You’ve been busy blogging and writing articles for your WordPress website. Now you’re wondering how to organize them all. Did you know that organizing your website can help your SEO (search engine optimization)? Not drastically, but every little bit helps.
Most importantly, categories and tags improve your reader’s experience by helping them to navigate your website. If they can find additional relevant information on your website, they will most likely stick around longer, reducing your bounce rate.
So now you’re probably wondering about the differences between WordPress categories vs. tags. How do you choose them? What’s too many? What’s the best strategy? Well, follow along with me and I’ll break it all down for you, OK?
If you want to know where I learned all this, click here.
WordPress Categories Vs Tags
Let’s start off with a little technical speak, lol. Both categories and tags are known as taxonomies.
This is a fancy way of describing groups of posts with similar topics. Posts that are like-minded in nature and cover similar information. Categories and tags are similar in function, but very different nonetheless.
Once upon a time, WordPress (pre-version 2.5) only provided you categories. And unfortunately, you began to see the overuse of them.
Websites ended up having long lists of categories for their readers to wade through. Now, WordPress has created a subcategory system to help eliminate that problem. Let’s look at the differences…
WordPress categories are hierarchical. This means that below the broader “parent” categories, you can nest “child” subcategories for a further breakdown of details.
Reflect on what your website is about, overall, then break it down into broad groupings. Sort of like the table of contents, or chapters, in the front of a book.
For instance, if your blog is about healthy living, you may have parent categories like exercise, food, supplements, etc.
If you consistently blog about specific types of exercise, like yoga or CrossFit, these can be added as “child” categories. When it comes time to label your post, you have the option of applying both the parent and the child category, or just the child category.
Tags, on the other hand, are used for further break down of details in your post. These tags are not hierarchical, meaning you can use tags from different categories as needed. Consider tags to be like the index of a book.
If you have a CrossFit (child) category, then your tags could be equipment, or shoes. If the post was categorized Crossfit and discussed a fat burning product and specific recipes, then you can tag it with both fat burner and recipes.
How To Choose Categories
Remember, these are broad categories that encompass an overall theme. Here are some helpful ways to come up with and name your categories:
- Try to describe your niche in as few words as possible.
- Make sure they’re relevant to your niche.
- What topic do you blog about the most? Does it deserve its own category?
- Are they future proof? (See below…)
- Can the reader easily understand your terms? Don’t be technical.
- Keep the names short. Three words or less.
- Use keywords as your category names.
- No matter how tempting, don’t be cute or clever. This doesn’t help your reader.
Your categories should be broad enough to cover all the important topics in your niche. You shouldn’t have a problem assigning your content to one of the categories.
If you do, on a frequent basis, you might be too broad and you should add one or two more. It’s best not to assign more than one parent category to your post.
I’m reminded of my grandson’s shape sorting toy. Each shape has only one specific hole it fits in. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t fit the square block into the round hole. It needs to go into the square hole.
Just like your articles, they should fit into one specific category. Without all the crying, I might add, lol.
Rule Of Overlap
A great method to try is described in the picture below, courtesy of CoSchedule.com.
Try to come up with three or four of the main topics you cover in your niche. Again, be broad and try not to choose more than four. In the case above, the main categories are writing, content marketing, news, and social media.
Now, what are the sub-topics, or overlaps, you often write about. In the case above, they write a lot about Blogging, which overlaps the Writing and Content Marketing categories. Or Feature (articles) which overlaps the Content Marketing and News categories.
These sub-topics are the posts that you would find difficult putting into just one of the four categories. So now you have two or three more categories for easier classification. In total, you have seven parent categories.
For user comfort in navigation, you’re better off with fewer parent categories, then add child categories and tags to break them down further.
Try to think down the road to the future of your site. If your categories are too specific, and something changes in the industry, you will be left with an obsolete category.
For instance, in the picture above, one of the categories is Social Media. If they had given a category to each specific social media platform, and one shuts down overnight, then you’re stuck with a useless category. Using a broader term like Social Media reduces that problem.
Now is the time to use your tags. They are used to break down the category into each individual social media platform.
This doesn’t mean your choices are written in stone. After some length of time, take a good look at your categories and see what you have.
- Does one category just have a few posts in it? Then delete it!
- Does one category contain 90% of your posts? Then it was too broad and you need a few more categories. Delete the broad one and add two or three new ones.
Yes, you’ll have to go back and re-categorize those posts, but your website will look much more balanced. In essence, all your categories should be fairly well-balanced with the number of posts in them.
So you see, the more thought you put into it in the beginning, the less work you’ll have down the road, lol.
Just remember, all your posts should be categorized, whereas the use of tags is optional. If you don’t categorize, your article will be put under “Uncategorized” which does nothing for your readers.
