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 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.