One of the key features of WordPress is its taxonomies. These taxonomies are better known as categories and tags – although its possible to create custom taxonomies, each with their own individual names.

Categories and tags are applied to posts in WordPress, not pages, and their purpose is to help you better organize your content so it’s easier for your readers to navigate and find their way around your website.

Categories and tags are both very useful tools to have your disposal when creating blog posts, so this makes it well worth spending a few minutes to get a better understanding of how they work, and how you can use them effectively on your website. So to help you get the most from taxonomies, here is our guide to WordPress categories and tags.

How to Create and Manage Categories and Tags

Categories Screen

It’s important to have a good understanding of categories and tags before rushing off to create them. However, to ensure you are familiar with this aspect of WordPress, let’s take a quick look at where you will find them in your admin area, and how you can go about managing categories and tags, before we cover how to use them most effectively. Both the category and tag management pages can be found under the Posts menu on the admin sidebar.

From their respective pages, you can view any items that exist on your website already, as well as create new ones. Each category and tag has a name, a slug, and an optional description. The name is what is visible to your readers when a category or tag is displayed on your website, while the slug is used in the URL for category or tag pages.

Category Slug

If your chosen WordPress theme supports them, the description will be displayed to your readers on your category or tag archive pages, which we will cover in more detail shortly.

When it comes to assigning tags and categories to a post, you can do so from the Add New Post screen, or from the post management page after a post has been created.

Post Category

Now that we know how to create and manage categories and tags, it’s time to find out how to use them in the best possible way so that you can get the most benefit from them

Categories and Tags: The Main Differences

Before we dive into categories and tags in more detail, here is a run down of their main features and differences to help you get a quick overview of their purpose and what they can do:

    • Categories organize or group your content by topic
    • Tags describe your content, highlighting the key elements of a post
    • Categories are hierarchical and can have sub-categories
    • Tags are flat with no sub-tags
    • Both have their own archive pages displaying all the content from each tag or category
    • Posts generally only have one or two categories, but can have many more tags
    • At least one category is required for each post, however tags are optional

    As you can see, they both share some key similarities, as well as having their own points of difference. So to find out more, let’s take a look at both of them in greater detail.

    WordPress Categories Explained

    Categories are best used to organize your content into groups based on the topics your website covers. For example a website about sports might have a category for each type of sport it features.

    These categories then make it easier for your readers to find more content from the same group, helping them to discover more of the articles they are interested in. This in turn increases the time your visitors spend on your website, giving you a greater opportunity to connect with them and move them towards the goal of your website.

    That goal could be subscribing to your newsletter, buying a product, or signing up for your service.

    Furthermore, categories are hierarchical, which means you can have sub-categories. To continue the sports analogy used earlier, each category for the individual sports you cover on your blog could have multiple sub-categories for the different leagues, classes, or genders that you write about.

    While WordPress gives you the ability to create as many categories as you want, it’s best to limit the number as much as possible when you start your blog. You can then add more categories as and when they are required, as your website grows.

    Although it’s impossible to state what the right number of categories is, if you take some time to plan the content of your website before you get started, you should notice some obvious candidates for categories emerging. For example, if you were creating a sports blog, some topics you might want to cover could include: football, basketball, baseball, and golf.

    By creating a set of categories to cover the main topics you plan to write about before you start writing your blog posts, you can avoid creating too many categories that end up only containing a few pieces of content each.

    The downside of creating too many categories is that it dilutes their effectiveness. When used correctly, WordPress categories can be a great way to organize your content more efficiently. But too many categories with only one or two posts in isn’t helpful to the reader, whereas a category that contains lots of related content makes it easier for them to find more content on the subject they are interested in, rather than leading to a dead end.

    When creating categories, if in doubt, keep your original set of categories more general, and then get more specific as the scope of your blog increases over time.

    Just as you can create multiple categories, each post can be assigned to multiple categories. While it’s impossible to state that a post should only be submitted to a certain number of categories, minimizing this number should be your goal.

    If a reader clicks on one category with the aim of viewing all the posts on that topic, and then they click on another category and see the same posts are also assigned to that category, it can be confusing to them, defeating the point of categories altogether. Therefore cross posting content to multiple categories should be avoided in most cases.

    If you find you are creating posts that fit perfectly into more than one category, perhaps you need to merge those two categories, or a create a new category that better describes those posts.

    WordPress Tags Explained

    WordPress tags and categories can be used together to give you more flexibility when it comes organizing and describing your content.

    Like categories, tags can be used to help your readers find more content related to the current post they are viewing. However, unlike categories, tags aren’t hierarchical and instead work on a flat structure with no option for creating sub-tags.

    Each post can be tagged with multiple tags. For example, a post in the football category on our sports blog could be tagged with the name of the teams mentioned in the article, any players discussed, or other information that doesn’t warrant its own category, but your readers still might want to find more posts mentioning that topic or tag.

    One illustration that might help you better visualize how categories and tags differ is that categories can be used to organize and list your content from the front, while tags allow you to connect and index your posts from the back.

    For example, when the visitor arrives at the front of your site, they will see the list of five categories you are using. They then click on a category and view the posts in that category. When viewing an individual post, they can then see the tags that have been applied to it, allowing them to click on those tags and view more posts that use the same tag, and therefore cover the same topic.

    Tags tend to be created more organically and on the fly as you write each post, rather than being defined in the beginning as you would with categories. Again there is no maximum number of tags you should use, but avoid creating multiple tags you will only use once.

    Category and Tag Archive Pages

    Example Category Page

     

    As we’ve already mentioned, categories and tags can help your visitors find more related content on your website. But how to they do this?

    One way they achieve this is thanks to the individual category and tag pages that are created each time a new category or tag is added to your website.

    For example, on this blog, there is a category called Beginners Guide. As the list of categories is often displayed on the a website somewhere, either in the sidebar, on the main menu, or on the individual posts themselves, when the reader clicks on that category, a page is loaded that displays all the posts from the category.

    Sidebar Tags

    This is called a category archive page, and depending on how this page has been configured, it will most likely either display the full posts, or just an excerpt with a link to read the full post.  However you can create custom archive pages, such as this one, which only displays the post title and featured image.

    Conclusion

    Hopefully you are now ready to start taking full advantage of categories and tags to make your WordPress website easier to navigate for your readers, helping them to find more of your great content, and spend longer on your website.

    Mastering categories and tags can help your website become more effective at achieving its objective, whether that is greater user engagement, selling more products, better promoting your services, or generating more ad revenue.

    If you have any questions about categories and tags in WordPress, please share them in the comments below.