Categories vs. Tags, the Ultimate Showdown

Way back in the days when bloggers were just happy to move away from Google’s Blogspot and get their very own WordPress implementation, we were all fine with using Categories. We used them to create sections of CMS‘s and to iterate every little possible grouping we could ever think of. They were tags, they were categories, they were even sometimes page templates.

Then the world evolved and with it came WordPress’ decision to implement Tags properly in the core functionality of the platform. So now, up and coming Internet superstars had to decide what the difference was between a Category and a Tag.

The debate is still happening, heated discussions held over emptied cases of Mountain Dew somewhere in the suburbs around Silicon Valley, no doubt, but I’m here to put it all to rest, for my clients’ sanity anyway.

Categories are used to group things broadly, Tags can be used to provide additional less specific grouping to your content.

Great, but is that really all that clear? Yes, but let me go on to further explain over a paragraph or three.

Imagine you’re a pet store owner. You sell three types of pets: Dogs, Cats and Pokemon. These are your categories, they are broad, they are clear, and they provide folks in your shop with a clear delineation between the various sections of your store. Dogs are on the left, cats on the right, and Pokemon are in the back.

Once the customer gets to the Dogs section of your store, they can choose between Chihuahuas, Labs, Great Danes, Collies, etc. They may specifically want a white dog or a dog with long ears or a dog who is already named Snoopy. Similarly, over in the Cats section someone may want a hypoallergenic cat, a kitten, or a Siamese cat. These sub-categories, you might call them, are our Tags. Similarly, hypoallergenic could be used to tag dogs, cats and Pokemon, just as colors, sizes, or names could be. In this way, tags can stretch across categories, where a sub-category system can’t necessarily.

Your blog works similarly. Let’s say you write about food. You have two categories, Recipes and Restaurant Reviews. Both serve very different functions, and when your visitors come to your site, they can easily sort through your posts depending on whether they want a recipe to make at home or a recommendation on where to go out to eat.

But either category could easily have a post about Beef Stroganoff or spicy food. Tags allow you to organize content on a secondary, less formal method.

Search Engine Benefits of Tagging

One other consideration I hold for using tags is that they can be used to add meta data to a page’s content, data that the story itself might not have contained. For example, say you write a blog about your pet kitten, Mufflebunkers. Mufflebunkers is just about the only thing you ever write about, and your dedicated following of 36,709 readers knows that Mufflebunkers is a tabby cat. You don’t need to open every post up with, “Mufflebunkers, my tabby cat,…” but Google may not necessarily understand that you’re talking about a cat if you don’t use the word specifically.

In comes the tag, just drop the word cat in there and voila, you’ve added some meta data to your story.

Hopefully that’s helped resolve some of this insane dispute which has been raging longer than the Iraq war lasted. Here’s to 100% proper adoption of the concept!

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