At least once a week, someone asks about categories and how they work, what tagging is or why tagging is important and how they differ from categories. Chapter 10 in The IT Girl’s Guide to Blogging with Moxie covers a lot of this info (and more), if you happen to have a copy handy (or if you feel like getting one *cough*). But, we thought it would be helpful to explain it here, in nutshell layman’s terms using food analogies because… well, we like food.
First, let’s start with categories. In terms of blogging, categories are a way for you to organize your blog entries. If you think of it in terms of a file cabinet, the category would be the drawer you keep that entry in. You might “file” your blog post in the “Family” drawer, for instance. Or “Recipes” or “Work Life” or “Ask Jenn!” (if you have an advice column feature) or whatever it is.
It’s not recommended to create new categories for each post, to have many similar categories or to make categories longer than 2-3 words as it starts to become cumbersome and the archives become less of a usability tool, more of hindrance. Of course, you’re free to tell us to step and do whatever you like, but we’re just straight shootin’ here, folks. Lengthy, cheeky category names were all the rage in ‘03, but these days, user efficiency and search engine indexing take precedence. Less is more.
It’s direct, familiar, fairly simple organization. What’s not to love?
Tags are similar, yet… not. Kathy puts it really directly in Chapter 10, so I’m just going to rip her off here:
A tag is a simple keyword (or keywords) that’s used to associate or describe the content of something, such as a blog entry, a video or an image. You are identifying the item with relevant keywords to describe it in simple terms.
I often explain it to people like this: categories are broader, feature-specific headings and tags are more definitive, more topic- and post-specific. So, for example, if you write a blog entry about a quiche recipe you just tried, you might categorize that entry “Recipes” with a subcategory of “Breakfast” and you might tag that entry “recipes, breakfast, quiche, eggs, brunch”.
Now, let’s say after you post your fabulous quiche recipe, a month later you to go to a restaurant for lunch called Eggs Forever and have quiche. You might organize that entry by categorizing it “Dining Out” and tagging it “lunch, quiche, Eggs Forever”. If a user clicks the tag, “quiche”, they will get a cross-reference of posts—both your breakfast recipe and your lunch experience because they’re both tagged ‘quiche’ regardless of what they’re categorized.
Aside from the aforementioned cross-referencing, tags come in handy when search engines come a-callin’. When bots and spiders from search engines like Google and Yahoo are sent to index the content on your website, the tags, as well as the content of your entries, helps them organize and rank your blog depending on what people search for. So, if someone goes to Google and searches for ‘awesome quiche recipe’ (without the quotes), your entry might rank well because you tagged it “quiche” and “recipe” and said “awesome” twice in your post, along with multiple mentions of the word “quiche”. If you didn’t tag it “quiche” and “recipe”, Google might still bring it up for someone’s search, but perhaps not in the first page or two.
It’s encouraged to use tags over and over for more focused organization. For example, if you tag your quiche recipe “quiche” and then post an entry 6 months later and tag it “quiches”, you’re not going to get all the quiche entries when you choose either one. If you tag them both “quiche”, you’ll get both quiche entries. The tagging features aren’t smart enough yet to differentiate plurals, for the most part. It will recommend a similar tag to you as you start to type your tag into the field so you don’t end up in that predicament, but ultimately, what you tag is what you get. So make sure to consolidate similar tags into one and/or break apart certain tags for best referencing (i.e., “cocktails” and “cocktail” or “chicken recipe” might be “chicken” and “recipe” instead).
It’s also recommend, as with categories, to use limited words in a tag. You can have spaces in your tags, but that doesn’t mean you should write a novel. Keep it succinct. Under 5 words is encouraged, 2 to 3 is recommended. On some community websites it’s considered “cool” or “in” to use the tags to write pithy things or little sentences like “side notes” instead of putting it right in their primary text. (Flickr is an example.) These are sometimes funny and that’s ok, too. If that’s how that community rolls, that’s cool… it’s just not particularly helpful from a usability standpoint.
We also recommend, and we say this with love, that you don’t go
with the tags. A handful is generally considered reasonable, but under 10 most definitely. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a lovely blog entry only to have it capped off by a 10-line paragraph of “relevant” tags that don’t really help their search engine ranking despite what the blog owner may think. At a certain point, Google starts ignoring duplicate keywords. They’re no fools.
