Categories vs Tags: How To Structure Your Blog For Success

By Leslie Samuel | Blogging

Sep 29

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A few weeks ago I got an interesting email. I tried finding it again, but it seems I deleted it.

Here’s the essence of what it said:

09_29_Categories_Tags_PinterestI was interested in purchasing your product but I decided not to for one reason – Your own blog is so difficult to navigate that it didn’t seem like you could teach me much.

At first I brushed it off, saying to myself – “Whatever, it doesn’t matter what that one person thought”.

However, deep down inside, I knew it was true. As much as I understood what it takes to structure a blog correctly, my blog content was the result of years of creating content without fully thinking about the structure I wanted my blog to have after 5 or even 10 years.

Now that this blogging stuff is my full time business, I can no longer use the excuse that I’m “too busy” to think about the future.

I have to make sure that what I do is well thought out – even down to the structure of the content on my blog.

Categories vs Tags

This is something bloggers often don’t think about beforehand. We’re too busy creating content that we don’t always take the time to plan these things out.

What exactly are they?

Categories are a way of broadly grouping your related posts together, so that your blog visitors can get a general idea of what a piece of content is about.

Tags are similar to categories except for one simple distinction – they describe your posts into more detail.

Allow me to illustrate with an example:

broccoliLets say you’re a food blogger (like a number of other Become A Blogger readers) and a major part of what you do is post recipes.

You may have categories such as “Entrees”, “Desserts”, “Breakfast”, “Lunch” and “Dinner”.

Your tags might be things like “Chicken”, “Chocolate”, “Peanuts”, “Pasta” and “Broccoli”.

See what I did there? I used these two levels of organization to group my recipes in a way that makes my content easy to navigate.

A reader can easily go to the desserts category and see all of your deserts, some of which may contain chocolate or peanuts.

If that reader is a peanut lover (not me since I’m allergic to peanuts), they can see your entrees, desserts, breakfast, lunch and dinner items that contain peanuts.

They can go on a peanut binge, all because you took the time to think about how to serve them as well as possible 🙂

By thoughtfully using your categories and tags, you can really do a lot to help your audience find EXACTLY what they are looking for.

The end result – They love you and want more of your content, and yes – we all love to be loved 🙂

How Many Should I Have?

One of the best things about categories and tags is that the sky is the limit to how many you can have.

One of the worst things about categories and tags is that the sky is the limit to how many you can have.

It’s SO EASY to end up in a situation where after years of creating content, you end up with hundreds of categories and tags, many of which have only one post in them.

That doesn't do anything to help your audience.

After 6 years of blogging, that’s exactly where I found myself, because I’d been creating my categories and tags as I go without significant forethought about the structure.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve actually been going through and deleting a bunch of categories and tags.

I’ve also been much more proactive in thinking about the content I publish here on Become A Blogger and have come up with a list of categories and tags I plan on using and have been reorganizing my content to fit within that structure.

This list will evolve over time, but I will be proactively thinking about how each category and tag fits into the overall structure and direction of Become A Blogger.

I’m not done, but I’ve made a lot of progress.

In fact, here’s a video that goes through how I’ve restructured the blog here to help you find things easier:

What About You?

Are you proactively thinking about the structure of your blog, even down to the categories and tags?

Let us know in the comments below

  • Angela says:

    Leslie

    I am so new I have not even got my website up yet. I love what I’m learning from you in turning my “hobby” blogging into a business and I’m glad my friend recommended you. I appreciate this post because I found out I was doing something right by instinct from the beginning with the categories and tags Thanks. Soon my website will be ready to share and it will have a much easier “birth” thanks to “Doc” Leslie.

    • That’s awesome Angela. Yes – I find that most of the times, if we REALLY decide to follow our instincts, we end up doing things right. If we think – how can I best serve my audience, we generally end up doing the right thing.

  • This is quite timely because I’m working through this same reorganization of my blog. I started in January with no idea what I was going to write about and now it shows in the organization (or lack there of!) of my blog. Thanks for the reminder to go back and work on the structure. I’m sure it will benefit my readers and will help me stay organized in the months and years to come!

  • Nathalie says:

    Timely. I’ve been looking at my site lately and thinking I how much I’d really like to clean the internal structure up. I’m having trouble finding some of my own posts that I want to reference these days, so I can’t imagine what my poor readers go through (although they wouldn’t necessarily know that not everything that should show up in a particular tag or category isn’t showing up).