If you absolutely must write something that doesn’t fit anywhere or is not relevant to your niche, then you can always rename “Uncategorized” to “other”, or “ramblings”, lol.
Make A List
If you’re anything like me, you need to write things down to help you get organized. Or maybe you’re one of the gifted people who can do it all in your head, lol.
If not, no worries! I have a great video showing you how this gentleman made a spreadsheet to display all his parent and child categories, then proceeded to display each tag applicable to that category.
It’s quite brilliant and would give you a bird’s eye view of your entire categorized website. It’s just over four minutes. Enjoy!
Creating Categories in WordPress
When you first download a new WordPress website, you are given one uncategorized category. This category cannot be deleted, but you can edit its name.
On your dashboard, down the left-hand side, click on “Posts”, then “Add New”. In the right-hand column, you will see the category box.
The easiest way to create new categories is to click the “Add New Category” link and work within the Categories Box.
In the picture below, you can see what opens up when you click on the link. I then added the name “Exercise” and made sure the drop-down said Parent Category. Click on the lowest “add new” box and you’ll see your new category appear above.
I then created a new “child” category using the same steps, except that I made sure I checked “Exercise” above and pick “Exercise” in the drop-down box.
When finished, you’ll see “Crossfit” as a subcategory under “Exercise”.
If you forget to check the parent category tick box, you may see your child name appear looking like a parent category. Just refresh your page and it’ll reappear as a subcategory. Possibly a small glitch in WordPress?
The other area you can create these new categories is to click on the “Categories” section under Posts. In the picture below, you can see your newly created categories.
If you wish to create a new name in this section, you must type in the name in two places. Under Name and Slug.
Slug is the URL, so if you have a multi-word name, use all lower case letters and place a hyphen between words.
Let’s add another subcategory under Exercise called “Yoga”. After filling in the details and clicking the blue box below (not in picture), your name will show up on the right-hand side. Notice how your subcategories are hyphenated.
If you wish to delete any categories, you will have to return to this location. Hovering over the name you want to delete will bring up the option to delete. It will prompt you to make sure before it does anything.
If, after a year or two, you have many you want to delete, you can check all the unwanted ones, and use the bulk action.
The same basic steps apply to add tags as well. You will find a tag box in your editor or its own section under Posts.
Personally, unless I’m deleting something, I always use the boxes in the editor, as its so much simpler to use. Less jumping around, lol.
How Many Are Too Many?
When doing research on this question, I came up with so many answers. Some say no more than 20, and others say 6 to 10.
The primary use of categories and tags is to benefit your reader, to make it easier for them to browse your site and find the answers they are looking for. So put yourself in their shoes. If you were looking for something specific and had to scroll through a long list of categories or tags to find it, would you continue searching, or would you just move on?
Depending on your niche, the best practice is:
- To start with a few categories.
- Add more as your website grows.
- Better to have few categories with many posts, than have many categories with one or no posts.
When it comes to labelling your post, it should have one category and 2-3 tags at most. If you have 20-30 tags, again, your reader probably won’t bother going through each list of posts looking for specific information. But with only 2 or 3, it’s more likely they’ll click on a link and stay.
No matter how many categories you choose, you need to consistently add posts to each category. This is where a posting schedule can come in handy. But that’s another post, haha.
Where Should You Display Your Lists?
This really comes down to personal preference, and what your theme will allow. You can display them as an entire list (which is why you should keep to a minimal number of categories), or you can have a drop-down list.
They can be in your header, footer, or sidebar. Some may prefer not to show it and let people click on the category name where it appears on your blog post.
Personally, I’ve been favouring a clean looking page with no sidebar.
So my preference is to have a “Category” section in my main menu, with a drop-down list. That way, if my readers want to check out my categories for more information, it’s easy to find at the top of the page.
The picture below is my playbox site that I use to create samples for articles. It shows you how adding your categories to your menu might look like. I changed the title to “Topics”.
The important thing you need to consider is what placement makes it the easiest to access for your visitors. This whole process of categories and tags is for their benefit.
Take a good look at your website design, your niche, your personal style, and come up with easy navigation for your readers.
Again, it isn’t written in stone. You can try one way, and if you don’t see any benefits, try another way. I do this fairly often, LOL.
How Can Categories Help SEO?
In a nutshell, search engines like organized websites. If you can categorize your content into keyword-focused categories, you will most likely receive a better ranking for those terms.
A website that has no categories, or too many with unrelated keywords, might tell Google that you have no focus. This, in turn, will hurt your chances of ranking.
Some online information will say that if you add multiple categories or tags to a single post, you might be penalized with duplicate content.
This is because the same article will show up in each category’s list. This has been difficult to prove, but you can set your categories and tags as “noindex”, to put your mind at rest.
