Picture this scenario:
You’re in the mood to make a dessert, so you take out your handy dandy cookbook and use the tabs of the cookbook to flip right to the desserts section. You find a few recipes that sound yummy. In this scenario, the dessert tab is a category.
Now picture this alternative scenario:
You want to make a dessert with chocolate chips, but you’re not sure what to make. So you flip to the back of the cookbook and search for “chocolate chips” in the index – where it will tell you alllll of the recipes in the cookbook that have chocolate chips in them. There may be recipes in the cakes section with chocolate chips, and there may be recipes in the cookies section with chocolate chips. You flip to page 72 – chocolate chip banana bread muffins. In this scenario, the index containing the phrase “chocolate chips” is a tag.
Organizing your website is kinda like a cookbook: you can use categories to group specific topics together, and you can use tags to make it easier for people to find specific topics, even if they’re across different categories.
The bottom line: categories are hierarchies, tags are just properties. So it’s important to distinguish between the two.
Creating categories to organize your website
If you’re trying to figure out what the categories on your website should be, think about the top 7-10 topics that you talk about all the time – that you know people are looking for – or that you know you’re well known for.
For example, we can see how Aly Michell of Plant Based And Broke splits up her categories on her website. She’s got Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Desserts, Snacks, and more. If you go to her website and you know you’re looking for soup recipes, you can just skip over everything else and go right to the “Soups & Stews” category.
Now, there’s not really a minimum for the number of categories you should have, but I would say there is a maximum of about 8-10. If you have more than ten categories, you’ll want to come up with a strategy to either consolidate your categories or build out subcategories (which are just smaller, more specific sub-sections of a category).
If a category gets too unwieldy, divide it! If some categories are way smaller, consider consolidating them (make sure that if you delete a category to redirect that link!) or bulking up a wimpy category.
Get even more specific with tags
Okay, so you’ve got your categories set up. Now what about tags?
As we said, tags are like the index in a cookbook. So for Aly’s website, if you go to her 20-Minute Easy Copycat Chipotle Sofritas recipe, you can see at the bottom of the post that she has tagged the recipe with things like “high-protein, tofu, gluten-free.”
So if you wanted to look at more of her recipes that are high-protein or gluten-free or Mexican recipes, you can just click on that link. And the great thing about using tags is it doesn’t limit you to one category – you can click “tofu” and it will bring you to alllll of the recipes that have tofu – whether that be breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc.
“Do I need both categories AND tags?”
My answer is NO. If you don’t have a really clear idea of how your categories are going to be different than your tags, then it’s okay to just skip the tags. There are so many websites that don’t have any tags on them and they’re doing just fine in terms of SEO and navigation. If you’re not sure whether your website should have both categories and tags, book a call with me and my team and we can work together to figure out the best course of action.
“Can I have the same phrase as both a category and a tag?”
It’s important to keep your categories as big picture umbrella topics and tags as more specific topics.
The problem with having the same phrase as both a category and a tag is that you’ll then have two pages on your website with all the same information, which is just going to confuse Google.
So keep your categories broad, and your tags really specific.
“What’s the minimum number of items that you need, in order to create a tag?”
I suggest having two unique items for a tag. So if you’re thinking of creating “oil-free” as a tag for recipes that don’t use any oil, you’d want to make sure that at least two of your recipes are oil-free, so you can tag both of those.
You also don’t want to have tags that are so similar that they have all the same items within them, because then Google is going to be like, “Wait, but which one am I supposed to send them to?”
On Ally’s blog posts, she had a tag for “Mexican Food” – she doesn’t also need one for “Mexican”, because that would just be an unnecessary duplicate.
“Where should I display my categories and/or my tags?”
If your website has a lot of content (especially if you’re a media site or e-commerce site), I recommend putting your categories into your main menu.
You can also include your categories in your sidebar so people can see the topics that you talk about frequently, and also make sure that they’re in your post and product templates so that when you publish a post, it has those categories right there.
This is important so that your website can share related content and increase your internal linking.
“Can my category pages and tag pages actually show up in Google search results?”
Now they’re probably not going to show up in search results if you leave the default settings. But you can optimize those category pages and tag pages the same way that you would optimize a blog post or a product listing.
So on my website, I have a category all about analytics. And anytime that I talk about any sort of tracking or marketing measurement, I make sure to include it in that category. But I’m not just naming the category, “Analytics Archives”, which is what the default setting would be for that. I went to the settings and edited the category to be, “Google Analytics and SEO Resources” and I wrote a description underneath it that basically says, “If you’re looking for help with your analytics, and you want to know what’s working in your marketing, come check this out” that way the text shows up at the top of the category page.
Other ways to optimize your categories and tags
Another thing you can do with your category descriptions is include links to the most popular products or posts in that category.
So for example, on Aly’s website in the dinner category, she not only has a description that’s full of keywords about being kid friendly and protein packed and made quickly, but she also has links to her top recipes in that dinner category like her vegan mac and cheese and her tofu nuggets.
She knows that those are some of her best-ranked and most popular dinners, so she wants to include those in that category to drive traffic to something that she knows people will love.
There are also some best practices for naming your categories – keep it as simple as you can.
You don’t want to have categories that have lots and lots of words in them – even with tags, the shorter you keep them, the easier it is for Google to understand what’s in there.
Another thing to keep in mind is to choose whether you want your categories and tags to be singular or plural. You don’t need to have a category for “dessert” and a category for “desserts”. Just make sure that you stay as consistent as possible throughout your website.
Make sure to also check out Parts 1 through 4 of the Website Structure Series: