There is a new kind of grocery store I want to tell you about. In order to save money, they have eliminated sections. Basically, suppliers come in with their products and add them to the next open space on the shelves. The shopper is just expected to wander through the store until they find everything they need. Pasta on aisle one, pasta sauce on aisle three. Oh wait…a more affordable pasta sauce on aisle six.
Sounds wacky, right? Thankfully, it’s not a real store, because people would probably not shop there more than once.
If you think about it, that’s how a blog is organized. Blogs are posted in order of creation, and there might be a post about measles vaccine efficacy three months ago, and measles vaccine side effects two weeks ago. But without some over-riding organization, you’d just have to scroll through pages of posts to find the info you want about the measles vaccine. Most readers won’t bother.
This is where categories and tags come into the picture. They organize the content on your site for your readers.
What is a category? The categories give a broad breakdown of content, kind of like the sections of a grocery store – produce, meat, dairy, baking, etc. A scan of categories tells your reader what your site is all about- it’s a broad overview of the content they will find.
WordPress requires that you assign every blog post to a category. It’s mandatory.
What is a tag? Tags are kind of like mini-categories. If “Baking” is the category, then “sugar,” “flour,” “mixes,” and “spices” might be the tags. They help you zoom in on something specific you want to find.
The use of tags is not mandatory in WordPress.
How about an example? Let’s say you have a general medical practice. Your blog categories might include:
- Common diseases
- In the News
So if I come to your site and want to understand some thing I can do myself to stay healthy, I might click on the “Prevention” category for some ideas.
But, if I am worried about colon cancer because of my family history, I might click on the “colon cancer” tag. I might find articles from five of the six categories listed above (probably not in “Pediatrics”).
Both levels of organization help readers find information they want.
A Few Tips
Keep your categories broad. If you find yourself adding posts to multiple categories very often, you might need a broader category. Sometimes it makes sense to have that overlap – in our above example, the “In the News” category will probably overlap everytime. Perhaps you want the category prominent because it displays your effort to stay abreast of medical news, so you don’t mind the overlap. Or you may decide “in the news” should be a tag instead because you don’t like the overlap. It’s not always clear cut, and the lines are a bit fluid. So just use your best judgment and don’t stress too much about it.
Think long and hard about changing categories you have already created. If you’ve been blogging for a while, other websites might link to yours, including links to specific categories or tags. Changing them will mess that up. It’s best to sit down with an editorial calendar of planned posts and figure out what categories make sense as you start blogging.
You can use sub-categories. If you have a lot of hierarchy within your topics this adds another layer of organization.
Try not to overuse tags. Some experts say no more than 10 tags for a blog post, other say as many as 30 or as few as two or three. But personally, I don’t like to use more than three or four, unless there is a compelling reason. I think it clutters up the end of the post unnecessarily.
Don’t get clever with categories, give them clear and self-explanatory labels. You can loosen up and have a little fun with tags though, kind of like a hashtag.
In general, categories are capitalized, tags are not. It’s just the way it’s done. I don’t know why.
If you owned a store, you would do your best to keep it organized and easy for customers to find exactly what they need. Your patients will appreciate it if you put that kind of care into your medical blog.
Photo by jamesfindlay via Adobe Photostock