Confused about WordPress categories vs. tags? Not even sure what they are? Find out what they are and how to properly use them.
WordPress Categories vs. Tags
WordPress Categories and Tags are a powerful tool for bloggers. When used properly, they can help readers find your content more easily on the site.
On the other hand, if you misuse them or use them incorrectly, then it could result in lower traffic to your blog. This blog post will teach you everything that you need to know about WordPress categories vs. tags so that you can make informed decisions when using them on your site!
Categories and tags are two ways to group your blog content. You may hear them called taxonomies.
Dictionary.com defines taxonomy as, “the science or technique of classification.”
WordPress.org give us this explanation of taxonomy in WordPress. “A taxonomy within WordPress is a way of grouping posts together based on a select number of relationships.”
What are Categories and Tags in WordPress?
The categories and tags on a WordPress site are tools for organizing your posts. This helps readers find the content they're looking for, as well as other related pages to explore in more depth when you link back from an article to something like tips or resources.
What do Categories do in WordPress?
Categories are broad groupings. They’re like the table of contents for your blog. They should be the broad topics that you’re going to write about.
What do Tags do in WordPress?
Tags describe specific details about your post. They’re like your site’s index. They should be things that you mention in your posts.
How Categories and Tags are Used in WordPress
So, we know that categories and tags are ways to organize our posts, but how exactly are they used? And how do we decide between WordPress categories vs. tags?
The primary thing to keep in mind about categories and tags is that they are there for the readers.
Let’s say that you go to my Cub Scout Ideas blog to find out about events that the Scouts can participate in. You see that I have an item in my menu called “Cub Scout Events.” You click on that and find a list of posts with images, an excerpt, and a “read more” button.
That menu item has directed you to a category page. You can see that in the URL.
You see a post on that list that’s about the Pinewood Derby, so you click on over to read about it. At the top, you can see that this post is in two categories–Cub Scout Events and Cub Scout Activities.
When you get to the bottom of the post, you see this:
You realize that the word “Pinewood Derby” is actually a link, so you click on it to find an entire list of all Pinewood Derby posts. There’s also a little introduction written at the top of the page.
You’ve just found the tag page for the Pinewood Derby.
By using these links, my readers can find more information about Cub Scout events and then about the specific event, the Pinewood Derby.
If you’re thinking about a WordPress category vs. tag that you want to use, decide whether or not a reader will find it valuable. If not, don’t use it.
Let’s talk more about categories.
WordPress posts must have a category. If you don’t have any categories, WordPress will assign it to the default category which is “uncategorized.”
I highly recommend that, after you’ve created your categories, you change the default to something other than “uncategorized.”
To do that, go to Settings > Writing > Default Post Category
You will need to have at least one other category created before you do this because WordPress requires that all posts be in at least one category.
Unlike tags, WordPress categories are hierarchical, meaning that you can nest child subcategories under a broader parent category. I’ve never used subcategories, but many bloggers do.
When you first start your blog, put some thought into your categories.
You may want to come up with just 3 or 4 to start with. For example, if you’re starting a home décor blog, your categories might be:
- Living Room
If you’re starting a kids’ activity blog, the categories could be:
A kids’ educational blog may have these categories:
- Elementary School
- Middle School
- High School
Or they could be:
- Social Studies
A camping blog may have these categories:
- Tent Camping
- RV Camping
How Many Categories Should I Have?
I don’t believe that WordPress has a limit on the number of categories you can have. But just because you can have an unlimited number, doesn’t mean you should.
There's no benefit to having a lot of categories. In fact, it may confuse your readers (and the search engines) if you do.
Don’t create a category if you’re only going to use it for one or two posts. They should be for the topics for which you’ll write dozens of posts.
Can I Assign One Post to Multiple Categories?
You can assign a post to more than one category, if it makes sense.
Let me give you another example from my Cub Scout blog. Scouts are in ranks based on what grade they’re in. Each rank has requirements, but they’re often similar with age-appropriate activities. Most of the ranks have a hiking requirement, but the distance increases with their age—first graders take a one mile hike, while fourth graders hike for 3 miles.
I have set up my blog so that each rank has its own category.
If I write a post about a hiking activity for kids, it’s going to be applicable to more than one rank, so I’m going to put that post into the category for each rank that has a hiking requirement.
Let’s talk more about tags.
I want to start by sharing some tag statistics from a site that I worked on recently.
The site has 384 blog posts and a whopping 623 tags! Of those 623, 409 only have one post using that tag.
Here’s what happens. You’re writing a blog post, and you’re in a hurry to get it published. You think you have to have tags, so you start trying to come up with some.
Your post talks about décor in your family room, and you mention decorating a bookcase with a basket, so you use “bookcase” and “basket” as tags.
But you didn’t remember that you already have the tag “bookshelf.” And you already have a “baskets” tag too.
Do you really need both bookcase and bookshelf? Or basket and baskets?
Think back to how readers use tags. If you were a reader, wouldn’t you rather see all the posts about those things that hold books in one place rather than having to look at the bookcase posts then look at the bookshelf posts (and that’s if you even know to look at the other one)?
How Many Tags Should I Use on WordPress?
Like categories, you can have as many as you want. Just make sure that any tags you use are helpful to your readers.
Let’s say you’re a design blogger, and you’re writing a post about the cool decor in some historic buildings you visited while you were on vacation in Charleston.
Tag your posts with décor-related terms, but if you are never going to write about Charleston again, don’t tag it with that.
Can One Post have Multiple Tags?
Yes. In fact, a post can have more than one tag. In fact, it probably makes sense to have more than one.
But make sure those tags are relevant and that you’ll have more content with the same tag.
Do categories and tags help with SEO?
Google doesn’t use categories and tags as any kind of ranking factor.
There are some folks who say that having a good structure can help search engines better understand what your blog is about. That is probably true, but I believe it has a minimal impact on your search rankings.
Categories and tags are there to organize your content so your readers can easily find related posts.
Are you ready to learn more about all the information Google Search Console can tell you about your blog? Sign up for my course, “The Nuts & Bolts of Google Search Console!”
Can Pages have Categories and Tags in WordPress?
Categories and tags are only available for posts unless you have a theme specifically configured for pages to have them.
Most bloggers will be fine just having them on posts.
How do Readers Find Categories and Tags?
Most themes have the categories and tags at either the top or bottom of the post. This is the perfect spot for them because it leads your reader to other posts about the same topic.
There are a couple of other ways that people can find your categories and tags. Many bloggers use links to them as menu items. You can also put a list of them in a sidebar widget.
Categories and Tags Can Be Useful
When you have a strategy for your blog’s categories and tags, they can be very useful to your readers.
What’s your strategy? How do you decide between WordPress categories vs. tags?