Have you ever found yourself getting into the weeds over how to organize your blog content? Agonizing over what your categories should be?

Or perhaps you’re sitting there looking at your blog and you get concerned with just how many categories you have?

Or… should you use tags?

Wordpress can actually be a bit confusing on this topic. It gives quite a bit of power and flexibility for organizing blog content, but without a real strategy in place for doing so, it can easily become quite unwieldy. You can end up with big, long lists of categories or an insane list of tags. Sometimes, you might even have a category or tag which has one little post in it!

So, I have one goal with this post…

I’d like to give you a strategy to guide how you use categories and tags on your blog.

As the old saying goes… with great power comes great responsibility. 🙂 Well, Wordpress gives you a lot of power on how to organize your posts. It needs to be coupled with some responsibility (and a strategy) so you don’t let it get out of hand.

Let’s dive in…

The Traditional Problem With Blogs

Truth is, the “blog” has really evolved into a full-fledged content management system. However, most blog owners are still treating them like blogs. Blogs have their origins in the days of online journaling. This is why posts are displayed in chronological order.

Unless you really are still journaling, however, a chronological display of blog posts is a pretty poor way to organize or display content. It just isn’t logical. There’s no sense of order to things. We try to get around this by using categories and tags, but in MOST cases, people just don’t navigate that way.

So, blogs are often set up in a way which makes it very difficult for a person to find what is most applicable to them.

Remember, in our line of work, we’re not just blogging for the hell of it. We’re doing it for actual content marketing. So, the whole goal of our blog is to attract a person, give them answers to what they’re most interested in doing, then guiding them into their next step (usually to opt into your list and/or buy something). So, we need our blog to be structured around what our audience wants.

Chronological displays of blog posts don’t accomplish that.

And the way most people use tags and categories doesn’t accomplish that.

Even just inserting a search form for people to use doesn’t accomplish this very well. In fact, a Wordpress search form actually stands a good chance of sending people into dead ends.

The Problems I Needed To Solve With My Blog Content

7+ years of content on various topics. Almost 1400 posts and more coming every week. It presented a few issues that I needed to deal with…

  • The nature of Blog Marketing Academy is that there are a lot of topics talked about.
  • There is/was a lot of really great content back in the archives that wasn’t being surfaced any longer.
  • Most “related posts” plugins out there don’t provide much internal content on what is displayed. It is determined by algorithm. Plus, these plug-ins very often increase server load quite a bit which reduces speed of the site.
  • The site also has content of other types (not blog posts) that could be related. For instance, showing a related Action Plan from the Blog Monetization Lab as a related item to a blog post would not only be useful, but a potential marketing opportunity.

Categories Vs Tags: And Why I’ve Switched To Tags As My Primary Organization

For quite some time, I didn’t even use the tagging capability of Wordpress. It just didn’t strike me as very useful. It is also really easy to use wrongly.

In my tech blogging days, we used tags for awhile. Problem is, the authors were treating tags like old-school meta keywords. They’d type in a huge list of SEO keywords which they thought would be relevant to that blog post. The result was a HUGE list of tags and it just wasn’t useful at all.

Here at the Academy, I just never got into tagging. I categorized blog posts and left it at that. In fact, I even talked about some much more strategic ways to think about blog categories that I fully stand behind today:

But, I made a big shift just recently here to using tags. And you can see it in how I display the main blog page.

Here’s what it looked like before….

What the blog used to look like

A typical chronological display of posts. Here’s what the blog looks like now:

What the blog now looks like

You’ll see that the top section of the page is now a topic index. Those are tags, not categories.

The idea here is to make it clear that this isn’t just a blog… it is a LEARNING CENTER. I want it to go along with the idea of the word “Academy” which is right in the title of the site.

If somebody is interested in one of those topics, they click on it and will immediately see any blog post in the archives relevant to that.

Also, when somebody clicks on “blog” in the menu (and my testing shows that most people do), they’ll immediately see this topic index and judge the value of this blog based on the topics covered rather than just the latest 2 or 3 blog posts. That’s important in today’s world where people make snap judgements in just the first few seconds.

But, this begs the obvious question…

Why tags and not categories?

Sure, I could do the same thing with categories. Internally to Wordpress, there’s barely any difference between the two. The intention behind categories is to be the big buckets that you put posts into while tags are more like the index words. Think of categories like the sections of a book while the tags are more like the index in the back.

But, in practice, I find tags to be more flexible. One big one for me is that I’m not required to assign any tags if I don’t want to. I’m required to assign a category.

Well, what if a post doesn’t fall nicely into a category? That problem happens often and we end up just making a bunch of new categories or having miscellaneous categories, all of which devalue categories as a structure.

What if I post a time-sensitive blog post, such as a promotion? It doesn’t have long-term value in the archives, yet I might not want to simply delete it. Well, I don’t have to assign it a tag and therefore my topic index won’t be cluttered up with such things.

Improvements By Emphasizing Tags On This Blog

First and foremost, the topic index is a big help in showing the value of content on this blog that might have been written awhile ago. It is now easier to find based on topic.

Also, by enabling tags on pages and custom post types, I can now relate posts on the blog to training content. The Blog Marketing Academy happens to be a LOT more than a blog and a podcast. There’s quite a LARGE library of training content inside the Blog Monetization Lab and now I have the ability to relate some of that training content to free public content on the blog. Of course, if a non-member clicks on that, they’ll be presented with an access error and invited to join the Lab.

