How To Pick Blog Categories and Tags That Grow Traffic and Rankings

How To Pick Blog Categories and Tags That Drive Traffic and Rankings | B-SeenOnTop

I am a search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing consultant. The #1 question I get asked is “how can I rank higher on Google”.

The answer, unfortunately, is that unless you are competing in an underserved niche (and few businesses are), there isn’t an easy answer and there is no silver bullet. You have to first architect a website for search engines and humans, and then you have to produce and promote lots of well-optimized, high-quality content – content that earns engagement, backlinks, and social mentions.

What Is Engagement?

Engagement is when a visitor interacts with your website. He or she:

  • spends time on your website;
  • views multiple pages;
  • comments on a blog post;
  • downloads a free template or guide;
  • signs up for an event;
  • subscribes to your newsletter; and/or
  • fills out a contact us form.

Engagement is a slippery thing to define and measure, but when a visitor does any of these things, it does two things to benefit your business:

  • it gives you an opportunity to start to build trust and a relationship with the website visitor; and
  • it sends a signal to Google that you’ve managed to satisfy the visitor’s search query.

Evidence of Engagement Gets Rewarded By Google

Google made $19.1 billion in advertising last year and commands 78% of the search market. It wants to continue to grow its revenue stream and market position so it rewards content that satisfies users with higher rankings.

Google uses the amount of time a visitor spends on a website after clicking on a search result as a barometer for user satisfaction.

When people spend more time on your website (versus others rendered for the same search query), it sends a signal to Google that says “I’m satisfied”. Google insiders call this a “long click” and because Google likes satisfied customers, it rewards long-click-earning content with higher rankings.

Google Analytics snapshot showing average session duration.

Comparatively lengthy average session durations for the same search query signal user satisfaction to Google.

As a website owner, one of your marketing goals should, therefore, be to increase the amount of time searchers spend interacting with your website. Blog categories and tags can help with that.

How Blog Categories and Tags Work

The best way to get a sense of how blog categories and tags can work is through an analogy.

Let’s say you are visiting an out-of-town friend and want to surprise him or her with a stir-fry for dinner. You survey the pantry and conclude you need to purchase chicken, rice, garlic, and sesame seeds. You google “grocery store”, find one nearby, and off you go.

How To Pick Blog Categories and Tags - B-SeenOnTop

In the store, you can quickly move to the meat, dry goods, and fruit and vegetable aisles to find what you are looking for because the store has grouped related items together and provided overhead signs that let you know where each broad grouping is located. In the dry goods department, you find spices not the specific brand of sesame seeds you are looking for so you check one of the store indices to see if sesame seeds can be found anywhere else. You learn sesame seeds can be found in aisles 8 (spices) AND 10 (international). You wander over to the International section and find what you’re looking for.

On your way over to International, you pass thru the Bakery Department and decide to pick up some fresh bagels for breakfast. You spent more time in the store than you had planned, but you’re happy with your purchases and head back home.

What Are Blog Categories and Tags?

Blog categories and tags are labels you attach to your content to help people find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Speed and simplicity are important. Everyone is in a hurry.

Blog categories and tags are like the departments, aisles, and ingredients in a grocery store. They are a convenient way of grouping similarly related items, like meats, dry goods, fruits and vegetables, and spices.

Categories are mutually exclusive and broad subject groupings of interrelated items. They are like the departments and aisles in the grocery store. Tags are more specific. They are like the ingredients contained within foods in the aisles and can span multiple departments or categories. There is only one spice section in a store for example, but sesame seeds (an ingredient) can be found there as well as grouped in with international items.

How Are They Implemented?

Blogs are supposed to be social venues – topical, current, engaging, and helpful. Done well, a blog will mirror conversations occurring within your industry and give you an opportunity to build a reputation and earn trust and conversions.

Successful companies structure their blog content into categories that reflect the broad topics of interest in their industry. They use tags to highlight and call out specifics that can span multiple categories.

  • A food blog might have categories dealing with meal planning, recipes, tools, and food sources and tags that speak to garlic or sesame seeds.
  • A news and opinion blog might want to separate their content into groupings about politics, sports, technology, entertainment, lifestyles, and fashion and have tags that highlight a particular person, place or thing.
  • A baseball blog might talk about teams, players, owners, games, scores, and standings and use individual names and locations as tags.
  • This blog uses the different components of successful SEO and content marketing to strategize content and tags posts with specific tools, techniques, and tactics.

To help humanize a company and bolster its credibility and authority, many blogs also opt to include categories that offer behind-the-scene peeks into their corporate culture, strategy, and value and belief systems. They may also try to demonstrate thought leadership in the form of industry opinions, insights, and events. The options are endless.

