Once you’ve chosen WordPress, signed up for hosting, and set up the backend basics, the next thing to do is start writing your content. As everyone and their mother says – Content is King. I’ve only started to recently realize how true this statement really is, and I’m constantly trying to up my content game.
If you’re just starting with WordPress, check out the rest of our WordPress 101 series before reading any further.
Content is what you made a blog for, and why people come to your blog. So, start writing, and get your words out there. But, when people visit your site, you want them to be able to find your content easily. This is where categories and tags come in. Categories and Tags help you sort and label your content so that people can easily access the type of content they want to read, without having to scroll through a long list of everything you’ve ever written.
But, what’s the difference between categories and tags, and which one should you be using where? These kinds of dividers aren’t only used on WordPress, but everywhere across the web (with potentially different names), but once you master the concept you can apply it anywhere.
Categories are the broader areas that you use to divide your content into conceptual areas. For instance – on this blog my broadest categories are Blogging, Design and Business. I can also add hierarchy – meaning that within each of those categories I have a few smaller ones that narrow down a bit more. So, every time I write a post, it has to fall into one of these categories. If I post a freebie Design, I categorize it under design, if I find a great deal, it goes under saving. This makes it easy for people to come to my site, decide which area they are interested in reading, and go there.
A long time ago, in the early days of WordPress, tags didn’t exist. The only way you could divide your posts was with categories. (By the way, the word I really want to use instead of divide is categorize, but that would just be too many uses of categories, so please bear with the imperfect language). Any who, categories were all there were. People started out with really broad areas (like Blogging, Design and Business) but each time they wrote a post that didn’t quite fit into one of these, or narrowed down the area a little more, they were forced to create another category. This meant that eventually people had huge sprawling lists of category that looked a lot like the crazy mind maps you made in grade three science. They weren’t pretty and they didn’t make a lot of sense.
So, WordPress added Tags. This means, that you can keep your broader categories, but still have a way to ‘categorize’ a post further. If I post a peacock birthday card design, rather than posting in Design, and creating a new sub-category called Freebies, and then another sub-category called Birthdays, I can just categorize it under Design, and tag it with things like ‘birthday’, ‘card’, ‘peacock’, ‘design’, ‘free’. This Tags are still clickable, so people can view all the posts that have ever been tagged with ‘peacock’ but there was no official category added to the list.
If you’re still a little confused – consider this – you can add a description to categories, so that when people view the official category archive they see your summary of what the category is about. Tags have no descriptions, no official archive pages, and no hierarchy. A great way to think about it is that categories are the table of contents, and tags are the index. If you were to look at them both visually, categories are displayed in a tree, while tags are in a cloud.
So when should you use categories and tags? Well, the simple answer is all the time. Every post you write should be categorized – an uncategorized post (the default category in WordPress) is like saying to your reader – I don’t even know what this post is about. They should know what they’re going to be reading before they even start – and they find this out through your title, and your categories. Again, each post should also have tags. These help people get an idea of what a post is about before they start reading, and narrow down its topic within a specific category. Using both will make navigation easier – one of the most important things you can do for your website.