Related posts that I fully control using tags
Related posts that I fully control using tags

I’ve also set up a “Further Reading” section on all blog posts. Essentially, it is related posts. However, instead of some plug-in doing that for me, it is now all based around my tagging. This “further reading” section will help reduce bounce rate on the site as well as to have much better cross-promotion between the blog and the Coffee Break Blogging podcast.

So, essentially, tags are going to be a common element which helps to unite what has been fairly separate areas of this site:

  • The Blog
  • The Podcast
  • The Lab training library

All these things exist on the same site, however that wasn’t very clear at all to the end user.

Some of these abilities will be more manifest in the weeks to come as we go back and tag past content.

Another nice side effect of this organization is that it points out to me some areas that I see I’d like to post more content about. I see a great topic (i.e. webinars) that has barely any coverage on the blog so I can build that into my content planning.

I can also use my Analytics to keep track of which topics on the topic index people click on the most. That will give me good intelligence on what people want the most.

Tips On Using Tags Effectively

As I mentioned above, I had used tags before in my tech blogging days and we did it all wrong.

The first rule of using tags effectively is to realize that tags are not search keywords. A sure-fire way to make your tags list meaningless is to just start randomly typing tags into your tag box for each post. You’ll end up with a big list of tags, many of which are duplicative or just have one single blog post in them.

The entire point of tags is to relate content internally to other content on your site. And the ONLY way that works is if the tag is the SAME. While there is some SEO benefit to tags, a sure-fire way to screw it all up is to get into a mentality of “more the merrier” with your tags.

Here are a few tips to get this right:

  1. Create tags based around hot topics that your audience is looking for.
  2. Name the tag in a way you want it to display on your site. I capitalize first letters, for instance. All lower case would look unprofessional.
  3. Keep a record of tags you use in a separate document, such as Evernote, Google Spreadsheets, etc. You want to avoid duplicates of topic in your tags and having a reference will help.
  4. When you display tags on your blog, don’t call them “tags”. Most regular people out there don’t know those kinds of “blogger speak”. Call them “topics” or something similar to they your readers understand what its for.
  5. When entering tags for your post, begin typing and allow autocomplete to work. Wordpress will give you any current tags that start with whatever you typed. This will allow you to avoid duplicates.
  6. Try to keep your list of tags as short as you can. Remember, these are topics, not search terms.
  7. If you post a time-sensitive post (a promotion, contest, etc.)… just don’t assign any tags to it. This will keep your topic index on point. You have full control of what goes where here simply by what tags you assign.

The Last Remaining Thing… The Technical Crap

Tags are built right into Wordpress, however tweaking the display on the front-end is a matter of coding. There’s no way around that.

The basic gist of it is that my “blog” page is a custom page template. And in that template, I print out a list of tags as well as two “loops” (one for blog posts, the other for the podcast). Here is the code I use for displaying tags in my page:

add_action( 'genesis_loop', 'custom_blogloop_new' );
function custom_blogloop_new() {
$tags = get_tags(array('orderby' => 'name', 'order' => 'ASC'));
$html = '<div class="page entry"><div class="entry-content">
<h2>Topic Index</h2><div id="taglist">';
$numberpercolumn = ceil(count($tags)/3);
$colnum = 1;
$itemnum = 0;
$html .= '<div class="column-'.$colnum.'">';
foreach ( $tags as $tag ) {
$tag_link = get_tag_link( $tag->term_id );
$html .= "<li><a href='{$tag_link}' title='{$tag->name} Tag' class='{$tag->slug}'>";
$html .= "{$tag->name}</a></li>";
if ($itemnum==$numberpercolumn) {
$html .= '</div>
<div class="column-'.$colnum.'">';
$html .= '</div></div><div style="height:60px;clear:both;"></div>';
echo $html;

Keep in mind, I am using the Genesis Framework. Anybody who is halfway decent at PHP should be able to use that as a nice starting point. Keep in mind, too, that there’s some extra code in there to allow me to display the tags in 3 columns rather than one big long column.

Question The Way Things Are Done

I’ll end off with this final thought…

Just because everybody does things one way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way.

That goes for many, many things… but it also goes for blogging. You’ll see most blogs focus primarily on chronological display of content. Most themes are coded to do that. But, that doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.

You ALWAYS need to look at what is best for your reader. What will make the most sense to them? What makes things easier for them? Decide that, and you can bend Wordpress to your will. Wordpress is an insanely flexible system.

Wordpress gives you things like tags, categories, search. But, always THINK about how best to use these capabilities (or even whether you should). Technology shouldn’t make the decision for you. You should make the decision and the tech follows. And you make that decision based on the user experience for the people on your site.


To take this topic forward, there are two more in-depth trainings inside the Blog Monetization Lab that are relevant here…

  1. The Perfect Blog Blueprint. Talks all about the structure of your blog for the purposes of conversion. Interestingly, I’m going to need to make a modification to it now about tagging. 🙂
  2. Content Marketing Clinic. This course will have you thinking about and approaching your content in a MUCH more strategic way.

Both of these trainings are available inside the Lab.

Got A Question? Need Some Assistance?

Have a question about this article? Need some help with this topic (or anything else)? Send it in and I’ll get back to you personally. If you’re OK with it, I might even use it as the basis of future content so I can make this site most useful.

Question – Lead Form