Using categories and tags on your blog posts can be a good way to keep your visitors reading your blog. They serve to give your blog some structure, and can help people find what they are looking for.
It is up to you how you use categories and tags, but a good way of doing it is to see categories like the contents of a book, while tags are like the index.
So to work out what categories to use, think of your blog as a book – what main topics do you write about?
Say if you have a gardening blog, you might have categories of plant types, such as trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. Or things such as planting, fertilising, seedlings and various seasons. Or both. But you would not have a category of something specific like ‘carrots’ (unless your entire blog is about root vegetables).
There would be no point in having a category ‘Gardening’, if your whole blog is about gardening.
It really is best if each post is in only one category, two at the most. It might take some ingenuity to accomplish this, such as keeping your post topics to mainly one category, or being clever with your category naming.
You can have sub-categories as well, I suggest you keep things as simple as possible.
Tags are where you get more specific, with tags such as roses, ferns, fertiliser, and you would generally put in a few tags on each post. Don’t overdo it though. If you put in lots, they look messy and the reader isn’t going to see them easily. Three or 4 are enough.
We want the reader to see the categories and tags at the end of your posts, because if they click on one, they are taken to a page listing all your posts in that category, or with that tag. These pages are called category or tag archives.
For example, if they like your writing and they want to know more about tomatoes, they could well click on the tomatoes tag and see all your posts tagged with tomatoes.
Or you can install a plugin that links to a few posts in the same category at the end of each post, such as WordPress Related Posts (by Zemanta).
This is very attractive to the visitor, as there will be a thumbnail image as well as an excerpt, and they are quite likely to click through if they are interested in the topic.
You can also place an archive in the menu of your blog, if you have a category you particularly want to emphasise to your visitors.
You can also place a list of categories in your sidebar, using the Categories widget that comes with WordPress, and give it a title such as ‘Blog topics’. If people see a topic they are interested in they will click though and see the archive page.
You can show off your tags in a widget area such as a sidebar by using the tag cloud widget. I’ve heard doing this has gone out of fashion, but it all depends on what you like and what works for your blog.
If your blog is on the Genesis framework, you will be able to write a custom heading and introduction for each category archive page. In the backend go to the Categories section under “Posts’, then click on the category name, and fill in the Category Archive Settings found down the page. Your theme may support other settings as well.
You can do all of this for tags as well, if you use Genesis.
Genesis also has a Featured Posts widget, which gives you another way of showing off some categories in your sidebar.
How to add categories and tags.
If you are just starting your blog and you do not know how to put categories and tags on your posts, this is for you.
When you have written up your post in WordPress and are nearly ready to publish, look for the Categories and Tags panel in the right sidebar.
Check the appropriate category, and if it is not in the list, click on the Add New Category link, and write in a category for your post. Then click on the grey Add New Category button that has appeared, which will add your new category to the list and check it as well.
If you don’t choose a category, your post will be filed in the ‘Uncategorised’ category. WordPress puts every post into a category.
For tags, write your tags in and click Add.
You can always edit your posts if you want to use different categories and tags later, and you can change the names of categories and tags by accessing them from the left sidebar of the backend, under Posts. Hover over the category or tag name and click Edit.
If you are super-organised and know what you are going to write about you can create a list of categories for future use from the Categories page , too.
Categories and tags for SEO
One last thing is that you can find your archive pages do well in web searches. Someone searching for your category word or words may well find your category archive page ahead of a post of yours about the topic.
This can really increase the number of visitors to your blog.
That’s it – happy categorising and tagging!