Understanding how to use categories and tags is extremely vital as your site continues to grow and you attract a greater audience. As you keep to producing content, easily finding that content will be a challenge unless there is a well thought out site structure of organization that will make it easy for people to stay engaged on your site.

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Consider it Like a Book

Think about one of your text books from your schooling days. These books came equipped with a Table of Contents that generally laid out the content. And then, at the end of the book, you had an index. The index is helpful to indicate where in the book certain words, phrases, or topics were mentioned. Between the front of the book, and the back of the book, you were able to get around your text book for those open book tests or writing out study notes, right?

This organizational concept of a book can be applied to your website as it simply provides another form of navigation on your site. If people are able to navigate your site and find related content, you keep them engaged longer on your site which becomes a really important metric to pay attention when it comes time to monetize your site.

Categories

When it comes to establishing categories on your site, think of them like being the Table of Contents. They layout the scope of content to be found on your site.

A lot of new site owners don’t have much of a structure in mind for their site and will start to create categories ad hoc, or rather, on the fly in the heat of the moment right before they click “Publish”. This might be fine and dandy in the early going, but in variably you’ll write a post that doesn’t fit under any of your previously created categories… so you create another one.

Another thing new site owners will do is they will add a particular post to several categories… because… well… it fits under so many!

Eventually. This will become a mess.

Rule of Thumb – Only assign one or two categories max to a post.
If your posts qualifies for more than that, it’s time to restructure your site.

There is nothing more aggravating to a site visitor than to click around on different categories to only find the same content everywhere they go.

It’s best to figure out a site structure (or category structure) that will support growth on a broader spectrum. Because each category creates archive pages on your site, you’ll loose backlinks or litter your site with 404 errors if you decide later to restructure your site. It only hurts your SEO rankings really if your site is poorly structured.

Tags

Tags should be treated like the index of a book. You tag your posts only with the main points of the article. Some people will that you should tag like crazy… others will say that you should keep it around 5 or so.

In either direction you decide to go, you have to remember that tagging is another form of navigation on your site. It’s purpose is to help keep people engaged on your site by displaying related content.

Tagging won’t make sense for a lot of site owners because there isn’t enough content variety to add yet another level of navigation to the site.

Rule of thumb – Tags should be more specific than categories. But only tag the main points of the article.

Much like categories, if you have too many tags, then you just begin to litter your site. The idea is to tag or link posts together that share the same main points. You don’t want a user to click on a tag to only find a single post… that doesn’t keep them engaged.

Example

With all that we’ve talked about, let’s apply this to a food blog. Only because of the variety of content on such a site would greatly utilize the book concept we mentioned earlier.

On a food blog we have around different categories such as: Breakfast, Snacks, Dinner, Salads, Desserts, etc. Those are general categories you can navigate to.

Lets say you want to find a recipe for dinner and come across something delicious that has chicken. You love chicken! You then want to see what other recipes have chicken in them. So, click on the tag that says chicken and are then brought to a page that shows you all the recipes on the site that have been tagged with chicken.

Pretty slick huh? Not only did they find a recipe for dinner, but you easily were able to show them recipes with similar ingredients. Now we’re talking!

Keeping your site visitors engaged is a big deal! Without them, there’s not a whole lot of reason to keep going.

A little tip

Because your categories and tags are creating archive pages of all the posts you tagged accordingly, I don’t see any reason why you could mention and link to those achieve pages in your content.

Relating back to our example above, I don’t see any reason why someone couldn’t come across something like this:

Want to see more recipes with grilled chicken? Check out all of our other recipes that use the same grilled chicken.”

Or maybe something like this:

Need a little sweet to go with your savory tonight? Check out our dessert recipes here.

You get the idea, right? You’re simply encouraging continued engagement from your site visitors to explore just a little bit more into related content.

Conclusion

Categories and tags can be very important for your site. Take the time to think through a solid site structure that will accommodate future growth and only has topics you’ll continue to write about. This will help keep your site from getting littered and overwhelmed with too many or too few categories.

Categories are important, but don’t feel bad if you decide to NOT use tags on your site. Using tags has to make sense and ultimately be helpful to those who would use them.

And last but not least, think of these like a book. Categories make your table of contents. Tags make your index.

Let us know if you have questions about these.