    It also gets complicated when you add new tags as you write new material that would work well for older posts. I guess it would probably make sense to go in and add those tags to the older posts right away, but I hardly ever do that right now.

    Additional complication: when you delete old tags and categories that don’t work for you anymore, you’re left with potential for 404 errors. Do you just redirect the old categories links to newer ones?

    • Thanks for your comment Nathalie. I hardly ever go back to add tags either. However, now I will be from time to time. It’s gonna be one of those things I check every few months or so.

      In terms of the complication you mentioned, yes, it does generate 404 errors, but that’s mostly an issue if you have posts linking to those old categories. If so, I would use the plugin called “find and replace”. That allows you to search for text on your site and replace it with something else. You can search for links to those categories and replace them.

      I’ve monitored Google Webmaster tools to see if there’s an increase in 404 errors and I haven’t noticed any so far, so I think it should be fine. I will be doing the same thing on my biology blog, which is much bigger and see how that one goes. My general feel is that bad categories and tags probably won’t be indexed significantly. Also, if your main goal is to make your site easier to navigate, I would seeing that having a positive effect over the long term. I think of all of this from a long term perspective.

  • Annamarie says:

    Hi Lesley,
    I love your new style, but have to admit I miss that cheerful voice at the beginning.

    • No no, you don’t have to worry about missing that cheerful voice. I think you’re referring to my Learning With Leslie podcast. That’s not changing. At least not for now 😉

  • Mary Lahti says:

    Hi Lesley,
    Nice new style. I still sing your wife’s jingle in my head though. Thanks for the category vs tags tips.

    Mary

  • Crystal Foth says:

    I recently did a bit of a cleaning up in this area myself. I’m also curious about how to best handle the 404 errors that may arise from these changes. Always looking forward to your content. Thanks Leslie!

    • Hi Crystal,

      I haven’t had any significant 404 errors from what I’ve seen so far. When it becomes a big issue is if you have:

      1. A bunch of links to those categories
      2. A bunch of those pages indexed in google and sending you a lot of traffic

      Because I didn’t have them well thought out, none of those above points are true. If you do have a bunch of links to those categories on your blog, then I would use the “Find and Replace” plugin to find those links and replace them with new ones.

      I’m still evaluating the index in Google thing, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I’m going to be doing the same thing on my biology site, which is the bigger one and see how it works there.

    • Here’s a good article from Google addressing the topic showing that the 404’s won’t hurt your site – http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.ch/2011/05/do-404s-hurt-my-site.html

  • James says:

    Leslie,

    This is the first time I’ve seen this subject addressed even though I’ve thought of it often. I too have had one-post categories and made all the mistakes you’ve mentioned.

    But questions: How do search engines address categories and tags? Do they seek them out? And if so, does it pay to use Keywords as category and/or tag names?

    If so, I would suspect they could be used as sales tools, but perhaps I’m over-complicating something I know little about.

    Love your stuff!

    • Hi James,

      Search engines do index categories and tags yes, especially if they are linked to. Does it pay to use keywords as categories and/or tags? It depends – does it add value to your audience? If so, then definitely.

  • Christoph says:

    Hi Leslie,
    thank you for this great post. Since this is the first blog i run made with WordPress, all this was very new and confusing to me. I didn’t know about Categories, Tags and stuff… i’m a musician, not a pro website builder. I found out that i need some help and i found help in the person of Rick Anderseon (http://www.byobwebsite.com/), he’s THE man when it comes to bulding your own business website. He advised me to handle Categories and Tags exactly as you describe it, my blog is online since Aug 26 and my structure of Categories and Tags is great the way it is set up. Thanks for all your support!
    Christoph

  • Really great content!! I think a maximum of 6-8 categories! Enough to have a nice and varied spread but not too much to confuse your readers! As for tags – go crazy!!!!

  • I really like your posts!
    Your explanations are so clear and easy to understand.
    Where would I put a PayPal button so people can order my product? I don’t see one on your
    blog.

    Thanks for your great course,
    Eleanor

    • Hi Eleanor,

      It all depends on what kind of product you are selling. If you give me some more info about it I can offer some suggestions. If it’s a simple digital product (i.e. eBook), I would recommend using Gumroad.

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