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Better Blogging: WordPress Categories & Tags

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While it’s hard  enough to write your book, promoting it is a whole learning curve of its own. Blogs and social media are a great  – and free – way to do that. But how does your blog get discovered amongst the suggested 6.7 million other blogs out there?

The secret is two fold – firstly it’s about community. Visit other people’s blogs, leave comments and the blog owners will return to your blog and check out your content. If they like it, they might link to you or ask you to guest post on their blog, giving you exposure to their followers and driving traffic to your blog. Use social media to flag up new posts, using engaging headlines to attract readers. Aim to build a community around your blog of like minded people who will read and share your content.

The second key is SEO, search engine optiminisation – setting up your blog correctly so that readers and most importantly, the search engines (Google, Yahoo etc) can find you. This means that when someone Google’s ‘great Irish author’, ‘books about Dublin’ or ‘how to make bread’, your book appears in the search results.

We have several articles about improving your SEO here which aim to demystify the process, and this week we’re looking at tags and categories as a tool to improve your visibility.

The use of tags in your blog is optional, but it provides an easy way for visitors to find related content on your site, and for search engines to  pick up on posts. Categories work in the same way and are used to label and arrange content on your blog. When a visitor clicks on a tag or category link, they are taken to pages with relevant information.

The only similarity between the two is that they are both a means to organise information on your blog.

To explain how categories and tags differ,  imagine that your blog is a book – categories would be the Table of Contents and tags the Index.  And just like a book, categories are usually determined first, while tags can only be created after the content is written.

Tags highlight specific aspects contained within a single blog post.  Your aim is to mark the content with the prominent descriptions that you expect browsers to use when searching for that topic. For example, in a post discussing how you chose the location for your novel, you might add tags for the town, city and country. If it’s a non-fiction book about making bread, you might be discussing bread makers, and include the machine model number, “bread machines,” “bread maker,” and “breadmaker.”

In many ways, tags are like keywords; often they are the same words.  Keywords are crucial in every post if you want search engines to rank your pages. The best way to differentiate between keywords and tags, is to imagine placing all your tags in the actual content of your post. Do they look funny or spammy? If these words undermine the content of you post you need to put them somewhere else, and tags give you a place to include those obscure, related phrases that might be awkward in other areas.

Categories, on the other hand, house a related “group” of posts and pages. If you have several articles about an aspect of your book – the part of Dublin your novel is set in for instance, then they could all be listed under a category named “Ballymun” or “Ballsbridge”. If your book is about breadmaking, it could be “bread makers”, “flour” or “kneeding techniques”.

Another way categories and tags differ is from an SEO perspective.  Categories hold more weight than tags since they’re higher in the WordPress hierarchy. Overall tags and categories serve the same purpose – to organize content.

Tags, Categories and How to Minimize Duplicate Content

Understanding the differences between tags and categories is essential to avoid a duplicate content muddle (Google does not like duplicate content as its army of bots cannot differentiate between genuine original content and something that might have been copied – it reduces the ranking on pages that appear in more than one place). Creating a plan for labelling content before publishing saves a lot of frustration later.

Here’s a quick checklist of the distinctions between tags and categories:

  • Tags label the topics of the post
  • Categories are used to group related posts
  • Tags are identified after a post is written.
  • Categories are generally determined before content is published.
  • It’s possible that all categories will also be tags, but all tags shouldn’t be a category.

To avoid being completely overwhelmed with the initial setup of labeling your posts, start off by assigning posts to only one category each, while applying as many tags as you like to the individual post.

Tagging blog posts will help you to expand their reach online without putting your blog at risk of a duplicate content penalty from the search engines.

Categorizing a post in multiple categories increases the chance of duplicate content.  Google’s own Matt Cutts, head of their Webspam team, suggests assigning posts to only one category. You’ve probably seen top bloggers who file the same content under various sections of their blogs.  But to keep things simple, especially for new bloggers, just follow Google’s advice.

From an SEO perspective, both categories and tags pose a threat for duplicate content to some extent. Even so, since categories hold more importance than tags, this is the area you should treat with care.

When it comes to categories, aim to use natural-sounding, umbrella keyword terms for which numerous related topics can be filed under.  For better SEO, avoid general category names such as (back to our bread making book blog) “reviews,” “recipes,” and “miscellaneous,” and choose keywords as categories instead, like “bread maker reviews” and “homemade bread recipes.”

Tags and categories are different means to one end – efficiently managing your content for reader usability and search engine accessibility. It takes a long time to write a book, and equally to write a blog – spending a little more time on researching blogging best practice will result in significantly better traffic – and book sales!


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