, this becomes unwieldy. Enter tags to help micro-categorize the content.
For the web world, 2005 was declared to be the year of the tag. Bloggers and webmasters were trying to understand what it meant for categorizing their content, but most of all, just like they did with links and SEO, they wanted to figure out how to manipulate tags for better page ranking.
Tags are ways of micro-categorizing your content with links, assigning a “tag” to a link to represent its categorization, if you will. As of 2005, the only services using tags specifically to index content and organize them were Del.icio.us, Technorati, and Flickr.
Technorati was the driving force behind the push for tags on blogs. Its goal was to take on Google and Yahoo and change how we searched for information. Instead of just putting in a specific keyword or phrase, we could actually drill through related content with tags. Tags would be nested under general to specific to help you find the information you needed. While in theory this is great, drilling through random tags and groupings didn’t speed up the search process, only bogged it down.
In theory, tags are micro-categorization of content. That’s what they are for, but let’s really break this down.
A tag is a reference in a link designated by the use of
rel="tag" in the link such as:
<a title="WordPress Support Forums" href="http://www.wordpress.org/support" rel="tag">WordPress Support Forums</a>
To break the link down as a tag, you have the following elements:
- The HTML
awhich designates this as an HTML anchor tag, better known as a “link.”
- The title of the link, a required web standard attribute, which describes the link and/or destination of the link. This is indexed by search engines.
hrefidentifies the actual URL link address for the browser and reader.
rel="tag"attribute instructs search engines, web crawlers, and bots that this link is designated as a “tag.”
- The anchor or link text, WordPress Support Forums, displays visibly on the page. It is indexed by search engines as the link text and nothing more, but designated as the tag word or phrase if the tag was recognized as such.
The text within the anchor HTML tag is the “tag” that tag hunting search engines looked for to add to their own categorization of their content. Technorati was, and continues to be, the only “search engine” that uses tags distinctly from other content and links on your site.
Within less than two years, Technorati had switched from indexing by tags to a general search engine. It lost its fight for search engine dominance, becoming a profiling and analytic data company sought by major companies for data-mining and other services.
What happened to tags? They returned to a more useful purpose. Tags give us a way to micro-categorize our content so we can increase site navigation and avoid the inundation associated with trying to put a square category into a round one.
Where Tagging Falls Down
Here’s the first problem with such tagging efforts. The link within the anchor link text is the tag, not the link itself, nor the description of the link. For those who used click here for tagged links, or something equally non-specific, the “click here” tag wouldn’t be very helpful, would it? When was the last time you searched for “click here” for any reason?
While the link might actually be of value as a tag, people didn’t know how to use them. Almost six years later, they still don’t, which is why this article and so many similar articles I’ve written continue to get so much traffic. People don’t get the tags versus category thing.
Because they don’t understand how tags work, they tag their content whatever pops into their mind at the time they are writing the blog post. Many will tag their blog posts “WordPress” just because they are blogging with WordPress or WordPress.com, not because they are actually writing on the subject of WordPress. Look under WordPress on Technorati or even the WordPress.com tag page for WordPress, and while it’s improved, you will find some totally unrelated content under those tags.
Since the goal of a website is to keep visitors on their site or coming back to their site as much as possible, sending people to another site with often irrelevant or unwanted content isn’t helpful, nor in line with the purpose.
Technorati wanted to build a new search engine by having you send your traffic to their site. If you trust Technorati to filter and keep their collections of tagged posts cleaned up and specific to the tag topic, then this would be a great idea. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.
Another problem with tags is creating a tag link within your post content. It designates that word as a tag, but today, no one honors the tag attribute. It’s just a link. Most links within post content go to helpful information such as a reference article on the web or Wikipedia, or another page on your site that substantiates the point being made. Whether or not it’s a “tag” doesn’t matter. It’s not treated any differently by search engines nor page ranking. It’s just a link.
As people came to understand how messy using tags was, they stopped using the tag attribute in their links within post content. It serves no purpose. And they stopped sending their traffic to Technorati through page tags as that also proved to be useless and didn’t encourage visitors to spend more time on their own sites.
They turned their tags into tag clouds and a form of breadcrumb navigation for content on their own sites, and social networking services around the world started offering tags to help people categorize the content they submitted to their services, such as video and image services. Google even chose to add “labels” as their form of tags to Gmail and their office products to help people categorize that content.
