Keywords vs Hashtags vs Tags vs Categories: What Matters for SEO

Post by Alison Knott | Last Updated: November 11, 2021

Keywords, hashtags, tags and categories are some of the most powerful tools you can use to get your content noticed online. But do they matter in terms of SEO? How do you get in front of your audience beyond social media or paid advertising?

In today’s post, I’m going to break down the difference between keywords and hashtags. With examples! Then I’ll go deeper into their relationship with categories and tags. Finally, you’ll see how they influence how you show up online, so you can decide what to spend your time on and what to hire a specialist for.


Are social media hashtags the same as SEO keywords?

While they both serve to help users search for specific content, hashtags are not the same as keywords for SEO:

  • You use the hashtag symbol (#) for social media hashtags, but not for SEO keywords. Unless you are referring to a specific movement, such as #MeToo.
  • Your audience uses hashtags to find your content on the specific social media platform you posted on. SEO keywords are used by bots and your audience to find a particular page of your website that is relevant.
  • Keywords go beyond a topic of a word. Keywords are about “search intent”: deeper context of understanding the reasoning behind why someone is searching specific terms.
  • Keywords are not limited to a single word. You can also think of search intent based on a series of words, known as ‘keyphrases’.


Hashtags vs keywords vs categories vs tags infographic

Below is a handy infographic that summarizes this post. You can also find an HTML version of it  further down the post.

table showing various differences between hashtags, keywords, categories and tags from an SEO perspective.


Example of difference between hashtag and keyword

For this example, let’s say you’re a hairstylist that caters to non binary clients. You plan to leverage Instagram and your website to attract new clients and build brand awareness.


Hashtag research and tactics

For your social media posts, you’ll focus on groups of content that already exist by researching hashtags and creating a hashtag strategy. A hashtag strategy means being consistent in the kinds of topics you cover and how many you use on each platform. By looking within the industry you want to target, you’ll decide on:

  • Your brand hashtags: These will include your business name, hashtags you’ll always use like #HairByYourName and #NonBinaryHairByYourName—hashtags common to hairstylists and your competition.
  • Audience-specific hashtags: These include hashtags specific to your target audience. Things like #Nonbinary or #NonbinaryStyle are things that are of interest to your audience and would be searched by them regularly.
  • Location-specific hashtags: These target your location and surrounding area. You can also capitalize on popular local hashtags like #DiscoverYourCity or #ExploreYourCity.
  • Post Specific Hashtags: These are hashtags specific to the post itself. They function to describe what your audience is seeing in the post. You might include the brand of razors you’re using or use a hashtag for the specific hairstyle that you’re posting about.


Hashtag research example

When it comes to executing your strategy on Instagram, hashtags are used at the bottom of the caption, or in the first comment:

“Just finished this stunning cut with the magnificent Sacha. They wanted a whole new style to greet the summer. Something that screams Boho but won’t take more than 10 minutes to smooth down in case of unexpected Zoom calls with their WFH team. Thanks, Sacha!

#NonbinaryHairByAlison #HairByAlison #Nonbinary #NonbinaryStyle #HairStylist #HalifaxHairstylist #HalifaxHair #Halifax #NovaScotia #DiscoverNovaScotia #ExploreHalifax #DowntownHalifax #HalifaxSmallBusiness #BohoStyle #NonbinaryBoho #WorkFromHome #WorkFromHomeStyle #MyHomeMyStyle #BohoLife”

Keeping a spreadsheet of your hashtags separated by topic makes executing a hashtag strategy easier over time.


Keyword research and tactics

SEO keyword research and tactics are more involved than hashtags. It makes sense though: a social media post tends to have a short lifespan, while the point of SEO is to get (and stay) on page one of search results for as long as possible. Therefore, more time is needed to make sure it will resonate with your audience:


1. Decide on a specific page or post you will focus on.

Your entire website doesn’t rank for one keyword or keyphrase. Rather, SEO matches many keywords and keyword phrases to relevant pages and post. For example, your homepage most likely ranks best for your brand name. If you also offer online styling workshops, those pages might rank better for the particular thing you teach than your brand.


