What is the difference between categories and tags?

This is one of the most common questions we get from our users. The difference between categories and tags is not immediately clear, so we have tried to break it down in this post.

Both categories and tags are important for search engine optimization, to find content through the advanced search option within your own site, and to pull your content into relevant “Topic” pages.

So what are the differences?

Categories are basically a broad grouping of post topics. If you think of your website as your closet, think of your categories as shelves, your content as items within those shelves, and your tags as descriptors for those items.

You might mark your shelves by the type of item you will put in it (categories) such as tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, bags, and jewelry. However, if you are looking into your closet for things to wear when going out for dinner, you are looking with a “dinner” lens at each of these categories. Sometimes you might want to wear only red, so you look at your closet through a “red” lens, or you need something to wear to work, so you look at it through a “work” lens. Think of these lenses as the equivalent of tags.

You categorize content on your site in a certain way that makes sense to you. For example, you could have an online magazine with broad categories: News, Interviews, Opinion, Sports, and Lifestyle. An opinion piece about the refugee crisis in Syria would go under the category of “Opinion” but have many other tags including: Syria, refugee crisis, Middle East, humanitarian, UNHCR, and so on. This way, you ensure that those coming to your site looking for news on the Middle East, or on UNHCR also see the piece, which is relevant to them too.

Of course, you can break down your content further into subcategories. You could break down the Opinion section into Politics, Religion, Culture, and Food – for example. And this is where categories differ from tags, you can’t assign such a hierarchy to your tags.

One thing to remember when you are using categories and tags is to be consistent. If you have a “Middle East” tag for your content, stick to it, don’t add other tags such as “Middle East News”, or “Middle East Countries”, because soon, your tags will get out of hand, and stop serving you as a meaningful way of pulling relevant posts.

Categories are usually thought of in advance, as they are the basic organizing principle for your content. However, even when assigning tags, it is helpful to make a list of anticipated tags to avoid this kind of duplication.

You can pull either a category or a tag into a “Topic” page on your site, such as “Middle East.” Avoiding duplication and keeping them meaningful will serve you well when you need to do this.

So basically,
• categories are broad, tags are descriptive.
• categories can be hierarchical, tags cannot.
• categories are compulsory, tags are optional.

However, both have to be meaningful to help you, your audience, and search engines find your amazing content effortlessly.

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