Tags & Categories, What is the difference?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

I initially wrote an article very similar to this while I was at Dare. Whenever I was asked to look at a new blog there always seemed to be confusion as to what exactly the differences are between tags and categories. It would seem that this is also the case with some of my new colleagues at Ogilvy, therefore I’m going to go back over my initial article and expand it on what I wrote.

While I’m sure some people will not agree with my approach I do feel that this is a very solid argument that should be considered when designing your blogs.


Obviously you need to plan out what type of content you want on your blog to start with. I’m doing this right now for this very blog. I think I’ll be writing about the following subjects, this could easily change but at the moment this is the plan.

  • Web development
  • Music
  • Travel
  • Football
  • Food & Drink

These are therefore going to be my categories. I always say that categories should be few, and tags should be many. This is a pretty simple statement and one I would advise you to follow. Categories in my opinion should be the main areas of your site. They should be defined in such a way that they aren’t limiting to future content. This is why I have opted for Food & Drink rather than just Food.

Tags on the other hand should be 100% flexible and used as an aid to the navigation of the site itself. The reason for tags being introduced to WordPress for example was some blogs had something like 30 or more categories. This made the site extremely awkward to navigate for the user and the editors and admins had no idea which category a post should belong in.

Sub categories

This is an important aspect of the planning of your blog, should you include sub categories? Personally I would say you should avoid them unless you have a pretty large blog that caters for lots of different subjects. Take my Food & Drink category this could easily be split into sub-categories such as;

  • Food & Drink
    • Asian
    • African
    • British
    • European

Whereas my football category could easily be split into something like this

  • Football
    • Premier League
    • FA & League cups
    • European
    • Internationals

In both cases I don’t think these sub-categories will be needed as I can tag the relevant posts with these sub-categories instead. Also you could end up having sub-categories of sub-categories and so on. An example of this could be European football has Champions League, Europa League, Dutch Football and Spanish Football. On my blog these will all be tags instead, therefore I would advise you to ditch the sub-categories from the start.

So what are Tags

The simple answer is a tag relates to the post that it is part of. As a result of this a tag can and should be cross-category. Therefore you can have a tag where it links to a post which is contained within the Football category and links to another post within the Travel section.

An example of this;
I write a post on England vs Poland. This post will be part of the Football category and will have the following tags;

  • England
  • Poland
  • World Cup
  • Wembley Stadium

Later in the year I write a post about my visit to Krakow, this obviously will be in the Travel category and will contain the following tags

  • Krakow
  • Poland
  • Auschwitz

Both posts are in 2 different categories but they share one common tag which is Poland so if a user clicks this tag they will be shown both articles

Good practice with your Tags

Something else that I think is important is to really consider the true meaning of your tag. If for example I write a post about Liverpool FC v Manchester United then I should consider what exactly the tags relate to.

I may decide that the following tags of “Liverpool”, “Manchester United” and “Premier League” are perfect. In reality they aren’t. A better selection would be “Liverpool FC”, “Manchester United” and “Premier League”. The reasons for this is simple;

Liverpool: This should relate to the city of Liverpool, rather than the football club
Liverpool FC: This should relate to the football club itself.

Another important thing to consider are people’s names. I’ll always use the persons full name rather than just a surname. If I was to add say the goal scorers to my posts for a game which I have written about then I may tag Cole as he scored. But which Cole does that relate to? Ashley Cole or Joe Cole? This is a perfect example why considering what tags you use for the posts is important. Full names also have advantages when you are considering SEO.