Categories or tags. Is one better than the other?
When I finally sat down to write this piece, the first analogy I thought of to help explain categories was from an old TV show. The analogy I’m going to use is from an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC (c. mid-1960s). I wasn’t a huge fan of Gomer Pyle. But, I was stuck in the house with the flu the day this episode aired.
The episode was the one where Gomer organises the supplies in the base exchange store into three categories: animal, vegetable, and mineral. While I was watching it hit me that I never seriously thought about how to categorise things!
BTW, I am not the first person to use Gomer Pyle’s supply store fiasco as an allegory for categorising things–pleasant surprise. Scope out Jeff Atwood’s piece on tree hierarchies.
“Categorization is extraordinarily difficult to do correctly unless you’re an expert in the field. And even then, there is disagreement.”
~Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow.
The Goal of Categories and Tags
Using categories and tags for your posts should have only one goal. Categories and tags should help your readers find something useful. Please don’t forget this.
What is a category?
According to WordPress.com, categories allow for a broad grouping of blog post topics. Tags did not exist in the first versions of WordPress. Tags were introduced (out of need) in WordPress 2.5. Can you guess why tags were needed? Read on for the answer.
What is a tag?
WordPress.com says that tags are similar to categories, but they generally are used to describe a post in more detail.
What’s the difference between a category and a tag?
WordPress had to build support for tagging because categories were getting out of control. People were using so many categories that they stopped being helpful. Here are the main differences:
- Categories are hierarchical. Tags are not; tags are flat.
- Categories are required in WordPresss. Tags are optional. Each post must have at least one category. Uncategorized is the default category.
- Categories should be more static or stable than tags. I.e. Categories shouldn’t be volatile; they are more permanent. Tags will come and go. “Television” and “Sitcom” are examples for categories. “GomerPyle” and “TwinPeaks” are tag examples.
Is one better than the other? No.
Categories and tags should work in concert to help you and your reader. Furthermore, I recommend only using just enough categories. Having category bloat is high maintenance and it diminishes returns.
Same with tags. Using tags help people and search engines find relevant content.
But, watch out. WordPress will filter out tags and Instagram flat out rejects tags if you use too many.
More importantly, tag stuffing is considered spammy and totally unnecessary.
Test your Category and Tagging Skills
For this photo published on Loop Images:
- List three possible categories.
- Then, list 15–20 tags.
Ready? Ok, let’s compare notes.
Categories: Animals, Nature, Travel
Tags: Horse, Himalayas, Dzong, Monastery, Mountain, Meadow, Grazing, Finding inspiration, Rewilding, Trekking, Remote, High elevation, No people, Free range, Cliff, Copy space, Wanderlust, Prayer flags, Paro, Bhutan