Blog content is typically organized by publication date, categories and tags. The meaning of publication date is self-evident. Categories and tags, not so much.
This post defines blog categories and tags. It recommends best practices for their implementation and use and draws a link between blog categories and tags and search engine optimization (SEO). That link will help you avoid unnecessary rework and grow your website traffic and rankings.
Blog Categories, Tags and Garlic
John Haydon at Social Bright draws an analogy between categories and tags and grocery store aisles and ingredients.
Categories are like the aisles in a grocery store. Tags are like the ingredients contained in foods within those aisles. There is only one ethnic food aisle in the store for example, but garlic (an ingredient) can be found there, in the fruit and vegetable aisle, in the spice aisle, and in the frozen dinners aisle.
Blog categories are a convenient way of grouping posts that all deal with similar and broad subject areas like meats, fruits and vegetables, or frozen dinners.
Tags are a more specific. They reference narrow topics that might span multiple broad subject areas. Think of them as being like an index for your blog or an ingredient list for your menu.
How To Pick Blog Categories
The first thing to remember is categories are primarily for your readers. They're supposed to help website visitors find what they want quickly and easily. So when you're thinking about how to pick blog categories and tags, think about what makes sense for your visitors, not you.
Blog categories should be simple and easy-to-understand. They should be few in number and mutually exclusive.
A good rule of thumb is to try to group your posts into 7 ± 2 categories - the number of objects an average human being can hold in working memory.
Blog Category Examples
Here are examples of how some very successful blogs have grouped and categorized their content:
- Social Media Today is a popular content marketing blog that creates and curates conversations around marketing, technology and social networking. They group content into four main categories (seen at the top of the page): social networks, marketing, technology and media, and social business. I commend them for being so disciplined in their approach to categorizing their vast content.
- Sprout Social, a social media blog for business, uses seven: advertising, analytics, community management, customer care, mobile, product updates, and sprout engineering.
- Kikolani writes extensively about blog marketing for personal, professional and business bloggers. She uses six categories (seen at the bottom right of the page): blogging, blog marketing, business, fetching Friday (her summation of the best posts of the week), SEO and social media.
- Hubspot, an inbound marketing company and sales platform, uses nested categories. There are only four at the highest level: marketing, sales, insiders, and opinion.
- B-SeenOnTop (the author of this post's blog) groups content into five categories including content marketing, organic SEO, local SEO, search engines and social media.
In all these examples, blog creators resisted the temptation to create a long list of topics. Instead, they thought about their audience's information wants and needs in advance, and grouped content according to those broad subject areas. You should do the same.
How To Pick Blog Tags
Tags, like categories, should make it easy for people to find what they're looking for. They should be short (one to three words), unique and self-explanatory.
There is no magic number of tags you should try to keep within, but the smaller the number you can keep it down to the better. It makes it much easier to ensure you're not creating redundant or overlapping tags that could confuse or slow down your readers.
Blog Tag Examples
I use a couple of dozen different tags on my posts. They are words that represent a mix of topics including goals (authority building, link bait and stickiness), tasks (video optimization and blog promotion), tools, templates and deliverables (keyword research and SEO audit). They are all short, unique and self-explanatory.
One of the best places to get ideas about which tags to use for your blog, is by reviewing popular blogs in your industry.
You can find popular blogs in your industry by searching for "top", "popular" or "best" and "industry blogs" replacing the word "industry" with a commonly used word or phrase from your own industry. You can also look at buzzsumo, a tool that identifies and filters top content by date and type. Just search for some of the more popular keywords used in your industry and filter by articles. Then visit the blogs that get the most shares.
Not everyone uses categories and tags. Not every one uses them effectively. It's common to see people using too few, too many, or fuzzy, overlapping tags.
Survey popular blogs. Learn from their mistakes. Make your blog better.
Take your time when picking categories and tags. It's a lot of work to reorganize them if you decide to take a different approach later. Err on the side of using too few rather than too many. It'll help streamline any clean-up efforts down the road.
A Word About Style
Categories and tags are case sensitive. That means if you create a tag with the unique identifier "garlic" and then another one labeled "Garlic" (with a capital "G"), they'll be considered separate and distinct, two non-identical tags. Same goes for plurals and misspellings. Be careful.
It's easy to see how this might confuse visitors. If you use "garlic" on some posts and "Garlic" on others, all of the related posts won't be linked together. Visitors will have to view two tag pages or conduct two searches to see both sets of posts. There's also a good chance that your visitors won't notice the discrepancy and you'll have missed the chance to expose them to more of your content or they'll leave frustrated, not having found what they specifically came looking for.
Pick a single style for your tags and use it consistently. I recommend using plurals and title case (shown above right) where you capitalize the first letter of each word.
The SEO Connection
By now, you might be wondering "what does any of this have to do with SEO". It's a good question.
To rank highly in search results, your content has to be deemed relevant and popular by search engines. Popularity is measured, in part, by repeat visitors and the number of pages and amount of time they spend on your site.
Using categories and tags increases site stickiness - the number of pages and amount of time visitors spend on your site. It does so by making it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for. If they land on a post that talks about the health benefits of garlic, for example, and see that you have a category or tag that groups a bunch of articles on the same topic, they might just want to stick around a bit longer and peruse those as well.
Blog content is typically organized by publication date, categories and tags. When you're thinking about how to pick categories and tags for your blog, think strategically and plan ahead to achieve the best possible outcome - repeat, long staying visitors and high rankings for your blog.
Understand that your blog will evolve. People rarely know everything they want to post about when they're first starting out. Nor can you possibly anticipate all the feedback and reactions you might receive from your posts. The goal should always be to provide the information your audience wants and needs, and to present it in a way maximizes its useability. By making it easy for your readers to find what they're looking for, you'll ensure your blog can grow to reach it's potential and be sustainable over time.
If you have any additional tips or suggestions, please share in the comments below. Comments, as well as questions, are always welcome.