Once you’ve created your website, you’re going to have to organize its content for your readers.
In WordPress, categories and tags fulfill this role: they help organize content so that it makes sense to search engines, and so that visitors can navigate quickly through a site.
Categories and tags are both known as WordPress taxonomies, which, simply put, group posts and custom post types together. However, tags and categories are similar, but they are not the same.
Both serve as ways to organize your WordPress posts, but they fulfill different purposes — and both can also impact your site’s SEO rankings positively or negatively!
If you want to learn what categories and tags are, how to use them, when it’s appropriate to use them, and the best practices to maximize their use to step up your WordPress game, then read on!
What Exactly Are Categories on WordPress?
Categories are the broadest way of organizing your WordPress content. For example, if you run a blog that covers everything from cooking to fishing to hiking, you could organize your posts into the categories of “Cooking,” “Fishing,” and “Hiking.”
You can assign multiple categories to individual posts, so if you write a blog post about how to catch and grill catfish, for example, you’d assign it to the “Fishing” and “Cooking” categories. However, this might not be a good idea, as we’ll discuss later.
What’s more, categories are also hierarchical, which means that you can add subcategories below the main categories. For example, you can add the subcategories of “Freshwater Fishing” and “Saltwater Fishing” to the main “Fishing” category to help readers sort through your articles better.
Where to find WordPress categories
Log into your WordPress dashboard, and hover your mouse over “Posts” on the left side of your dashboard. Then, click on “Categories” in the submenu that pops up.
All of the categories that you currently have will be listed on the right side of the panel. If you have a lot of categories, you can use the search bar to quickly find specific categories.
Adding and editing categories and subcategories
To add a new category, check out the left side of the “Categories” panel. You can simply type in the name, slug (a URL-friendly version of the category name that is usually all lowercase and contains only letters, numbers, and hyphens), parent category (if any), and an (optional) brief description.
Going back to the “Fishing” category, for example, if you want to add a “Freshwater Fishing” subcategory, you’d do the following:
- Give this new category a name (Freshwater Fishing).
- Provide a URL-friendly slug. No need to overthink this one. Just add a hyphen in between words, and use lowercase.
- Give it a parent category (Fishing). If you just want to make a category (instead of a subcategory), you can just select “None” as the parent category.
- You can give this category a description if you want. Some themes may show this description, while others may not.
- Click on “Add New Category” to add this new category to your list of categories!
Any new categories and subcategories that you add will show up on the list of categories on the right side of the panel.
You can make revisions to the name, slug, parent category, and description of any of these categories by hovering your mouse over a category and then clicking on “Edit.” Similarly, you can simply delete a category by clicking on “Delete” after hovering your mouse.
Adding categories to your posts (and editing them!)
To add categories to a post, you can simply tick them off on the “Categories” tab on the right-side panel after adding a post.
Similarly, to edit the categories of an already-existing post, you can hover your cursor over “Posts” and then click on “All Posts.”
Then, point your mouse at the post that you want to edit the categories of, and then click on “Quick Edit.”
In the new panel that opens, head over to the “Categories” tab, and just add or remove categories as needed.
Then, What Do Tags on WordPress Do?
Tags, on the other hand, are specific, non-hierarchical keywords that refer to specific details of your posts, unlike the more general focus of categories. Going back to our previous example of a post regarding catching and grilling catfish, you could possibly assign it the following tags (among others):
- Catching Fish
When you read these tags together, you can usually sum up the idea of a post.
Where to find tags
To view all of your posts’ tags, simply move your cursor over “Posts” on the left side of your dashboard and then click on “Tags.”
Like categories, all of the tags that you’ve created will be listed on the right side, and you can use the search bar to look for specific tags.
Adding and editing tags
From the same panel that you’ve opened to find your tags, you can also add and edit tags as needed. Simply fill in the required details, and then click on “Add New Tag.”
To edit any of your existing tags, simply hover your mouse over any of the tags on the right side of the screen, and then click on “Edit.”
You can simply edit any of your tags’ details on the panel that appears and then click on “Update” to save your changes.
Adding tags to your posts (and editing them!)
Like categories, you can simply add tags to a post by searching for and then clicking on them on the right-side panel after adding a post.
To edit the tags of a post that you’ve already published, you can hover your cursor over “Posts” and then click on “All Posts.”
Then, hover your mouse over the post that you want to edit, and then click on “Quick Edit.”
In the panel that opens, type in the tags that you want in the “Tags” tab. Any tags that you’ve created will show up automatically when you type them into the text box, and you can just click on them to add them.
Categories vs. Tags: What Should I Use?
Simply put, you should use categories and tags as needed — use categories as a broad-reaching umbrella that covers a wide variety of topics, and use tags as hyper-specific ways of indicating the contents of a post.
Best practices for using WordPress categories and tags
We’ve stated above that using categories and tags can affect your site’s SEO. However, how would you make the best of these two? Don’t worry! Here are some of our tried-and-tested best practices for using categories and tags:
- Be broad with categories, be specific with tags
You can easily find which tags to add to a post once you’ve written one, and the best way to figure out what category (or categories) to assign to a post would be to work your way up from tags to a broader category.
For example, if you’re running an e-commerce site, smartphones should be a specific tag under the broader category of gadgets.
- Limit your number of categories
In most cases, you’ll have a blog that focuses only on a few topics, and as such, you should limit the number of categories and make your site easier to browse.
As we’ve stated above, if you’re just starting a blog that focuses on fishing, cooking, and hiking, then use those three as your starting three categories!
- Don’t use subcategories right away
You don’t really have to use subcategories, especially if you’re just starting out.
However, once you build up quite a large catalog of content for a single category, you can consider grouping that content into subcategories to help your readers.
- Avoid assigning your posts to more than one category
You should only do this when it makes the most sense for your readers.
Even then, you should avoid assigning posts to two main categories, as doing so could cause some SEO issues due to duplicate content.
- Use tags sparingly
Stick to a sensible number of tags for your posts. Just because WordPress allows for an unlimited number of tags doesn’t mean that you should just add a ridiculous number of tags to a post. Nobody wants to see a “recipes” tag in a post about, say, shoes, for example.
- Do it for your readers, not for search engines
Although tags and categories help with SEO to some degree, you should still use them appropriately.
After all, search engines are only there to deliver the content that people want. Develop your site with your users in mind, and success will follow. Spam useless, unrelated tags on your posts, however, and your search engine ranking may plummet.
Organize Your Way to Success With Categories And Tags!
Despite their differences, tags and categories both exist to help sort content for your site (and its visitors). And now that you know their differences (and how to use them optimally), you’ll be able to organize your site’s content in a way that pleases not only Google’s algorithms but also your readers!
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