// Internet Duct Tape

Climbing Out of Category Hell

Posted in Technology, WordPress.com Tips by engtech on July 20, 2007

One of my first and longstanding complaints of WordPress is that it does not understand the fundamental difference between tagging and categorizing. Categorizing is like taking all of your socks and putting them into drawers based on colours. Tagging is like sewing a little label on your socks that says when you bought them, how to wash them, and “if lost please return to the dude with the fat cat.” Categories add organization and tags add semantic information. A category can be a tag, but if you use your tags as categories you’ll eventually have a right old mess.

lost socks tagged
(photo by striatic)

WordPress doesn’t (yet) let you easily differentiate between tags and categories without using extra plugins, which means those of us who are cohabiting in a WordPress Multi-user ghetto like WordPress.com are stuck with the plain vanilla categories and the ugly mess that most tag clouds turn into. I have more categories than posts on my blog because I use “WordPress categories” for both tagging and categories. And I’ve finally realized that makes it near to impossible for me to properly organize my posts and for other people to read my site and find things of interest.

I’ve spent several days designing a blog that looks nice; it’s time for me follow through with the rest and climb out of the technical debt I’ve been incurring from my horrible overuse of categories and tags.

Lorelle on Tags

Lorelle is the number one source of all things WordPress. She has written a *lot* about categories verses tags, and even went into detail about her experience in recategorizing everything. I find it absolutely amazing that she managed to re-categorize her WordPress.com blog in only a couple of hours.

“Tags, however, are more like your blog’s index words. They are micro-categories. Do you use them when you visit a blog? I’m not and I’m wondering why.”Lorelle

“I think of the two a little differently, which is why I offer both categories and tags on my main site: How can I best help a visitor navigate around my site.”Lorelle

“categories equal tags, used by Technorati and other tagging directories as keywords to categorize your posts in their directories. If you want your posts to be found, this has to be considered.”Lorelle

“With so much importance put on categories by WordPress, choosing your categories becomes a major decision. You can either use categories as tags and add a new category for every tag you need, creating a long list in your sidebar or elsewhere, or keep your category list short and add tags with another method.”Lorelle

Categories in Action — How Do The Pros Do It?

When in doubt find an expert and copy them mercilessly. Here’s the categories for some of the top blogs about blogging and my thoughts on them.

ProBlogger: 31 Days to Building a Better Blog, Adsense, Advertising, Affiliate Programs, Blog Design, Blog Networks, Blog News, Blog Promotion, Blogging for Dollars, Blogging Tools and Services, Business Blogging, Case Studies, Chitika eMiniMalls, General, Miscellaneous Blog Tips, Other Income Streams, Podcasting, Pro Blogging News, ProBlogger Site News, Professional Blogger Interviews, Random Blog Tips, Reader Questions, Reader Tips, RSS, Search Engine Optimization, Writing Content, Yahoo Publishing Network

My thoughts: Could be improved with hierarchy and grouping similar categories together. Blogging for Dollars, Adsense, Affiliate Programs, Chitika, Other Income Streams, Yahoo Publishing Network should all be under the same umbrella.

CopyBlogger: Administrivia, AdWords, Affiliate Marketing, Blog Psychology, Blogging, Copywriting, Grammar, Headlines, Internet Marketing, Landing Pages, Link Building, Links, List Building, Metrics, Personal Branding, Persuasion, Podcasts, Popular, Promotion, RSS Marketing, Selling, SEO Copywriting, Social Media Marketing, Traffic, Tutorials, Video, What’s Your Story?, White Papers

My thoughts: I’d reduce a quarter of them from the list. Adding the “popular” category to track what people like is genius.

John Chow: AGLOCO, Cars, Fine Dining, Investing, Make Money Online, Ramblings, Review My Blog, ReviewMe Reviews, Technology, The Net, Videos, WordPress

My thoughts: There isn’t a lot of incentive to click on any of those titles.

