What Are Tags and Categories?

By: John Blue, AgChat Foundation Board Member

What are categories or tags? For blogs, categories and tags are single words or simple phrases that are used to describe the type of blog post (news, sports, opinion), what a post is about (tractors, precision farming, corps), or possibly to highlight a theme of a post (spring planting, bad weather).

Why use categories and tags? Tags and categories can help your friends find related posts on your web site. They can also help you organize your blog posts for consistent navigation or pull your blog posts together into information portfolios (or information silos).

To keep this post simple, I will focus on WordPress (version 3.x and WordPress.org sites) and WordPress’s use of categories and tags. Ready?

Here is a post with a picture of a “tractor” made out of hay rolls and bales.

Figure 1: Example of editing a blog post. Click image for larger view.
Note the area on the right for categories and just below, the area for tags.

First, let us look at categories. In WordPress, category terms tend to be more structured and fewer in number. Also, categories in WordPress are shown as structured items in the blog editing process. Aim to use 1 to 5 categories per blog post and keep the total number of category terms for the whole blog under 10.

Figure 2: Example categories. Click image for larger view.
What is a WordPress category? This will be influenced by the type of blog you are writing. If you are writing about farm life then some categories might include pets, kids, fun, cooking, home life. If your blog is about farm equipment, some example categories might include tractors, implements, training, for sale, repairs. And if your blog is about agriculture news then some example categories might include weather, markets, technology, farm policy, events. Think of categories as bringing focus for your whole blog site.

For the whole FarmerBrownSays blog, I setup the categories to focus on Animals, Buildings, Equipment, Food, People and for this specific blog post I selected Equipment. FYI, the Uncategorized category is a default category supplied by WordPress.

Now on to tags. Tags in WordPress tend be more fluid and free form. Tags are also displayed differently in their selection. Aim to keep the total number of selected tags per blog post under 20 tags and keep the total number of tags on the blog under 100.

Figure 3: Example tags. Click image for larger view.
What is a WordPress tag? Tags are more influenced by the specific blog post you are writing. If your new blog post is about a quirky farm pet then some tags to include might be quirky, bizarre, interesting. If your blog post focuses on equipment for sale, some tags to consider might include like new, reliable, as is, low hours. Create tags that are descriptive of your blog posts.

In this example, the blog post is about making a tractor out of hay. The tags I used are fun, harvest, tractor, hay. I added tags by typing the words and phrases I believe fit this blog post, separated by a comma.

There is no predetermined check list like categories but there is a cloud (aka tag cloud) of previously created tags from which to choose (see Fig 3). The larger font tags have been used in blog posts more than smaller font tags. In this tag cloud example, harvest has been used the most and tags like odd, grain, orange have been used the least.

How will tags and categories be viewed? Once the blog post is published, and depending on how your WordPress theme is designed, the tags and categories for the post will be viewable by your readers.

Figure 4: Blog post with tags and categories displayed. Click image for larger view.
And, more importantly, the tags and categories are turned in to clickable links, allowing your audience to click on a tag or category and be shown all the other posts on your blog that have that same tag or category. In this example, the tags fun, harvest, hay, tractor and category Equipment are links.

How can you use the categories and tags? Since they are turned into links, the links can be shared through other channels like Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

Figure 5: Tag as a link URL.

Figure 6: Category as a link URL.
Finally, in WordPress, categories can be quickly used to create a navigation menu for your blog post.

Figure 7: Categories as menu items.
Quick review:

  • Create category terms that have focus for your whole blog site.
  • Aim to keep total number of categories for your blog site under 10.
  • Use 1 to 5 categories for each specific blog post.
  • Create tags that are descriptive for blog posts.
  • Aim to keep total number of tags for your blog site under 100.
  • Use 1 to 20 tags for a specific blog post.
  • Use tag and category links as a way to share on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.
  • Use categories as way to organize your blog site’s navigation.