How to Use Today’s Tags
Since the concept of a tag directory or search engine never materialized, why do we bother with tags today?
What tags do best is benefit you and your site by providing a micro-navigational tool that represents the variety of topics you cover.
Think of tags as a form of interactive yellow pages. The tag link takes you to a collection of posts tagged with that tag category name. For instance, instead of constantly turning to the search box to find content on a site, a visitor can drill down through Nature Photography to find Macro Photography, Wildlife Photography, Insect Photography, Plants and Flowers Photography, etc. Or maybe they can get even more specific by clicking tags for specific animals or plants. Maybe they are only interested in the lessons you can teach them on photographing trees, but you don’t have enough content to justify a tree photography category. They can still find what they want though your site’s tags, just as they would turn to the back of a book to look up a term from an index page.
Here’s some more tips for using tags on your blog:
- Use tags on single post pageviews to direct people to related content using tag pages or search links.
- Use tags as a heat map or tag cloud in the sidebar or footer to give visitors an instant “resume” of your blog’s content and topics.
- Use tags to keep an eye on what you blog about, reminding you to stay on topic. Have some off-topic tags, find a way to rewrite that content into a more appropriate form to match your site’s intent.
- Move from simple tags to taxonomies to really group and categorize your content by different relationships such as geolocations, genre types, and more focused categorized content delivery systems within your site.
- Site content based upon the category or tag assigned to them, much like using taxonomies, to add some design fun to specific topics.
- Tag by author, title, show names, category, and more than just descriptive words.
- If few and representative enough, replace categories with tags.
- Create tag feeds for very specific niche topics on your blog.
- Use tags from other services within your content such as a link to a flickr image or YouTube video search by tag keyword to help explain ideas and concepts.
Use your imagination!
Categories, Tags, and WordPress
Tags can be features easily from within WordPress as a tag cloud or post meta data on your single blog posts. You can create custom tag and category pages or let WordPress do it for you automatically, displaying all the posts within a specific tag or category.
To confuse things even more, WordPress treats categories like tags. After all, they are a tag in the truest sense of the word. If you click on a category, you are taken to a tag page which displays the posts within that category, just like tags.
You can easily create feeds from tags and categories, giving people access to only the information they are interested in from your WordPress blog.
The key difference for WordPress users is that we have a choice when it comes to overall navigation. We can choose to represent our content by categories alone, tags alone, or a combination of the two.
For more information on how to use tags and categories in WordPress, see Tags and Tagging in WordPress.
Tags or Categories: Which One to Use?
Which should you use and which is better? In this excellent explanation of the difference between categories and tags and why he likes categories better than tags, Owen Winkler explained:
Maybe it’s a trivial thing, but to me it’s important. I don’t want a heat map of tags on my site, or if I did, I wouldn’t want it exclusively in place of a category listing. You could make the same argument on search engines versus directories. Search engines are going to uncover every minute detail with no human filtering and possibly no common thread between the results. Directories will return only human-filtered results, but might not contain every site in their listings.
Tagging gives you topical search capabilities for your site that are a middle ground between categories and all-out search, but it shouldn’t replace categories entirely.
How can I best help a visitor navigate around my site.
Sure, I want the highest page ranking I can get, but it’s critical that visitors be able to move around my site to find the information they are looking for. On my main site, I have over two thousand articles on travel, nature, nature photography, travel photography, and related subjects. Finding information is a challenge. So I’ve set up categories and subcategories to help people find related subjects, but I’ve also added tags to help people find micro-related subjects.
It all boils down to categories are your table of contents and tags are your index words. By serving up both, you help the visitor navigate your site easily, and help them find the answers they need from your site.
Should tags replace categories? Absolutely not – and it depends. This is an evolving and fast changing technology, one that even caught Technorati by surprise. I expect a lot of changes in how tags work, including search engines getting into the fray, very soon.
Tags shouldn’t replace categories, but they can help the user and search engines and directories find and catalog related information on your site, which is a very exciting improvement in website development.
- Categories versus Tags: Defining the Limitations
- The Problems With Tags and Tagging
- Tags Are Not Categories – Got It?
- Putting Some Thought Into Blog Categories and Tags
- Keywords Versus Tags
- Tags and Tagging in WordPress
- Are You Abusing and Misusing Tags?
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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network