How to use WordPress categories correctly: The difference between categories and tags

One of the key features of WordPress blogs is the ability to file posts in different categories of your choosing. This enables your readers an easy navigation system of finding other articles (blog posts) on your website that might interest them and it is helpful for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as well.

When you first setup WordPress, you’ll see a default category called “uncategorized.” You can either delete this category or edit it. If you don’t, and you don’t assign another category, your posts will all be  marked”uncategorized” automatically and will make it difficult for readers to find other content about that topic.

Organizing your content by category is fairly simple to do and something you should setup immediately. But don’t worry if you haven’t  done it yet – you can go back and do it now.

How to add/edit categories in WordPress

Navigate to Posts > Categories in your WP dashboard. On the right side of the Categories screen, you’ll see any current categories you already have. If you want to change the “Uncategorized” category to something else, simply hover over “uncategorized” and you’ll see an edit button. Click it and update to whatever you like. I often change it to something simple like “miscellaneous.” That way, anything that doesn’t fit in my main categories, will still have a topic assigned. I typically will leave this default.

On this screen, you can also add any other categories you wish.

Type in the name, the slug (which is the permalink URL – I usually make it the same as the name so easily identifiable), choose whether or not it has a parent category, and then add a description if you want. Some themes will show the description at the top of the Category archive pages and some do not. You can also leave the slug field blank and  WordPress will automatically  name it whatever is in the Name field.

How many categories should you have?

There is really no wrong or right answer here and it really depends on the overall concept of your website and your content. Typically, I recommend no more than about 10-15 categories at most. But if you have a super broad topic like WordPress, for example, dividing your content into categories becomes a chore and your gets cumbersome the more you add. The way to get around this is to “niche down” as the marketing experts say.

For example, let’s say you have a blog about cars. Thats a huge topic! SO many different things: different models and manufacturers from many different countries around the world, lots of different colors, different styles: SUV, truck, sedan, wagon, van, coupe, and many more. How do you categorize all that?! You’re probably going to have categories, subcategories, and maybe even sub-subcategories to make things logical and easier to navigate.

But what if your blog is about Classic cars? That becomes much easier to categorize. Sure, you still have country, make, model, color, and style but you have a lot fewer years and things to deal with. You can further niche down to Classic Muscle Cars of the United States. That is very easy to categorize.

A good rule of thumb is – your categories should be fairly broad. Think of them like the main topics – what are the overall, general topics you discuss? Those should be your categories.

Now, what about tags? Are they different from categories?

Yes, tags are different than categories. If you niche down well enough, tags can supplement categories quite well. Basically, tags become more like a subtopic. I recommend no more than about 5-8 tags per category.

Let’s keep going with our Classic Muscle Car niche. . .

Our categories might include things like: Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, and Pontiac. And our tags might include things like: 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and maybe things like V8, automatic, manual transmission, and horsepower. Or tags could include: Mustang, Chevelle, Firebird, Charger, GTO, or Nova.

It all really depends on the scope of your blog. Think of it this way: categories are the topics and tags are the subtopics. Keep it simple! You’re more likely to use them and make it easy for your readers to find things if you are intentional about what things mean and make it easy to remember. Categories and tags are worthless if you have so many you never use them!

Final thoughts

Don’t overcomplicate it! Keep things super simple and use categories and tags diligently so it’s easy for your readers to find the content they are looking for.

Photo on 6-23-18 at 1.53 PM

Annie Anderson

Hi, I'm Annie. . .

"Your instructor for How to Build a Course on WordPress as well as the one behind this website. I'm a graphic designer and web developer with over 25 years experience. I've been working with WordPress since 2005, have spoken at WordCamp Seattle and other local venues, and specialize in building course and membership sites for my clients.

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