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Doing Battle With Categories and Tags

Book Blogging tips from A to Z

The birds are tweeting; leaves and blossoms are sprouting in the garden and the sun is (sort of) shining. Yep it’s officially Spring in the northern hemisphere, traditionally the time when we’re supposed to get the dusters and rubber gloves out to banish all signs of winter dust and grime.

In the spirit of spring cleaning, I thought I’d attempt to get this blog ship shape. Though I’ve been tackling some maintenance tasks regularly over the last few months, there is one area I’ve neglected: my categories and tags.

A few months ago I shared some tips about how to clean up categories and tags for your book blog. I did get started on this but the good intentions evaporated when I discovered they were in more of a mess than I’d expected. I thought all I’d need to do was reconcile some duplications, fix some spelling errors and eliminate a few categories I seldom use.

But what I found was a mess. The only solution was to go right back to basics.

Before I show the result of this exercise, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned about:

What’s the Difference Between Categories and Tags?

Categories and tags are the two main tools to group content on your blog site.

Categories are general topics or broad umbrella type groupings of your posts. You could think of them like a table of contents or as drawers within a filing cabinet. You can have main categories (WordPress calls these parent categories) and sub categories which break the content down into smaller groups. Using the filing cabinet analogy, these sub categories would be like folders or sections within each drawer.

A food blog for example could have categories for Recipes, Techniques and Ingredients. The recipes one could be broken into sub categories relating to different types of cuisine (Japanese, French, Mexican, Vegan, Vegetarian etc.).

Tags are more specific ways of classifying your content to make it helpful for visitors searching your site. You can think of them like index words you’d find in a book. They help to link related posts together. Tags should not be copies of your categories – they should be more specific than the broad category topics. So if you have a category called Book Reviews, then you should not also use that phrase as a tag.

The food blog could have tags for ingredients or types of meals (lunch, breakfast, afternoon tea for example).

Another way to think about the difference between categories and tags is that categories are about the structure of your site, whereas tags are descriptions of the content.

Why Are Categories and Tags Important?

Every article and blog post I’ve seen on this topic says the same thing: categories are important for your visibility with search engines. They give the search engine a good indication of the structure of your site. The more insight a search engine can gather about your website, the more able it will be to match it to relevant searches and display it in the right way.

I get the theory but I’m not writing for Google or Bing and their web crawlers. I’m writing content for people. So I was more interested to learn that categories and tags help visitors to my site to get a good sense of the content they’ll find when they visit Booker Talk and how all these posts link together.

How Many Categories And Tags Should You Use?

There are no limits on the number of categories you can create for your site. But the general principle seems to be that 5-10 categories should be enough to cover the topics you’ll most likely have on your site. This set alarm bells ringing for me because I was pretty sure I have more than that; turns out I have 77 categories. Not good at all.

In WordPress you need to use at least one category for each post. If you don’t specify which category to use, then WordPress will automatically choose the default one. That’s not good news. Your default category might be something completely unrelated to the topic of that specific post OR your default category might be something very unhelpful like “uncategorised.”.

It’s technically possible to have multiple categories for each post. But the advice is to avoid doing this if at all possible because Google could think you are publishing duplicate content and penalise you in their search results. I don’t fully understand this point but that’s the advice from more than one blogging expert so I’m passing it on. If you feel you do need to use more than category then try to make this one parent category and a sub category (rather than two primary categories).

What about tags? Any limits on the number you can use?

Because tags are more detailed descriptors of content, you’ll likely need to use multiple tags for each post. There are no limits to the number of tags you can have for your site (at a rough count I have about 900). In theory you could have 50 or more for each post. But it’s not recommended.

We suggest that you normally stick to 10 tags maximum per post.

Something that I wasn’t aware of is that the WordPress Reader will filter out posts that use more than 15 tags and categories (combined) as an anti-spam measure. So if you use 2 categories and 20 tags, your post will not show up in the Reader and your followers will not get to see it and your effort will be wasted.

Creating a Tag and Category Structure

I never thought about categories or tags when I started this blog. They’ve just grown haphazardly. Not only do I have far too many categories, I have categories that should be tags and parent categories that should be sub categories.

This diagram shows the structure I’m planning to use. I’m not convinced about the category called ‘Bookends’ which is a ragbag of different types of content. I didn’t want to just call it “miscellaneous” but I’m not sure whether ‘Bookends’ makes much sense.

Something else to mention is that tags can apply to more than one category – the way I’ve shown them here in columns is just for illustration purposes.

This is still a work in progress and I might find I need to make some tweaks once I begin using it. But it’s a big step up from what I’m currently doing.


How Do YOU Tackle Categories And Tags?

How do you deal with categories and tags on your book blog? Did you think about these before you published any content or have they just grown organically? What do you think of the structure I’ve shown – would this help you find content of most interest to you? 

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