I’ve been asked several times about the difference between categories and tags and how (or if) they should be used.
Categories vs. Tags
Categories are used to define the general topics on your blog and tags are used to drill down a bit further into your content.
Categories create an “outline” of your site, providing a basic structure for your content. Tags are more specific — too specific to be a category themselves.
When to use categories & tags
Let’s say I have a website about fashion. I might organize my posts into a handful of categories into which most of my posts would fit nicely. They might include:
- Wardrobe Must-Haves
Let’s say I write a post about a great dress I found at Macy’s last weekend. I might write a post about it and add it to the category “Shopping.” I might tag it “Macy’s.”
This way, a reader could click on my “Shopping” category and find all my posts about my shopping excursions.
However, if they wanted to know more specific information about what kinds of things I buy at Macy’s, they might click on the tag “Macy’s.”
Making a special category for Macy’s would be impractical as I would then have to make separate categories for all the other stores I shop at.
How to Use Categories and Tags
I’m a fan of categories. In fact, I don’t think anyone would say you shouldn’t use categories on a typical blog for organizational purposes. Well-chosen and well-used categories can make a reader’s experience on your blog a pleasant experience. I do not recommend using more than 5-7 categories.
Regarding tags, I think you should use as many as is necessary to keep your information organized without getting messy.
Having said that, I found this video in which Matt Cutts (of Google fame) says using tags really doesn’t help with SEO. And he doesn’t use them on his own blog either. Tags are best used so readers can get what they need easily.