2. Match your core audiences’ search intent to the content.

No matter if you’re writing something new or optimizing existing content, you have to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to say to your reader. The best way is to deeply understand the needs of your clients, and confirm the language they use.

Non binary hairstyles” may suggest someone isn’t ready to get a cut but is researching different styles. They are a colder lead, but you may want to attract authority and offer a solution to their search. You would want to create content targeted around the latest styles or showcase past client cuts.

Non binary hair stylist near me” suggests they are closer to booking an appointment with a new stylist. You would want to make sure your website is taking advantage of local SEO, such as Google Business Profile, formerly Google My Business.

You will want to confirm the match by researching what’s already out there in terms of search results. You’ll instantly know if what you’re searching for has enough interest, and may also clarify intent in ways you weren’t expecting. Type in your keyphrase and note the following for content inspiration:

  • What auto-populates in Google before you’re event done?
  • What other topics does the ‘People also asked’ section of search say?
  • What other topics show up towards the bottom with ‘Related searches’?


3. Create content based on your research, following SEO best practices.

No matter what combination of keywords you’ve settled on, if you don’t include those exact phrases in the text content of your website, you won’t show up on a search engine when someone searches for these keywords. Be sure that your keyphrase is represented in your title, heading 1, and peppered throughout the rest of your content.

Want this in a step-by-step worksheet? Download my SEO Resource Bundle that includes both a Keyword Research Guide AND an SEO Checklist.


Keyword/keyphrase example

Screen shot of Google with 'Non Binary Hairstyles' typed into the search field and the auto fill making additional suggestions.
Typing your search term in Google will give you some insights on different content you can come up with to rank for.

Let’s keep things simple by starting with ‘non binary hairstyles’. Notice in Google’s auto-populate field that the terms ‘… for long hair’ and ‘short’ both showed up. Consider making two different pieces of content for each length for better search intent. Especially if your salon has some wicked before and after photos for each.


Screen shot of Google with the search bar open and 'Non Binary Hairstyles' typed in, showing 'people also ask' below.
The ‘people also asked’ section in Google search can uncover some gems for content on your website AND social media.

Then in ‘People also asked’, some were rather useless but there’s a gem in ‘How can I look more non binary with long hair’? This could be a great opportunity to partner with a local influencer to talk about genderqueer experiences through the lens of personal style.


Screen shot of Google's 'related keyword' section shown during keyword research
The related search section can give valuable insights into other keywords that can be added to the cluster that makes your brand searchable.

Finally, in the Related searches area of Google, there are ‘androgynous haircuts’, ‘genderfluid haircuts’ etc. While most of these are obvious for those in the LGBTQ+ community, this also confirms with you how Google considers different keywords under a similar umbrella of search intent. That’s right: keyword clustering is a thing! Often as business owners, we get too stuck on ‘one keyword to represent everything we do’, even when we use different terms on the daily.

Want to dive deeper? Check out my SEO Consulting!


Comparing hashtags, keywords, categories and tags

Here’s a nifty table that compares various aspects of hashtags, keywords, categories and tags. It covers which are important for SEO, where they show up and who you should hire to make them work harder for you.

Useful for SEONoYesPossiblyRarely
Displays in search results (SERP)NoYesSometimesRarely
Useful for your core audienceYesYesYesYes
How many should you have?Instagram: 0-30
Twitter: 1-2
LinkedIn: 2-3
Facebook: 1-2
Tictok: Up to 30, caption under 100 characters

Your headings will probably focus on one, but you can use as many similar keyword clusters as you see fit

Ideally, no more than 7 for your entire site. For each blog post, try to minimize category overlap.As many as you want, but try to re-use tags across content, instead of accumulating 100s of tags attached to one post each

Research required- Brand
- Location
- Search Intent
- Competitor difficulty
Who should you hire to help with them?- Social Media Manager- SEO Consultant- Web Designer
- Web Consultant
- Web developer
- SEO consultant
- Web Designer
- Web Consultant
- Web developer


Are hashtags the same as WordPress categories and tags?

