How to use tags and categories to improve user experience and drive content discovery
Understanding the difference between categories and tags and best practice in using them
Categories and tags - the metadata that you use to organise your content - is a critical but often overlooked element of your content strategy and operations. It starts with a consideration of how your content informs the information architecture of your app or site. How will you organise the content to help your audience find what they want and also be drawn deeper into your offering? Visual design is a key element of user experience, but content metadata underpins the organisation of your digital properties and is an invisible but key pillar of your UX strategy.
First, let's start by understanding key differences between categories and tags.
- Categories - These are large buckets of content that also form the basis of organising your site. Visually, they drive menus on your app or site and help users navigate.
- Tags - These are finer bits of metadata that describe content. Tags are used to link related content. They support content discovery and re-circulation.
Or to put the difference in a publishing context, categories are the table of contents of your site and tags are your index words, Lorelle VanFossen says.
WordPress powers Pugpig apps and sites, and there are a few differences between how categories and tags operate.
- Categories are hierarchical. You can create sub-categories, which have a child relationship to their parent categories. Tags are not hierarchical.
- All content in WordPress need to have a category but do not need to have a tag.
- Tags can organise content across categories.
Here are a few suggestions when it comes to choosing categories.
Less is better, and best practice advice recommends between five and 10 categories. Both categories and tags can support SEO, and in choosing categories, it is worth looking at the keywords that audiences use to find you using tools like Google Search Console or SemRush. That will inform these critical sections of your site or app. Keep the categories clear, simple and descriptive.
If you are moving to a Pugpig platform, it's a great time to review your categories. A few things to keep in mind:
- Review how much content is in each category. Categories with too little content in them might need to be merged with another category, and if you find a category that has the vast majority of your content - such as news or latest - then it is probably overly broad.
- Also, keep the focus on your audiences by looking at your analytics to see if some categories receive more traffic than others.
- If a category isn't being used much, step back and think why. Does it clearly describe the content in it or possibly use an organisational brand from print that might not translate for digital audiences?
And when it comes to the names of the categories, Pugpig Consulting can work with you on a testing programme to see if renaming them might increase engagement with content in the category.
How to avoid overtagging
One of the most common issues that we see when migrating publishers to our platform is over-tagging. We have worked on projects where there were several thousand tags in the sites being migrated. There is often duplication of tags, meaning that you'll see variations on a tag e.g. COVID, COVID-19 and COVID19. Many of the tags - sometimes hundreds of tags - refer only to one piece of content. That means the tags aren't helping audiences discover related content.
If you are using Pugpig Site, we have used TaxoPress to help teams manage tags. It will allow you to quickly search for tags that are only used once, twice or only a handful of times and delete them. And it will allow you to easily merge similar tags. Moreover, TaxoPress can help you once you've tidied up your tags. It can scan you content and recommend tags. It can do this by matching the tags to words in your content or use semantic engines to recommend tags that are related to your content. This increases the consistency of the tags and makes tagging more efficient.
Tags and Search
We have heard that some editors created all those tags believing that it helped their sites visibility with search engines. Categories and a logical site design helps SEO. Not only don't tags contribute to SEO, they can do more harm than good. Too many tags create too many tag pages that needlessly spend your crawl budget with Google. Even with all of the computing power that Google has, it can only crawl so much of your site at a time. You want to make sure that it can crawl your freshest content and not waste time crawling thousands of tag pages.
Best practice is usually to have between five and 10 categories and a couple hundred tags at most. Pugpig Consulting has used our analytics expertise to identify the most used categories and tags and the most popular categories and tags to help you choose them wisely.