The image below is from my AIO (All In One SEO Pack) on my website. This is a site optimization plugin. Click on the AIO on your dashboard, then General Settings, and scroll down to Noindex Settings.
Yoast is another popular plugin. I personally don’t use Yoast, but I’m sure the steps are similar.
Without getting off track here, I highly recommend the AIO SEO Pack. This is favoured by Google and is frequently updated to Google standards.
If you’re just beginning your online business and have already created your website, then this is the time to start thinking about your categories.
If you wait too long and have already created a lot of content, it makes much more work for you to go back and categorize each post.
Believe me, I know. That’s what I did, sigh… 🙂
If you’re not sure where your blog will lead you, just start off with a few categories. Enough to capture all the topics related to your niche. You can always add later. Just don’t go crazy, lol.
And if you’re at the beginning of your journey, and need help with all the proper steps and tools needed to succeed, then please accept my recommendation. And that is to a platform that provides all the necessary training and tools to get you off to the best start possible.
You can start for free, and I’ll meet you there to give you all the help you need.
Just click on the button below to read all about it.
Have you created any categories yet? Did this article give you any new ideas? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and I’ll get right back to you.
18 thoughts on “WordPress Categories vs Tags – The Best Strategy”
I am new to affiliate marketing and I find this article very helpful to me.
I would love to learn more in this field and will keep learning as things change constantly in the online world!
I’m happy I could help! Things do change quickly online. I’ve been at it for years now and I’m always learning something new.
If you need any help with your business, just let me know.
This is what I need most now. As my number of post increases, I feel that it is time to “clean up”.
You are correct – the ease of navigation throughout the site is important. In fact, I have been wanting to do this for some time but didn’t have the time to look for the answers. And now, your article landed on my lap.
The perfect time to sort it out. Many thanks for all the information and guide. Also, I really enjoyed the read.
Yay! The sooner you start, the less work later, lol. Though, if you’re anything like me, you’ll “clean up” often…
This has given me a whole new look on categories and tags, Now I get to implement them into my website, fun times ahead lol.
P.S. Love the video
That’s great! I’m happy I could make it clear for you.
Have fun, and if you need any extra help, let me know.
A very detailed and good description of how categories and tags work in WordPress, with good advice on the numbers of each and the need to review and re-organise them from time to time.
The analogy I often use when describing categories and tags is to think of a filing cabinet, with drawers and folders. In this context:
WordPress (at least the blogging part!) is the filing cabinet (because it contains all your content), Categories are drawers within the filing cabinet and tags are folders within each drawer.
Hi Martin, and thanks for the excellent analogy. That’s brilliant!
I’m sure anyone reading this will appreciate your input.
You really covered this subject with some depth! Very Thorough! Very educational!
I just watched a video explaining the difference and importance between categories and tags but you article takes it to the next level!
I bookmarked this for future reference!
Thanks so much, Steven, for your kind words. I’m happy I could help.
My hope is explaining all the ins and outs of building an online business, and every little detail is important.
If you need any help in the future, let me know.
I did not realize the importance of categories for SEO and the connection between categories and tags. I use both but I guess I need to tweak my categories based on your information here!
I have many categories on my site. Some have many posts and some have just a few. I need to delete some and consolidate.
I also did not realize it is bad to have a post in multiple categories. I thought I should show it in as many categories as possible so that a visitor to my site could find a post as many ways as possible. Now I will go back and use broader categories.
This is such valuable information for SEO. I am really glad I found this post. It will really help me.
I’m glad I could help you. I know it’s a pain to go back and restructure, but I think it’ll be much better in the end. Have you applied your noindex to your categories?
Instead of using multiple categories per post, try using tags instead. That way your visitor can still find all your related articles.
If you have any more questions, please let me know.
This is a very useful post, which I will return to for reference for my own site.
Thanks, Alan, I’m glad I could help.
Let me know if you have any questions.
This was very helpful. Before I wasn’t sure what the purpose of tags is, but you explained it well. This also helped me realize that my categories are a little imbalanced, with most posts in one and just a few in another. Maybe I will have to add some more categories before the ones I have get too big. Thanks for the information.
Hi Bailey, and I’m glad I could help.
That’s a very common thing. I did the same thing in the beginning, lol. There’s no harm in creating a few new ones. It can only help your site to have your categories a little more balanced.
If you need any more help, please let me know.
Thanks for the informative info, especially tags. I was told not to use them, so I think you said basically the same thing? Take them or leave them….If you do use them, I’d be interested in knowing how?
Tags are just in case you wish your post to be added to a specific tag list. For instance, if your post is in one category, but also talks about something common in another category, you can use the same tag in both categories. Each post should have only one category, but 2 or 3 tags if need be.
If I can be of any more help, just let me know and we can chat..:)