The Difference Between Categories and Tags

I’ve been asked several times about the difference between categories and tags – what the difference is and how (or if) they should be used.

the difference between categories and tags

Categories vs. Tags

I think of the difference between categories & tags this way:

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, if you will, providing a basic structure for your content. Tags are more specific — too specific to be a category themselves.

When I Would Use Categories & Tags: An Example

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:

  • Shopping
  • Trends
  • Wardrobe Must-Haves
  • Sales
  • etc.

So, 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.

If, however, they wanted to know more specifics 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 .

Make sense?

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.

I rarely use tags. I can’t say I have any good reason for this other than I’m lazy. And then I found this video in which Matt Cutts (of Google fame) basically says using tags really doesn’t help with SEO anyway. And he doesn’t use them on his own blog either. Then I felt better. :)

What about you? What’s your take on categories & tags?

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi, Amy! I’m so glad I found your site. It’s one of the most helpul and useful ones I’ve found so far.

    I’m a new blogger and eager to learn all about blogging. Still have a lot of things to understand about the technical part (hosting, wordpress.org, search engines, etc.) but the information in your site I can say I found everything in one place. Your organization of posts is great, easy to read and orentate.

    I thing my categories are fine, at least for the early stage I’m now in. But I thought tags were very important and wasn’t sure how exactly to choose them. But after reading your post, I’m relieved. So if my categories are fine, it’s okay.

    Thanks a lot! I will definitely continue reading your posts. I even take notes (that’s my way to remember things better).

  2. says

    Thanks for your final words on tags. I, too, felt a lot better to know that they do not offer any help with SEO purposes. I stopped using them lately after realizing that they decreased my search engine visibility score. I was a bit worried that I was not using them in the right way.

    Your blog definitely provides a wealth of information that can help anyone who is thinks about starting a blog or website. Likewise, those who already have a blog or website can also benefit from your blog too. Additionally, I must also say that I have learned quiet a few stuff from reading through some of your posts.

    Thank again.

  3. Emily K says

    Is it appropriate to use pages as categories too? For example, In the kitchen as a page. Under this page you would have things like meal planning, recipes etc. I know the latter would be categories for sure, but would it be okay to have a category called in the kitchen? I guess I am making the category thing too difficult.

    Also, I understand your explanation of how tags are different. How does using tags help in any way. They just seem to make the navigation of your site more complicated instead of helping to make it easier.

    Thanks for you hard work. As usual, great post. Very helpful.

  4. Britta says

    I hate the way tags look. So, so junky. Like another poster said, I’m a food blogger, and it is a great quick-fix for finding recipes using ingredients you have on hand.

    Otherwise, I am put off by how horrible it looks. I really like to focus on the design and the different-size fonts just get me ;)

  5. says

    Amy, great post! I also read somewhere another way of explaining the difference between Categories and Tags is that Categories are like the Table of Contents in a book, whereas Tags are like the Index in a book. For me that made the difference instantly understandable. Just thought you might like it too. :D

  6. says

    Very very helpful. Defining it the way you have does make sense or $0.02 cents for the Happy Housewife. 5-8 categories with drilling down tags if you want to for organisational purposes. Time to de-TAG for this newborn website.

    p.s. Just found out that “NOOB” is not a rude word but is online speak for newbie lol

  7. says

    So would it be silly to use the same words as tags and categories on the same post?

    Right now I have lots of categories and not so many tags, but only because when I moved my blog to wordpress it automatically made all my “tags” into categories. I’d been thinking of reducing my number of categories to the major ones, and creating tags within them.

    But reading some of these comments makes me think perhaps I should leave all the categories and create the tags as well. It sounds as if search engines may see both even if my readers don’t care about them.

    Now I’m off to search for what I really came over to your blog to look for – so easy to get distracted reading other posts that catch my eye!

    • Amy says

      It’s generally better to have fewer categories (5-8 is a good number). I’m actually going to be redoing my categories myself, so I know where you’re at! Yes, you could change them to tags, but having the same name for tags and categories wouldn’t be advisable.

  8. says

    Not sure how much tags really help with SEO, but they are a *must* for me for a site organization standpoint. I have categories set up like Groceries, Restaurants, etc., and then tags for specific stores, such as Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, etc.

    Then, when I want to create a link that says, say, “click here to visit all the latest Target deals”, I can just use the Tags page.

    What Matt said is interesting – someone once said (ahem, YOU at BlissDom) that you wondered if it would be a good way to add keywords to a post and gain some SEO juice that way. Not sure if the video really addressed that or not; I couldn’t decide. :)

    • Amy says

      Yes, you are exactly right. I’ve always wondered if tags are a way to keyword-stuff, but legally. So, you can imagine my relief when I saw the video and realized I no longer have to feel guilty for not practicing what I’m preaching! :)

      What I gathered from what Matt said about using them for SEO (I totally agree with you about using them for site organization), was that keywords in the post title is a great idea, using them in the post body (especially near the top) is good, but by the time you get to the tags, they’ve sorta lost their SEO punch.

      But what do I know. :)

  9. says

    Just an FYI, some of the smaller search engines like Bing, still use Meta tags to index websites. I tag all my posts and get a decent amount of search engine traffic from the smaller search engines.
    I also figure that Google changes it logarithm all the time, and if they ever decide to use Meta tags mine will already be in place for all the old posts.
    Just my $0.02. Keep up the good work!
    :)
    Toni

    • Amy says

      WordPress gives you the option to assign a post to a category (or categories) as well as the option to “tag” your post with more specific terms or phrases. The place where you apply tags is directly underneath your list of categories in your Add New Post or Edit Post screen in WordPress.

    • says

      Alecia,

      Blogger has a new option to make a “page”….I have used it a little on my site…mainly for an About Me section. I would really like to organize mine a little more, however!!! :)

      Hope that helps! :)

  10. says

    Amy, I just found your site last week…and have been addicted! It’s great!

    I have a brand new site coming out in about 3 weeks and am using Categories. I have 4 main categories and then a few sub categories under them. I thought about using tags, but the people creating my site advised me not to. I was wondering about that decision, but now after reading your post, I too feel better about it!

    Thanks for all the work you put into this site, I will be a frequent guest!