Lorelle on WordPress: Blog Babble, Blog Challenge, Blogging Tips, Web Design, Web Wise, Weekly Digest, WordPress News, WordPress Plugins, WordPress Themes, WordPress Tips, WordPressdotcom, Writing

My thoughts: Only uses the letters B and W. :) Well thought out and descriptive.

DailyBlogTips: Blog Design, Blog Projects, Bloggers Face-Off, Blogging Basics, Blogosphere, Blogroll, Domain Names, Firefox, General, Monetize, Promotion, Reader Tips, SEO, Software, Strategy, Web Tools, WordPress, Writing Content

My thoughts: Firefox could be a subcategory of software. Not sure what Blogosphere, Blogroll or Strategy is about. Other than that it’s well done.

Successful Blogger: Analysis, Audience, B.A.D. Blogger, Basics, Blog Review, Bloggy Questions, Branding, Business Book, Business Life, Checklists, Comments, Community, Connecting Dots, Content, Customer Think, Design, Great Finds, Guest Writer, Idea Bank, Inside-Out Thinking, Interviews, Links, Liz Also Writes, Marketing, Motivation , One Way to CC It, Outside the Box, Perfect Virtual Manager, Productivity, SEO, SOB Business, Songs of Life, Strategy, Successful Blog, Survival Kit, Tech/Stats, Technorati, The Big Idea, Tips, Tools, Trends, Writing, ZZZ-FUN

My thoughts: Too many categories, maybe trim out some of the ones with less than double digits? She has a really impressive number of blog posts.

DoshDosh: Adsense Tips and Hacks, Advertising Networks, Affiliate Marketing Tips, Affiliate Programs, Blog & Website Promotion, Blogging Tips, Doshy Link Attack!, Get-Paid-To Websites, Internet Marketing, Link building and SEO, Make Money Blogging, Make Money with Social Media, Monetization Strategies, Money Making Tips, Niche Blogging Tutorials, Online Entrepreneurship, Popular Articles on Dosh Dosh, Revenue Sharing Websites, Useful Web Tools, Web Traffic Building Tips, WordPress Themes & Plugins’

My thoughts: Good use of long category names. I’m not sure how some of the categories are different.

What Do The Pros Recommend?

Daily Blogging Tips gives this advice on categories: be descriptive, limit the number to one screenful, try to put posts in only one category, and display the number of posts in categories.

One of the best things I’ve seen about categories is the recommendation to go through your search terms and base your categories off of how people are looking for things on your blog. Identifying the blog posts with the most comments helps as well. Lorelle also includes the helpful advice to turn trackbacks off before you start reorganizing your categories or you’re going to spam the crap out of yourself as you resave all of your posts (whoops, forgot about that).

delicious tag cloud screenshot

What Do I Recommend?

I’m a strong believer that the best way to learn something is to do it wrong. Repeatedly. My categories/tags are a mess, and this is what I’ve learned from it:

Content before categories: You can’t know how what your categories are until you know what you’re writing about. If you have a new blog don’t worry about them until later.

Categories are specific: Categories should tie together related content around a specific subject. The first time I reorganized my categories I tried to break everything down to “articles, opinions, blogging, links” but that doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me.

Use long category names: Make sure the category adequately describes what it contains and has a title people WANT to click on.

Use category descriptions: WordPress lets you put in some meta information about specific topics. Use it. You can even put links in these descriptions.

Niche is king: It is much easier to organize categories on a niche blog. Niche blogs can have very specific categories because they are all related to the same main subject. If you write about a multitude of subjects, then you need to have general categories with more specific categories underneath them.

Less is more: The more options you give a reader the less likely they are to interact with any of them. Too many categories/tags means I’m not inclined to click on any of them. Don’t have a lot of categories and don’t assign posts to too many categories so that readers feel like they’re always seeing the same posts in different categories.

Think maintenance: Time spent managing categories and tagging is time spent not writing posts or *gasp* doing something else. Too many categories makes it hard to pick a category for a new post.

Plan it: write down your planned list of categories before you start reorganizing and do a walk through your archive to see if they match.

