Tags vs. Categories – What’s the Difference?

Tags and Categories

If you’re a seasoned blogger, you’re probably familiar with the concept of placing blog posts into certain ‘categories’ and then defining ‘tags’ for each respective blog post.

If you’re new to the blogosphere, the notion of tagging and categorising your blog posts may at first be a little confusing. If you do indeed fit into this latter group, read on. It’s simpler than you realise.

Defining Tags and Categories

Essentially, tags and categories are the same thing – both are used to ‘categorise’ your blog post. The main difference between the two is that categories are usually used to broadly group topics, while tags are used within those groups to further describe the content within the post. For example, on the Xanthos Digital Marketing Blog, one of our categories is digital marketing. If we post a blog about email marketing into that category (after all, email marketing is a form of digital marketing), we might tag it with the words ‘email marketing’ – further defining and describing what the blog post is about. If the post is about Facebook, we might tag it: ‘facebook’ and then an additional tag called ‘social media’.

Of course, I could just as easily create an ‘email marketing’ category. But, if I do this, I’ll   probably have to create a separate category for all the other forms of digital marketing out there – social media marketing, QR code marketing, pay per click marketing, etc. This is going to mean I end up with a massive list of categories. Seeing as categories generally display in a sidebar on the blog, it’s going to be pretty confusing for anyone trying to navigate as they will have to wade through this long list. It’s also going to take up an awful lot of space.

We’ve placed this blog post under the ‘blogging’ category but have chosen to further describe and define it with the following tags: ‘tags’, ‘categories’, ‘difference between tags and categories’, ‘categorising blogs’ and ‘blogging tips’.

Here’s an example of how one of our clients is using categories and tags to good effect:

closer to nature blog post

On David’s Closer to Nature Blog, David has placed his blog post ‘Seagull city invasion has begun!’ under the category ‘Wild Birds’. This is one of the standard categories David has selected to post into (take a look at the others on the right hand side of this page). In order to help search engines and people get a better idea of what the post will entail, he has tagged it with the following words: herring gull, lesser black-backed gull, seagull as these are some of the wildbirds he is referring to. Therefore, if someone is looking for a post that contains information relating to a specific bird, they can quickly and easily ascertain whether or not his post will contain the information.

But what if you don’t have that many categories? Do you really need to use tags?

In short – no. Tags are a good way to make efficient use of your space but you don’t have to use them. You should however always be using categories. Simply put, they make navigating your site and finding information a lot easier for the user, especially if the user can dig deeper into the areas he/she is actually interested in. Most blogging platforms will generally get you to anyway, even if it’s a category called ‘uncategorized’.

Another benefit of using categories is that they can be arranged in a hierarchy (just as your main website navigation can). Tags exist without having a set relationship to anything else. They are floating words. Navigate over to David’s blog and you’ll see that David’s ‘tag cloud’ is a random selection of words/tags – the boldest ones being the tags that are most commonly used. It’s a lot easier for users to quickly latch onto the words they are looking for this way as it means they don’t have to sift through your blog posts – a mammoth chore if you’ve got a lot of them.

Typically you will see tags listed in the form of a ‘tag cloud’. The tags that occur the most across the blog will be the ones that are also visually represented as the largest words.

Here’s an example of the tag cloud from David’s blog:

tag cloud - closer to nature

Notice that the words ‘Wildlife’ and ‘WWT’ are by far the largest. This is because they are tags that are used more frequently than any of the others. The smallest words will be the least commonly used.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how categories and tags relate to SEO, take a look at this great post by Tom Ewer: The right way to use categories and tags in WordPress to boost SEO.

Other than that – happy tagging!

Written by Candice Landau