Although they work similarly, the categories and tags found on blogs have different functions. Categories, as the name implies, are a filing system. Think of categories as paper file folders in a drawer. When I pay bills, for example, I staple the check stub to the invoice and put the invoice in one folder: Telephone, Taxes, Insurance, AmEx, etc.
This makes it easy to find the invoice later.
Tags, on the other hand, are like the expense accounts listed on each check. If you go to Staples and use your AmEx card to buy some paper and a new chair, and you have the copy center print business cards, your check to AmEx might list the following expenses: Office Supplies, Office Equipment, and Advertising: Letterhead.
Categories are part of your blog's navigation
Because blogs lack the standard navigation found on websites (for example, Services, Products, About Us, etc.), categories help site visitors find the content on your blog.
When creating categories, it pays to carefully consider which categories to use in terms of:
- Your audience – Clearly defined categories help users find content quickly. Instead of having to troll through dozens of posts, users can click a category and see all of the posts in it.
- Your topics – With a blog, it's pretty easy to get off topic, which can lead to lots of untargeted traffic (been there, done that). Having categories that relate to your industry, service, or product offerings helps keep you on message.
- Your keywords – Categories are anchor text, which means they get indexed by the search engines. It pays to choose them carefully.
Plus, a long list of categories is overwhelming to your readers.
Depending on your WordPress theme, you should be able to add a meta description to each of your categories.
Tags complement categories
Like categories, tags are anchor text hyperlinks. Unlike categories, tags don't appear in your blog sidebar (unless you include a tag cloud, a visual representation of the words used in your tags). Instead, tags appear in the footer of your blog posts.
Think of tags as subcategories. For one of my clients, for example, I created the broad category "Oral Health." I then created a tag, "Oral Cancer." Anytime I wrote a post about oral cancer, I used this tag. Website visitors could then click the tag and see only those posts tagged "Oral Cancer" -- as opposed to seeing the entire Oral Health category.
Used effectively, categories and tags can help your content get indexed and found in the search engines and drive lots of targeted traffic your way.
The Problem -- Tag Spam
As Jill has pointed out in articles and interviews, people use tags to spam the search engines. It's very easy to add half a dozen or more tags to your posts -- even if your company doesn't offer a product or service related to the tag.
As a test, I tagged my recent blog post about creating mobile-friendly websites with the tag "wp touch plugin." Google is displaying that post at position #11, which is pretty good considering that I don't actually have the plug-in available for download, nor am I a WordPress designer or developer giving a review of it.
The problem, from a marketing perspective, is that this tag won't deliver the type of site visitor I want -- therefore, it's useless. And yet, "high rankings" and traffic are how we judge the merits of our SEO and/or content marketing efforts.
For many SEOers and marketers, this type of search engine result is perfectly acceptable. It's exposure, right? And if someone clicks on it and goes to your site, then they learn about your company.
If you're getting high rankings and increased traffic due to spam tagging blog posts, but this traffic doesn't convert, you're not doing your job. Your job is to get your clients more leads and sales through traffic that converts. Therefore, keep your tagging to a minimum and use tags that relate to the post and to the services you, or your clients, offer.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't use categories and tags with an eye toward SEO. You'd be dumb not to. However, keep your blog visitors in mind when creating categories and tags because, as Jill is forever saying, "What's good for people is good for search engines."
A B2B web marketing expert, Dianna Huff helps B2B companies grow through SEO, marketing writing, and social media. A frequent speaker, Dianna has been quoted in numerous blogs, books, and articles. Her client list includes large and small companies across the U.S. Follow her on Twitter @diannahuff. To receive her e-course on creating great B2B marketing content, subscribe to her newsletter, The MarCom Strategist.
Jill Whalen, CEO of High Rankings a Boston SEO Consulting Agency, has been providing SEO services since 1995. Jill is also the host of the High Rankings Advisor newsletter and the High Rankings SEO forum.
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