Categorize your flagship content: Blogs always end up with a lot of “meh” or “look at this” type of posts. What you want to do with your categories is focus on the articles that add value to the reader. If you have posts that should be swept under the rug, then don’t bother categorizing them, or put them under something like Misc, Asides or Links.

Rule of 10: If a category isn’t going to have at least 10 posts, then it shouldn’t be a category of its own.

Use excerpts: Your category/archive pages should show excerpts instead of the full content. The excerpts should be long enough to entice the reader.

Screw tagging: This took me forever to realize, but tagging isn’t usually worth the time and effort. Tagging only works well when more than one person is tagging content. If it’s just one person doing it then it turns into a mess every time… a big cloud of nothing. Tags are useless for helping people find things if each tag only has one post. Tagging with WordPress makes categories unmanageable and unorganized. A well directed Google Custom Search engine can replace the need for tags.

The solution I came up with tags is to have some direct sub-categories under my main categories.

How Did I Do It?

These are the steps I took to drastically reduce the number of categories I had on my blog.

  1. Delete all categories willy-nilly
  2. I had to write a script to do this because the WordPress delete category interface is too slow (I’ll release it next week)
  3. Turn off the visual text editor on my User Profile
  4. Use the WordPress Category Resizer to make the category editor in the edit post window bigger.
  5. Fix manual navigation links to category pages and CSS effects
  6. Regenerate my Tag Clouds
  7. TODO: Run a link checker against my blog and fix all broken links
  8. TODO: Regenerate CSS for category icons

There’s a reason why I only do this every nine months or so.

farside on tagging

What Does It Look Like?

Still too many categories, but much better than before. Obviously I didn’t follow a lot of my own advice. There are still some categories that could get nuked, but I’m using them as tags.

The users will be presented with the following categories in the sidebar as a text widget.

All of the subcategories are used as tags.

38 Responses

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  1. Ian Stewart said, on July 20, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    But what are you going to do when WordPress incorporates tags in 2.3? ;)

  2. engtech said, on July 20, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    You mean 2.4? :)

    Oh, and I found a bug in the WordPress Facebook app thanks to this exercise. Every time you edit a post it gets republished in the Facebook app… instead of the app being reserved for new posts.

    Ok, that wasn’t a bug at all. Because I don’t show times in my minifeed I thought it was spamming… those were just old posts.

    I need coffee.

    Totally was a bug. I *really* need coffee.

  3. Ian Stewart said, on July 20, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Ahem, yes.

  4. […] Duct Tape (formerly EngTech) has an interesting post about proper use of categories and tags in WordPress. Eric […]

  5. Gordon R. Vaughan said, on July 20, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    That’s an interesting question that I’ve grappled with on my several blogs. Your post prompted me to write about it:


    Basically, I think it depends on the type of blog and its readers, but I expect we’ll see tagging become increasingly important as the semantic web becomes more of a reality and the tags are the signposts to finding the information we want.

  6. zhayena said, on July 21, 2007 at 12:47 am

    It is wp 2.3 as far as I know that have tagging included. I’m just wondering how long it’ll take before the code are implementet in WPMU/ .com

    I prefer to seperate the two.

  7. syahid ali said, on July 21, 2007 at 6:07 am

    interesting article all around. no significant difference between tags and categories on wordpress. and the only thing i hate about wordpress is this. blogger.com seems to understand it, but lacks useful plugins as in wordpress.

  8. Nita said, on July 21, 2007 at 7:12 am

    Informative post. I am going to check out Lorelle.
    However, this sub-category thing is not always workable. For example, If you have a main category of say Fashion and sub categorize it by saying ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ then its not possible to keep the main category ‘Women.’ At least this was so when I started with WordPress…you cannot repeat the categories, even if one of the labels is a sub.

