During the early days of WordPress, there were only categories. Tags were introduced later when only categories were not sufficient for supporting diverse websites. Though both of these are common features of WordPress, most of the beginners get confused about the proper use and the distinctions between them. They sometimes end up using both of these for the same purpose. In this post, we have tried to outline the basic differences between them. You will also learn about when to use and when to avoid which of them.
The basic reason of introducing these almost similar facilities is to provide more options to your visitors. Facilities like search, tags and categories allow your visitors to find relevant and desired content easily. Nowadays, visitors look for easily accessible information. If you fail to provide it in a simple manner, they will look for it elsewhere. Though the basic aim of tags and categories is to help the visitors in quickly finding out information, they have different fields of applicability.
Categories could be compared to the chapters of a book. From categories, you will get a basic understanding of what the website is about, which topics it covers and what type of information it provides. On the other hand, tags could be compared to the index of a book. They provide information about very specific topics and divide a broad topic into hundreds of sub-topics. Both of these could be displayed on the sidebar by using tag cloud or categories widgets.
There is no such thing as an ideal figure for the number of categories. While blogs or websites covering a wide subject area could have 20-30 categories, those with specific topics could contain 5-10 categories too. The category names should be descriptive and very clear about the types of contents it is going to include. They should be so clear that readers should get an overall idea before even clicking on them. For instance, a category named ‘3D printers’ should not include any post about regular printers, scanners or anything irrelevant. Nonetheless, it is possible to include a post into multiple categories. If we consider the previous example, a post about the 3D printing technology could be included in both ‘3D printing’ and ‘desktop printing.’ Doing this will enable the visitors to find relevant information quickly and easily.
You can display the tags you have used in a tag cloud on the sidebar. Clicking any of those tags will open a new page with articles relevant to that tag. Unlike categories, tags are very short, one or two words most of the time. Tags are generally the possible keywords for your website too. They are the same terms which your visitors may write in search engines. Another big difference between the categories and tags is their applicability. While it is ideal to include a post into 2-3 categories, you can provide an article with as many tags as you want. You can use all these tags on the other posts of your website too.
Which One to Use and When to Use
There are no strict rules about using tags and categories for any specific tasks. As the owner of your website, you are free to use them anywhere you see fit. However, you should have a fixed plan about their usage. If you want to use categories in your website, you have to think carefully about the contents of your website, the type of information your website provides and create enough categories for representing all of them. If you want the categories to guide your visitors, you should arrange them accordingly. Your readers expect only relevant posts when they click on a certain category. Whenever you add new categories in your website, go through your old posts and check whether any of them fits into the newly created categories.
While creating categories requires a lot of time, providing tags could be a quicker and simpler solution. If you want to provide a reasonable system for your visitors, you can safely use tags. Make sure that you are keeping consistency in the tags. For instance, if you want to use the tag ‘printer’ in your website, then use this word, not ‘Printer’ or ‘printers.’ All of these are separate tags and will lead your visitors to separate result pages. You can visit some of the popular blogs for getting an idea about how to use tags effectively. On Setuix.com, we have a Gadget category and under that category we further break down the segments by using tags such as iPhone, Samsung, Sony and etc.
Lastly, if your website is an old one with lots of posts, you will find it very difficult to migrate to a new system. In this case, it is better to stick to the old system. However, if you want to change the system by any means, you should do it in the background. Do not let your visitors feel lost with the new system, while it is still in development phase.