Categories & tags in WordPress

There are two distinct ways to organize your posts on your WordPress site: Categories and Tags. Using categories and tags correctly can boost your SEO, keep visitors on your site longer, and provide an overall better experience for your readers.

In this article, we'll cover the differences between categories and tags, why they are so important, and how to use them properly on your site!

Why are Categories & Tags important?

The primary purpose of categories and tags is to organize your posts to help readers navigate your site and find the content they want to read. Whenever someone clicks on a category in one of your blog posts, they are directed to a category page. A category page houses all of the posts that have been assigned to that same category. It's best practice to keep your list of categories lean and purposeful – a bloated site with 50 unrelated categories is going to be complicated and difficult to navigate.

In addition to making your site more usable for readers, utilizing Categories and Tags correctly can have significant SEO benefits. Sites that are organized and structured will have a much easier time rising in the ranks of Google search.

By learning what Categories and Tags are for and how they work, you can leverage them to your advantage and make your site easier to navigate for both readers and search engines.

Categories vs. Posts vs. Pages

Before we dive into Categories and Tags, let's talk about the differences between categories, posts, and pages. If you're new to WordPress, these terms may not be familiar to you.

Posts are the articles and blog content on your blog page (and/or homepage depending on your theme). In WordPress, you can manage your posts at Posts > All Posts. Posts are typically shown in reverse chronological order on the blog page (newest post at the top). Posts are considered "timely content" in that they are updated and added to regularly, and are usually not added to the navigation menu at the top of your site.

Categories are how your posts are organized. As your publish more and more posts, categories are helpful in allowing visitors to find the older content they are looking for. For example, a food blog may have categories for "Breakfast" and "Dinner", and visitors can click on those categories to find the posts that they are interested in! Categories are sometimes added to the navigation menu at the top of your site.

Pages are intended for static content that does not change often/is not regularly updated, such as an About page or a Contact page. Pages are often added to the navigation menu at the top of your site.

Interested in diving deeper on this topic? Here is a great article.

Categories vs. Tags

Categories are the big general topics that you write about regularly on your blog. They're meant to encompass a broad group of posts — for example, "Recipes" or "Style."

Tags, on the other hand, are much more specific and are used to describe details in your posts. Tags can often fall into multiple categories, similar to the index of a book.

Best Practices for Categories

  • The best time to start thinking about your categories is before you even start blogging! It can be difficult to majorly change up your categories later, so it's good to start off on the right foot. Sit down and think carefully about the topics you are going to write about on your blog. Try to narrow it down to 3-8 broad categories (see our example two sections down!).
  • The categories on your site should be broad enough that each post will only fit into one or possibly two categories. If that's not possible, then your categories are probably too specific.
  • If needed, use sub-categories! Sub-categories are particularly useful for food blogs, but they can definitely be useful in other applications as well. A food blog could have a main category of "Recipes" and sub-categories of Breakfast, Dinner, Soups, Desserts, and Drinks.
  • Avoid creating new categories as you go; it's best to plan in advance what categories you are going to use on your site. If you are only going to write about a topic once or twice, do not create a entire category for it — use tags instead!
  • It is best practice to capitalize categories.

Best Practices for Tags

  • You can be much more liberal with tags than you can with categories, but you should still keep them general. Don't create tags that can be used for only one post — that defeats the purpose of tags, which is to help your readers navigate to similar content.
  • Use descriptive tags that describe the specifics of your posts, but be sure they can be used in other posts as well. For example, if you posted a recipe for Cajun Fish Tacos, you could use tags mexican, 30-minute meals, and healthy. Don't use a tag called "cajun fish tacos," because you likely won't have multiple posts that could use that tag.
  • Don't overcrowd your posts with tags. 5-10 tags maximum per post.
  • It is best practice to keep tags lowercase.

An Example of Correct Post Organization

If you run a fashion and lifestyle blog, you might use these six categories:

  • Style
  • Travel
  • Food
  • Health & Fitness
  • Home Decor
  • Lifestyle

If you wrote a post about a new outfit in the Style category, these would be great tags (as long as you plan to post about them again): dress, sandals, kate spade, handbag, sunglasses, spring looks.

These would be much less effective tags, because they are too specific: pink floral print dress, michael kors sandals, white cat-eye sunglasses, madison satchel by kate spade, april 2022 outfit

How to Create New Categories & Tags on your site

To create new Categories, go to Posts > Categories in your WordPress dashboard.

Tags are usually added to a post at the time you write them. They can also be managed in your dashboard at Posts > Tags.

Using Categories in your posts

When in the post editor, look for the "Categories" section in the righthand column. Place a checkmark by the category or categories you want to use. Tags can be managed below the Categories section.

Adding Categories to a navigation menu

Click here for instructions on adding your categories to your navigation menu.

Using Category titles & descriptions

To add a title or description to a category page ( example), go to Posts > Categories. Click "Edit" on the category you want to edit. At the bottom, you can add a title under "Archive Headline." You can add a description under "Archive Intro Text."

Wrapping Up

Categories and tags are excellent organizational tools that you can use to keep your site clean and easy to navigate, which your audience will appreciate! The more helpful your site is, the more your readers will want to keep coming back for more.