Here is an example of the Starbucks blog.

How To Pick Blog Categories and tags | B-SeenOnTop

It has chosen to strike balance between offering useful how-to and recipe information and details about how it respects and supports its team and the environment and fun facts and tours of their out-of-the-way or unusual stores and locations.

Blog Categories and Tag Best Practices

The first thing to remember when you are brainstorming about how to structure your content is that categories and tags are primarily for your readers. They are supposed to help website visitors find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Think about what makes sense for your visitors, not you.

You also shouldn’t overwhelm readers with too much choice.  Less is more. Just like restaurant owners like to categorize dishes on their menu by the day of the week, meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) or both, you should categorize your blog content around the broad subjects your audience cares most about and leave the details for tagging.

How to Pick Blog Categories and Tags | B-SeenOnTop

Blog categories and tags should be short (1-3 words), simple and easy-to-understand. They should be unique, few in number, and self-explanatory.

A good rule of thumb for small business owners is to try to group your posts into 7 ± 2 categories – the number of objects an average human being can hold in working memory. There is nothing wrong with using more or less than that number. Just remember not to overcomplicate it or you will turn off your audience. Keep it simple.

There is no magic number of tags you should try to keep within, but the smaller the number you can keep it down to the better. It makes it much easier to ensure you’re not creating redundant or overlapping tags that would confuse and slow down your readers. It also helps prevent you from overwhelming them with too many choices.

You don’t have to use categories AND tags. A lot of blogs decide to use one or the other and not both. It’s entirely up to you. Do what’s best for YOUR audience.

Take your time when picking categories and tags. It’s a lot of work to reorganize them if you decide to take a different approach later. Err on the side of using too few rather than too many. It will help streamline maintenance and clean-up efforts down the road.

Woothemes, a popular and well-respected theme development company has also published guidelines for best practices using tags in WordPress (November 2013). I recommend it.

Where To Find Inspiration

One of the best places to get ideas about which categories and tags to use for your blog, is by reviewing news sites and popular blogs in your industry. It is relatively easy to find popular news sites and blogs in your industry just by searching for “top”, “popular” or “best” and “industry news” or “industry blogs” replacing the word “industry” with a commonly used word or phrase from your own industry.

How To Pick Blog Categories and Tags | B-SeenOnTop

Not everyone uses categories and tags. Not everyone uses them effectively. It’s common to see too many, fuzzy, overlapping, and confusing tags. Survey blogs in your industry. Learn from their mistakes. Make your blog better.

A Word About Style

Blog categories and tags are case-sensitive. That means if you create a tag with the unique identifier “garlic” and then another one labeled “Garlic” (with a capital “G”), they’ll be considered separate and distinct, two non-identical tags. Same goes for plurals and misspellings.

Again, it’s easy to see how this might confuse visitors. If you use “garlic” on some posts and “Garlic” on others, all of the related posts won’t be linked together. Titles and tags are case sensitive. Snapshot shows different case options with the title one selected. Visitors will have to conduct two separate searches and view two different sets of tag posts to see all related content. There’s also a good chance that your visitors won’t notice the discrepancy and you’ll have missed the chance to expose them to more of your content or they’ll leave frustrated, not having found what they specifically came looking for.

Pick a single style for your tags and use it consistently. I recommend using plurals and title case (shown left) where you capitalize the first letter of each word.

Lastly, please do not display the default “uncategorized” tag that shows up on many WordPress sites. It shows a lack of care and thoughtfulness which you do not want portrayed to your audience. If you’re going to use categories and tags, use them!

Plan Ahead

Understand that your blog is going to evolve over time. People rarely know everything they want to post about when they’re first starting out. Nor can you possibly anticipate all the feedback and reactions you might receive from your posts. The goal should always be to provide the information your audience wants and needs, and to present it in a way maximizes its relevance and usability. Make it easy for readers to find what they’re looking for and you’ll go a long way toward making your site appear “sticky” and deserving of a high ranking.

If you have any additional tips or suggestions, please share in the comments below. Comments, as well as questions, are always welcome.

Author: Donna Duncan (35 Posts)

I help small to mid-sized businesses & web design firms leverage SEO and content marketing to achieve their Internet goals. I offer self-service coaching, advice, and services.


This small business SEO blog offers free advice, best practices, how-to's, and examples for small business owners, marketing managers, and content writers who want to rank at the top of Google search results.Contact me for a free consult. Follow me on social media (top right) for helpful news, tips, and advice.


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