  9. […] Skip navigation Subscription OptionsMost Popular PostsIDT Labs – Free Software ToolsWordPress.com Resources – Tips, Tricks and ToolsWordpress.com Theme ReviewsWordpress.com Theme Review HelpGreasemonkey script: WordPress Category ResizerWordpress.com 7 Day Referrer ParserPerl Script – WordPress.com 7 Day Referrer ParserGreasemonkey Script: Akismet Auntie Spam for WordpressGreasemonkey Script: Find images that are too wideTag Cloud Generator for Wordpress.comTag Cloud Generator AdvancedTag Cloud Generator – Release NotesTechnorati Favorite Your FansTechnorati Favorite Your Fans – Release NotesComic BloggerGreasemonkey script: Flickr always search for Creative Commons licensed photosTag CloudAll Posts by Category and TitleSeriesGift Guide for Geekseaster eggsReader Appreciation for RSS subscribersWelcome to Internet Duct TapeblogAbout MeDisclosure « Climbing Out of Category Hell […]

  10. Reader Tips: 22 July 2007 said, on July 22, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    […] Organize Your Categories: Comprehensive article from Engtech explaining how you should organize the categories on your blog. It includes several examples. […]

  11. Guy said, on July 22, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    Brilliant! I also strugle with the tag and category problem, but with a simple text sidebar widget and some organizing I can keep using tags, but give my readers something useful. Thanks!

  12. […] Climbing Out of Category Hell « Internet Duct Tape Uraian cukup panjang lebar mengenai perbedaan “kategori” dan “tag”, terutama di platform wordpress. Intinya, kategori memberikan organisasi sedangkan tag memberikan informasi semantik. (tags: kategorisasi tag wordpress semantik) […]

  13. Lorelle VanFossen said, on July 23, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    Brilliant and fascinating as usual, my friend. B and W? I never thought about that at all. Funny!

  14. Carlsbad Real Estate said, on July 24, 2007 at 10:45 am


    I stopped by for a tip on categories for WP, and am leaving with a notebook full of questions and assignments.

    Categories on my blog (http://www.LuxuryHomeDigest.com) have become a cross-populated mess and I am trying to figure out category organization on the newly migrated (to WP) mash-up site (http://www.sandiegopreviews.com).

    Tag clouds seem easier, but might they ultimately also need categories???

    Thanks for a terrific and thought-provoking article.

    –Roberta Murphy

  15. Folsom Real Estate said, on July 24, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Great information about tags and categories…glad to have found this great insight. Thanks.

    -Gena Riede

  16. Ilya Lichtenstein said, on July 24, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Leave WP.com. Hosting is dirt-cheap, you get the ability to fully customize your blog, and you will make a nice side income from AdSense.

  17. Andrew said, on July 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    The sidebar list of categories can be a good indication of what your blog is about, especially if you provide a post count for each category. This ceases to be true if the number of categories goes much above seven (that magic number).
    As for tagging, I look forward to its arrival in wp.com, because I miss it.

  18. bs angel said, on July 30, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Nice to know I am not the only one dissatisfied with the WordPress system.

    Your organization puts me to shame. I definitely learned a thing or two with this article. Whether or not I can make improvements on my blog is a completely different story though!

  19. engtech said, on July 30, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    I had to crawl out of a hole I build for myself, that’s for sure. What’s amazing is how much easier it is for *me* to find stuff I wrote before, not to mention my readers. I find the system of “longer names” for general categories and shorter names for specific tags works well.

    I’m playing around with some CSS ideas as well for doing a breadcrumb trail for categories to make the archive pages really useful for searching the site.

  20. Nita said, on July 30, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    //I find the system of “longer names” for general categories and shorter names for specific tags works well.//
    Not for me. If you have the category of say Crimes and you want to sub categorise it then the sub categories have to be longer like child abuse for instance. Or even crimes against women or crime by politicians (I have made corruption a separate sub-category under India because i will be writing only of corruption in India). The worst thing is if you have a tag cloud (like I have) the subcategories if they are short can fail to make sense…because the shorter sub-categories are shown as independent of the general categories.

