17 Apr 2014

Smart and Smarter: Categories and Tags

dumbanddumberPosterIs a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? What about a cucumber? The answer to these questions really depends on the context of the dialog. If we are talking about them in a botanical context then they are fruit. But if we are discussing them in a culinary sense, they are vegetables. How we classify information is extremely important because every classification can transfer an inherent normative value. Many like fruits more than vegetables, so it would make sense to call tomatoes fruit if we are trying to sell them. But our cultural interpretation calls them vegetables, so to call them fruit might have the adverse effect.

Classifications can also aid in the information architecture of bodies of information. One of my favorite examples of this is Netflix.com Each movie or show on Netflix is categorized in many different ways. This multiple categorization is used for both user navigation and content discovery.

dumbanddumberTagsThis is seen mostly with SEO in the form of categories and tags. Let’s use one of my favorite movies, Dumb and Dumber, as an example. Netflix has classified this movie in several different ways. We can see that they have a general set of categories that they call “Genres”, and then several different sets of tags. This is a great example of how tags and categories should be used. The categories (or genres) represent main ideas found with in Netflix’s body of content. Because of this, they serve as an excellent tool for main navigation and sections of the site.

In this example the tags come in several different forms. The cast, director, and characteristics if the film “Raunchy”. These tags are not main ideas, but rather specific details that are relevant to the content itself. Many times tags will contain proper nouns, such as the list of cast members. These tags not only aide in navigation but also power the site’s recommendation engine.

Recommendation engines are one of my favorite things to talk about! At a high level, a recommendation engine will run algorithms to understand how similar pieces of content are related. Then link together said content. So for example lets say we are looking at the landing page for Dumb and Dumber, Netflix’s algorithms will analyze all of the different tags found on the page, and look for content that has the highest percentage of the same tags. Some tags might be given more weight based on how “important” they are to the content. The result is a list of related content like so:


These types of recommendation engines can be a very valuable tool to building information architectures that not only aide the user but also help spread internal link equity for SEO.

But the true SEO power of categories and tags comes in the form of their archive pages. An archive page is a list of content that all fall with in a certain classification. In WordPress for example we traditionally see archive pages for categories, tags, authors, and dates. If used correctly these pages can rank extremely well. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and run a query for your favorite celebrity. Without fail there is always an archive page ranking on either the first or second page.

So how exactly should one optimize archive pages? Well, I can’t exactly give away all of my secrets in one post! You will have to check back here next Thursday for some great tips on optimizing archive pages! Until then, happy tagging!


  1. Arun Kallarackal April 21, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    Multiple categorization can be used well to get some SEO advantages. And then, as you mentioned, there are of course navigation advantages.

    The recommendation of related content also will work like a charm if tags are used well. I’ve noticed that on my WordPress blogs. The related posts suggested based on tags are much relevant and most of the times turns out to be of use to the visitor. This helps reduce bounce rate.

    And the archive ranking well fact. Thanks for bringing that to my notice. I will keep that in mind and invest some more efforts towards tags and categorization!

    Much useful information shared by you!

    I found the link to this post on Kingged.


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