No, hashtags are not the same as WordPress categories or tags. Social media hashtags allow a single post to be found on the platform it’s been posted on. Keywords help increase the chances of specific pages or posts of your site showing up in search engine results.

The confusion is that hashtags, categories and tags are all organizational tools. Categories navigate content on your website, and hashtags do the same on social media platforms. Tags have a somewhat less hierarchical importance.


Do WordPress categories and tags help with SEO?

Generally, WordPress categories are more valuable to SEO than tags. Depending on the structure of your site, volume of traffic and other factors, category pages may show up in search results.

Categories also make it easier for your audience to navigate your website. If users find a website easier to use, they tend to stay on it longer. This is known as ‘dwell time’ and research suggests how long people spend on your site before returning to search results is a ranking factor.

Tags are generally not seen as a ranking factor with SEO. Tags are more of a user experience factor, helping readers read more related content under the umbrella of a category.

There are special cases where a website’s design uses tags to drive larger concepts. Recipes by food type or travel by specific destinations are a good example. So don’t kill yourself optimizing your tags, thinking it will drive more organic traffic. A page or post is more likely to rank due to keywords in the content than any particular tag it may have.


How to properly use categories in WordPress

  1. If using categories to organize blog posts, try to limit to 7 or less. This helps you to conceptualize the most important topics you cover. It builds brand credibility in your area of expertise and makes it easier for users to understand quickly how you theme content. For your salon, you may wish to use the following categories for your blog posts: news, events, client spotlight, nonbinary style trends.
  2. If using categories to organize different kinds of content (i.e., you have some posts that are blog posts and others that organize your workshops), use as many categories as needed. But In this case, using custom post types might be a more effective way to organize things.
  3. Use Yoast SEO to optimize the meta description of categories since they may show up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). You can find it under ‘Search Appearance > Taxonomies.’ Update your Categories meta description to say “Term title” Category Archives for “Site title” “Page.”
Screen shot of Yoast's categories tool and meta description under the taxonomies tab
Yoast has so many excellent features past the first tab! Under Taxonomies, you can find your category settings.


How to properly use tags in WordPress

Here are some tips for using tags in WordPress:

  • Check to make sure your tags show up on the front end when someone is reading your blog posts. The Divi theme allows you to enter them in but not actually show them, which means you may be doing extra work for nothing.
  • Use your tags intentionally. I recommend the approach of thinking about your categories as core concepts and your tags as sub-themes of those concepts. You may end up with 20 or more tags, but you stick to only those tags.
  • Do not copy and paste your social media hashtags over to your tags. You do not need to use the hashtag symbol and may end up with 100’s of tags on your site with only one post reference.
Screen shot of Yoast's tag and meta description fields
Yoast also allows you to control how your tags show up in search as well.

For example, you write a post on your website about the top 10 requested non binary haircuts as a recap at the end of the year. Your website is set up to pull all posts tagged with ‘non binary’ over to a specific place in your portfolio, so your tags might look like this:
“Non binary, Top 10, Annual Recap, Popular nonbinary hairstyles, 2021 Recap”

Because you post photoblogs of your work frequently, your categories would include:
“Nonbinary Hairstyles, Hairstyle Inspiration”


Do social media hashtags influence SEO?

No, social media hashtags do not directly influence SEO. However, healthy activity on social media can reap SEO benefits. Therefore the more searchable your social posts are, the more often your audience can find you. Which then results in brand awareness, so more folx search for your brand and send more organic traffic.


Thinking strategically about the words you use always matters

Your hashtag and keyword strategy both accomplish the same thing. They build awareness of how you and your services fit into needs of your core audience. Similar to working with a social media manager on your hashtag strategy, an SEO expert can work with you to optimize your keywords and content for organic results. If you’re not sure how to choose your SEO keywords, download my simple keyword research tool below.

Happy hashtag and keyword researching!

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