If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard about tags and know about categories- but you’re still not quite sure what makes them different.  The hardest thing for me to wrap my head around was that it is up the user (you as an admin) to determine how different they are.  Obviously, there are some difference (see below), but they are essentially two overlapping ways to organize information.

Let’s take a look at the differences between Categories and Tags:

On LH2, Categories allowed state admins to organize content based on their own preferences.  It could be content types (such as booklets or FAQ’s) special populations (veterans, DV survivors, the elderly) or any other preference. These would appear as colored ribbons separating groups of resources within a channel. Categories could either be created as channel-wide categories, or as subtopic-specific categories.

Categories haven’t changed much on LH3.  Admins can still customize them, and the results within categories are still impacted by the topic, subtopic and geographic area assignments of resources.  You can set a category just for a specific topic, or they can apply across all topics.  The major difference is they now appear on the left hand side of the topic or search result, instead of across the top.

tagsBut now there are also Tags.  So instead of having to choose between two organizational paradigms (such as content type vs population), you can do both.  The thing to remember about Tags- they aren’t meant to replace categories, they are meant to capture different information about your content.  Like Categories, Tags are also located on the left hand side of the topic or search result page, but they are under the “Filter By” option.   Both can be used to populate content widgets or pages.  Unlike Categories, Tags cannot be set to a specific topic, they are universal across all topics.  Tags can also be set so only Admins will see them and the public will not see the tag itself.  The content can still be pulled into a content widget.  Categories are intended to be public, though unused categories can be marked Draft or Archived.

This is a handy side by side chart of some of the differences and similarities described above (for those of us who are visual learners).

  Categories Tags
Display Location on Topic/Subtopic or search results Left hand side as expandable options. Left hand side beneath the “Filter By” option
Set to specific channels or multiple channels? Can be set to a specific channel of information or can apply to one or more subtopics within that channel. Universal- will pull information that is tagged regardless of channel.
Optional or required? Content must be assigned to at least one category if you want it to appear in a channel. It can be “hidden” by leaving it in archived status. Optional information organization tool.
Available on the Mobile Site? Are not carried through to the mobile site at all. A special “Mobile” tag type is used to dictate content on mobile site.
Public or Private? Categories will be displayed automatically on the public site if the category is marked published. Can be used soley for internal organization without being displayed to the public site
For example: you can tag all LHI forms to have them pull into a widget or content page without displaying the LHI Tag
Use in widgets or content pages? Can be used to identify content for use on content pages or widgets. Can be used to identify content for use on content pages or widgets.
How granular is it? Granular, but not as much as the Tags.  You should pick one type of organizational scheme and stick with it.  For instance, if you want to organize based on content type, just stick with that. The most granular you can get. Because of Tag Types and Tags themselves- you can dictate the pot of tags, as well as the individual tags (Type of Content -> FAQ could be one tag and Client Group -> Vet could be another).
Can I use multiple channels or tags? Yes, you can assign content to multiple channels. Yes, you can assign content to multiple tags.

So, enough of the differences or similarities- how does this work in practice?  The simultaneously freeing and frustrating answer is: it depends.  How’s that for a lawyerly answer?!  It depends on what you want these options to do.  If you only want a filter for the type of content (FAQ, Booklet, Forms) you don’t need both.  But- if you want to filter by type of content and population (these are just examples) you’ll want to use both.

If you choose only one, which one should you pick?  Before you make that decision, please remember that Categories are much more visible than Tags.  The end user will see an expanded view of your category listing when they hit the topic/subtopic screen, or the results from a search.  Tags, on the other hand won’t show up this way, and when you do use them they appear “below the fold” (so your user will scroll down) when there are several channels organizing your results.  However, once you get the hang of tags they are incredibly intuitive.  Especially if you’re an admin who also blogs or tweets- you use tags all them time, its no different than WordPress or Twitter- and you can easily set the type of tags, as well as the tags themselves.

The other consideration is the volume of your content.  If your site, or a subtopic, doesn’t have much content- tags could be a great way to denote content type, but if you have a lot of content categories are a visible way to structure log results in a way that tags cannot.

However, as your site grows and becomes more complex, chances are you will end up using both of these.  If you know Categories, take some time to get to know Tags- it’ll be well worth it.  And if you’re familiar with Tags already, check out Categories.  Together they make a really powerful organizational structure designed with the flexibility to meet the needs of just about any Admin.

For more information on tags and categories, check out one of these resources!

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email us at support@lawhelp.org.  If you’d like one on one assistance thinking through your organizational scheme using Categories and Tags, feel free to email us, or reach out to your Law Help contact.