  21. […] smokes, go check out this huge and informative post from Internet Duct Tape titled, “Climbing Out of Category Hell“. The article is about how WordPress is lacking tags and how categories used as tags creates […]

  22. […] Climbing Out of Category Hell I did a major reorganization finally. […]

  23. engtech said, on August 01, 2007 at 11:40 am

    What you could do is have the Crime parent category, and then the sub-categories be “Crime – Child Abuse”, “Crime – Stealing”… it might make the tag cloud look better because things would be organized.

    My tag cloud generator program has a hidden option that lets you rename your category names in the tag cloud it spits out. Useful for when you want to leave things a certain way for the site, but have the cloud look different.

    Getting back to the original post, turning off trackbacks before you do this is so important!!!. I’ve been blacklisted by Akismet because of the sheer number of trackbacks I sent out.

  24. […] bloggers that have recently gone to their own WordPress install and haven’t yet fallen into Category Hell (having too many categories) and haven’t added some sort of tagging system yet will have the […]

  25. Ripulisti semantico « Tanoka said, on September 18, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    […] l’uso quotidiano ho scoperto poco a poco la differenza tra tag e categorie. (Differenza che qui e qui viene spiegata con precisione). Ora esiste una colonna di destra con […]

  26. […] at Internet Duct Tape wrote, “Climbing Out of Category Hell.” Fascinating […]

  27. Categories and Tags « La Marguerite said, on October 13, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    […] I would like to share a resource I just found through Daily Blog Tips, an article from Engtech, “Climbing out of Category Hell”. I wish I had read it earlier. There are a number of things I […]

  28. Craig said, on November 15, 2007 at 3:19 am

    the script for deleting all categories; please, could i have it.
    i imported an old blog to a new one and it created 5000+ categories for things that weren’t old categories or old tags. i’m confused and tired.
    ha. delete all would be great. i’ll re-categorize them myself.

  29. engtech said, on November 15, 2007 at 3:25 am


    I don’t have it on this machine… I’ll see if I can dig it up; I might have deleted it.

  30. Craig said, on November 15, 2007 at 3:27 am

    scratch that, i found something that has worked very well:
    deletes certain database tables including the categories. very happy with that. now i’ll use wp-cats plugin to assign new ones.

    now in regards to cats vs tags, you already hit the nail on the head in your first paragraph: categories are for organizing, tags for relating. this system has worked very well for me.

    that said, wordpress creates feeds for each category, so you could essentially have topic feeds; topics being something you may use tags for. food for thought.

  31. engtech said, on November 15, 2007 at 3:30 am


    You get feeds for all the tags as well though. In terms of functionality on the WP side of things, there really isn’t much difference between whether or not it’s a category or tag.

  32. Craig said, on November 15, 2007 at 3:48 am

    oh that’s good news in regards to tag feeds. thanks for that.

    tell me, can you call certain posts from tags like you can with in_category ? it seems you can only call a list of tags and the links to their tag pages [?]

    otherwise the only difference is how you add them to posts. cats=checkbox, tags=typing[or dropdown menu]

  33. Michael Woo said, on November 15, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Maybe you would like to change your cms to prolly joomla? :D there are still pros and cons though and it will eat up your time when you wanna change.

  34. Apoorv Khatreja said, on November 17, 2007 at 12:06 am

    A very long, detailed and informative article. Thanks.

  35. Sneezy melon said, on November 17, 2007 at 12:21 am

    Nice article. Being a beginner, it helped me a lot. This one goes in my favorites. Thanks for all the input!

  36. Ripulisti semantico | Tanoka said, on March 16, 2008 at 10:30 am

    […] l’uso quotidiano ho scoperto poco a poco la differenza tra tag e categorie. (Differenza che qui e qui viene spiegata con precisione). Ora esiste una colonna di destra con […]

  37. […] plugin releases for 7/20 Growing Blogs kept me interested. I wanted to point to Climbing Out of Category Hell. It was worth reading How about WordPress 3 for PHP5?. http://www.boringguys.com was sound today. It was […]

  38. Randall said, on January 06, 2009 at 9:05 am


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