Again, keep it focused. If your post is about the previously mentioned lunch out at Eggs Forever, you’d want to tag it as I mentioned above, “lunch, quiche, Eggs Forever”, not “review of local restaurant Eggs forever, best quiche I’ve ever had, lunch with Jane”. Why? Well, unless you plan to have multiple entries with “best quiche I’ve ever had”, it doesn’t really help anyone in terms of site organization. Such wording could potentially help someone on a search engine looking for “best quiche” but we all know the best quiche is
recipe. Duh! But, if you hang with Jane a lot, you might want to add “Jane” to the list of tags.
Blogger and Their Platform-Specific “Labels”
Google’s Blogger is a popular choice for bloggers seasoned and new alike. Inherently, their chosen method of organization is not evil, but it can pose some challenges. With Blogger, in lieu of tags or categories, they choose to use what they call “labels”. They are treated like tags, for all intents and purposes. In our professional opinion, all of the rules and guidelines for tags would apply to Blogger’s labels with one exception.
Since there is no differentiation between categories and tags, the organization is pretty straightforward. It’s all the same thing, easy peasy.
Because everything is all the same thing and people tend to abuse them with too many or too wordy labels (tags), it can get a little out of control. Everything is lumped in together and therefore, can take more time to sift through.
If you’ve chosen Blogger because it’s free, you’re new to blogging and just wanted to get your feet wet, but intend to move to another blog platform like WordPress or Movable Type in the future, take heed: your Blogger labels will import as categories in WordPress, not tags. Your labels also import into Movable Type as categories, not tags. So this could pose a problem if you’ve been a little label maniac.
Keeping that in mind, you might want to consider labeling your entries more broadly, like a category. But if you and Blogger are BFFs and you never intend to leave, then we recommend labeling as you would if it were a tag. But, as we said, don’t go nuts. Ultimately, if you do migrate to another platform like WordPress or Movable Type and all your labels import as categories, you can always go back and add, remove, delete and otherwise edit the categories of your entries at your discretion. So all is not lost!
You definitely don’t need to choose between categories and tags… some prefer just categories, others just tags, but sometimes it’s best to take advantage of both. For some blogs, tagging can be more of a frivolous addition, like if you blog about your day-to-day, random thoughts that are just fun and recreational jabber (like mine), but if your blog is information-specific or receives a great deal of traffic, such as a blog about real estate or cooking or if your site is a community atmosphere where many people congregate, tagging can be really useful for your readers.
The choice is yours how you organize your blog, but these are some basics to help you get an understanding of what each term is and what it does along with some tips and recommendations to get you off on the right foot. If you have questions about this entry, please leave your thoughts in the comments and we’ll do our best to respond as soon as we can.
And, after all those mentions of “quiche”, if you’re really here looking for a quiche recipe, I’m not the type of girl to leave you hangin’.
Leek and Mushroom Quiche [Quiche aux Poireaux et Champignons]
Adapted from Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
I tried this using a premade pie crust instead of the pate brisee dough that she used in the original recipe. I don’t have that kinda time… and if you don’t either, it worked just fine, though I’m sure the pate brisee has delicious merits. Here’s the recipe for the quiche innards, borrowed from the inimitable Smitten Kitchen.
- 3 to 4 leeks, white part only, sliced
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 5 to 6 large white mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tablespoon port
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups whipping cream (Deb: I use whole milk)
- An 8-inch partially-cooked pastry shell on a baking sheet
- 1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese
- 1 tablespoon butter cut into pea-sized dots
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Boil the leeks over moderately high heat in a heavy-bottomed, covered saucepan with 1/2 cup water, two tablespoons butter and a teaspoon of salt until it the liquid has almost evaporated. Lower heat and stew gently for 20 to 30 minutes until leeks are very tender. Put them aside in a bowl.
- Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the sliced mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and port. Cover pan and cook over moderately low heat for 8 minutes. Uncover. Raise heat and boil for several minutes until liquid is completely evaporated and mushrooms are beginning to saute in their butter. Stir cooked mushrooms into leek mixture.
- Beat the eggs, cream or milk and seasoning in a large mixing bowl to blend. Gradually stir in the leek and mushroom mixture. Check seasoning. Pour into pastry shell. Spread on the cheese and distribute to the butter over it (Deb note: I’m not sure if it’s because I accidentally took it out a minute or two early, but I found the butter to leave a slight greasiness on top, getting in the way of a cheesy crust, and might skip it next time). Bake in upper third of pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until puffed and browned.
tags, recipe, quiche, labels, how-to, categories, blogger