Category or Tag?

You should read Lorelle Van Fossen. Shut up, she's right.

Everyone in WordPress has probably heard the advice of Lorelle VanFossen on the subject of Categories or Tags. I’m sure her 2005 post will remain, forever, one of her most popular posts, much like mine about why you shouldn’t use Multisite will be one of mine. And why is that? Well it’s simple.

She’s right.

Lorelle Van Fossen, shut up she's right

She gives information in a clear, direct, concise way, and she’s right. She will always be right. No, sorry, if you disagree, you’re just wrong. Category abuse is like menu abuse in that it confuses your readers. If you’re organizing things in too many directions at once, the sense of location is lost and no one cares anymore.

But still, people ask which do you use and where and why? For me it’s really simple.

  • Categories are organized
  • Tags are free form

To me that means I need to organize my posts on a site to major topics. This is a tech blog, so I’m probably going to talk about how things are and how they do it, and how you do it. That means I really don’t need much more than three categories. I ended up with five, since I decided a CPT for presentations and another for videos wasn’t really needed. Categories categorize, though. It’s simple and straight forward. A category is a room in my house.

The tags are the items in my house and they can go in any room. They’re the minor topics of my site. Like my iPad can come into my bedroom or bathroom (we all do it), the post about plugins could be philosophical or explanatory. The little things versus the big things, as it were. The tags are all those little things scattered around the site.

But what good are they to anyone? They’re both aspects of organization, and they’re both somewhat useful to find old posts, but do your readers ever use them? It’s funny when you think about how much time we spend trying to make all these aspects of our site ‘perfect’ and how few people actually use them. Like I did a study on this site for related posts. I measured, using my analytics, how many people used them to click through and came out with a resounding “Less than a dozen.”

Same general test on another site? Over a hundred. And on that site, no one clicked on tags. They don’t really here either, but since I use categories to organize ‘sections’ of the site, those get used a lot everywhere. And if you can’t tell, this is all a lot of work. You’ve got to work hard to make the site flow right for your users and visitors. For your product, you have to consider what you’re sharing and selling, and how people logically get around. You need to study, watch, and experiment.

The real answer to category or tag is, of course, what works for you. But when you’re starting out, listen to Auntie Lorelle.

One comment

  1. LOL! Auntie Lorelle here, at your service. Ha!

    You are righter than I’m right, my friend, but sometimes we are wrong. Not often, but it does happen. Let me know when it does as I tend to miss it as it whizzes by. hee hee.

    On a clean up campaign, are we? Well, you are right and I love your description. It reminds me of the million times I heard my mother say “a place for everything and everything in its place – put it back where you found it!”

    Describing categories as a sites table of contents and tags as the index words harkens back to a time when we actually relied upon books for information and education. We looked things up. Categories and tags help us look things up.

    They also speak very loudly when it comes to making a first impression. Walk into a house filled with stuff and it’s clutter, even though the house is clean and that clutter is arranged, it is still just too much stuff. You don’t know where to look. No resting points.

    When I arrive on a site, my eye goes automatically to the sidebar to look for categories and tags, the subjects related to my search and the reason I came to the site. I want to know what this site is about, and I want to know now. “Uncategorized” as a category tells me more than I want to know, and what it tells me is a paragraph on how you don’t pay attention to details, are sloppy, live in clutter, forgetful, and you don’t care about what you do enough to file it properly so I can find it. All that judgement and assumption, most of it probably not true, but that’s how we work in this instant impression world. Watch what messages you are sending out because every pixel matters.

    Well said, all around as usual. Thanks for proving me right once more. 😀

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