Blog categories & tags

... what are they for and what's the difference?

Blog categories and tags

One of the most important things to decide before creating your blog is – which categories and tags you are going to use to organise your blog content. I’ve found that this task takes a lot of time, research and thinking! And that most blog owners don’t do it.

Why is it important and why should you care?

  • Categories and tags make it easy for people (your potential customers) to find the information they want on your website
  • Categories and tags encourage people (your potential customers) to stay on your website for longer and to read more articles (assuming the articles are useful and/or interesting of course!). This is good for the search engine visibility of your website. Which is good for business!
  • Google will think your website is important and useful if the people that land on it stick around.
  • It’s also good for your brand recognition. If people (your potential customers) stay on your website for longer they are more likely to remember you if they need your services or products at a later date. They’re also more likely to think of you if they come across someone else who’d benefit from your products or services.

What are categories and tags?
What’s the difference between them?

The difference is usually confusing for most new blog owners. The matter isn’t made easier by the confusing use of categories and tags on some well-known blogs. It’s not easy to find examples of blogs where categories and tags have been used well in my opinion.

I’ll go into detail about categories and tags below but to answer the question… The difference between categories and tags in most blogging systems is primarily a technical issue. Their purpose is very similar… to allow your website visitors to easily filter and access content on a specific topic.

Categories are hierarchical – i.e. they relate to each other. A top-level category can have sub-categories. Technically these sub-categories can be presented easily on a website by simply telling the website to present only items which are labelled as a sub-category of the parent (top-level) category.

Tags are not hierarchical and therefore have no technical relationship to each other and can’t easily be presented in anything other than a full list of tags.

Categories in detail

What are they?

Categories are your top-level blog sections. They contain either a group of posts about each top-level topic or a group of sub-categories which, in turn, contain a group of posts about a sub-topic of your top-level category. These are the broad subjects that you intend to write or create content about. Topics that you’ll write many, many articles about over time. For example, our Pavoni blog will have the following top-level categories or subjects. We are not going to use sub-categories (more on that later).

  • All Articles
  • Research
  • Planning & Process
  • Branding
  • Design
  • Marketing – Online
  • Marketing – Offline
  • Marketing – Integrated
  • Marketing – Ideas
  • Content Creation
  • Data & Insights
  • Just for fun

To be an effective navigational aid for your readers, categories should be displayed as an easily accessible list or menu on your website. The list will be links to pages on your website which show only posts that are about that topic.

People will at a glance be able to see the breadth of information your website provides and will be able to home straight in on the topic that’s specifically of interest to them. They will not have to wade through all of your posts to find something of interest to them.

People are busy and easily distracted so they just won’t bother wading through a long uncategorised list of posts. If the first couple of blogs don’t interest them, they’ll just bounce off your website and go somewhere else.

This isn’t good for your Google rankings and it’s not good for the most likely purpose of your blog – to gain more online visibility in order to gain new business!

Can I put a blog post in multiple categories?

Yes – but typically aim to assign only one category to each blog post. Technically you can apply multiple categories to one blog post but remember the aim is to make your content easy for people to find. If the same content keeps showing up when people click on each category of your blog it will probably be confusing. They will probably think the link they clicked didn’t work. They’re expecting to see new content.

People don’t want to waste their precious time wading through stuff they’ve already seen, just to find new articles that might interest them. It is likely that a blog you create could belong to two or more of your categories. But, instead of putting the post into multiple categories, I recommend being consistent and deciding to always put the same type of post in the same category. If you really must – put the blog post in both categories but not on a regular basis.

How many categories is not enough or too many?

I suggest keeping to around 10 categories at most. Any more and it will require too much work from your website visitor to digest the list. This defeats the object of categories being a navigational aid – making your content quick and easy for interested website visitors (and Google) to find.

Do you have to use categories?

Yes – If you don’t assign a category to your blog post it will automatically be added to a catch-all category labelled something like ‘uncategorised’. That’s not going to help people find your content or enable Google to list your content easily in its search engine.

Can I change the name of or delete categories later?

Technically yes this is possible but I strongly advise against it – unless you really need to. Category pages will probably be listed on Google. All the posts in the categories will probably have the category name used in the Google listing URL (link). So you will probably break all these links. A website will a lot of broken links doesn’t look good to Google or your potential customers. And it makes your content very hard to find!

Should I create sub-categories?

I personally think sub-categories over complicate things in most cases. Top-level categories and tags are usually enough. Sub-categories can be useful if you intend to build a very big blog with lots of clearly delineated categories. Technically sub-categories allow you to put lists of links on your website which show the sub-categories of the main category. Here’s a diagram of how things would link together if you used sub-categories:

Blog categories, sub-categories and tags

See examples of how other blogs use categories

Influence&CO has a list of eight categories in the sidebar on their main blog and category pages.

Blog categories use example

Vero – has only three main categories to accompany its list of all blogs. This is presented as a horizontal list/menu bar on their main blog and category pages.

Blog category use example

Ogilvy uses three top-level categories (TOPICS | EVENTS | LIBRARY) and around 13 sub-categories for each top-level category. They are a massive global organisation so this approach makes sense for them. They have many content creators.

Blog category use example

Duct Tape Marketing has a categories dropdown list at the top of its blog section containing 14 topics.

Blog category use example

Benchmark also uses the categories drop down method to display their six top-level categories.

Blog category use example

TAGS in detail

Tags are more find gained, specific labels. They’re stand-alone and not related to each other in any way technically. The tags that are relevant to a specific blog are typically presented as a list of links at the bottom of the blog post. If a blog reader clicks on one of these links – they will be presented with a list of articles that have also been tagged with the same tag (or subject). This allows the reader to filter your blog posts in a fine-grained way. The Pavoni blog will be using the following tags and more:

brand identity design • stationery design • website design • user experience (UX) design • logo design • logo design case studies • business card design • fonts & typography • colour • naming • social media • Facebook • Twitter • Instagram • Pinterest • YouTube • blogging • AdWords • PPC • remarketing • Google • SEO / search engine visibility • advertising • email marketing • content marketing • lumpy mail • lead magnets • analytics • conversion • domain names • technology • tools • professional development • how-to tutorials

Do you have to use tags?

No – only use tags if they’re helpful to your website visitors. If they make the content that your readers are likely to be interested in quicker and easier to find then use them. Lots of today’s blogs seem to have dropped the use of tags in favour of highlighting a few blogs posts from the same category at the bottom of each post. Personally, I think tags are a really useful mechanism for making your content filterable and findable.

Can I use multiple tags for a post?

Yes – If the blog post you have written is clearly about a number of different finer grained topics then use multiple tags. If only one tag seems appropriate then only use one tag. If no tags seem appropriate then don’t use any.

Can I use the same tag on multiple posts?

Yes – this is a good thing to do. If you’re likely to use a tag only once and not write anything about that topic again – it’s not a good tag and is probably unnecessary.

How many tags is not enough or too many?

Tags are to help people find information that interests them quickly and easily so I suggest having up to 10 tags per post at most. Any more and the tags will become overwhelming and difficult to digest. You could have 100 or more tags in total but only apply up to 10 per post.

For example on our blog – we will have a ‘Marketing – Online ‘ top-level category and when I write a post about an aspect of ‘Facebook paid advertising’ I will assign it the following tags: social media, Facebook, PPC and advertising. This will give people easy access to a list of posts on any of these four topics.

It’s very likely that someone who has read a Facebook paid advertising post will also be interested in posts filed under one of those tags. If I had listed those tags as top-level categories instead, the main purpose of categories and tags would have been defeated. The content would no longer be as easy to find because there would be too many things in the top-level category list to see and digest all at once.

Can I create sub-tags?

No – at the time of writing this post, tags are not hierarchical and don’t have a direct relationship to any other tags from a content organising perspective.

Can I change the name of or delete tags later?

The answer here is similar to the answer for categories. Technically it is possible but I recommend keeping changes to a minimum as changes are likely to lead to broken links on your website or on the search engines.

Examples of how other blogs use tags:

I found it really hard to find any current blogs that use tags either at all or in a useful way. It looks like they’re definitely out of fashion in favour of related posts. Related posts are a list of other posts readers might be interested in placed underneath each blog post. I think this is a mistake. I think both have their place if used well.

Brian Solis has tags presented at the bottom of each blog post like this:

Blog tag use example

Cision has a simple comma separated list at the bottom of each blog post:

Blog tag use example

Clickz again has a list of tags present at the bottom of each blog post:

Blog tag use example

Why label them TAGS on your website?

Technically tags do not actually have to be labelled tags on the customer-facing side of your website. The technology calls them tags but you can label them something more useful if you choose too, for example, the word ‘tags’ could be replaced with: ‘Read more about’ or ‘See our other articles about’ or ‘Learn more about’.

In summary

As is usually the case in life – the exact specifics of how many categories and tags you have and how you use them is a personal choice. Your opinion regarding what makes content easy to find on your website, by your customers is specific to you, your business and your market sector. There is no absolute right or wrong. The final set of categories I have chosen for the Pavoni blog isn’t perfect, but it’s the best I can come up with, in the time I feel is appropriate to invest in the task of blog planning for our business. It’s taken me a whole day of research and thinking.

Here’s a diagram of the categories and the initial set of tags I’ve decided on for the Pavoni blog. I’ll add more ‘tags’ as I go along. But I will always think carefully before adding a new tag. I’ll review my existing list of tags first to see if I already have a suitable one available.

Pavoni category and tag plan

If you have ideas for topics you’d like us to write about or research then please email them to me: Sarah at or post them in the comment box below.

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