Categories and Tags in WordPress

In my work on websites I see a lot of WordPress blogs with badly organised categories and tags.

Wisely used categories help your readers easily find content and guide search engines so they rank you the way you want.

So what are categories and tags in WordPress?

A category is a broad grouping for your posts. Some ways of thinking of a category:

  • As a chapter in a book
  • As a storage box/shelf/cupboard in your kitchen
  • As a section in a library

A tag is a label that helps describe a post in more detail. You can think of WordPress tags as an index in a book or hashtags on social media.

Categories and tags are for posts, not pages.

Although some bloggers put posts in 2 or 3 categories, it’s a good from a search engine ranking point of view to limit them to one category. If you find you are regularly needing to add posts to more than one category then it may be time to rethink your top level categories. BUT – don’t randomly change categories around without setting up the necessary redirects!

Start out with no more than 6 – 10 categories, although you may need to add more as your blog grows. You can have as many tags as you need but you should not have any that are the same as categories.

If you find you need to, then WordPress allows you to add sub-categories. You will need to think carefully and not to confuse sub-categories with tags.  WP-Beginner has a great post about adding categories and sub-categories which uses the example of countries and cities on a travel blog.

You might also want to read this article about choosing your categories.

Category archive pages

Blog posts in WordPress are listed on archive pages. Those archive pages display the posts in a particular order (usually newer at the top and older at the bottom) and they can either display a post excerpt with a link to the post or the full post itself (also with a link to the single post). See Copyblogger’s archive page for the category “Content Marketing” as an example.

Note how on the Copyblogger page there is a description of the category at the top – you should fill in the description and set it to display if your theme allows.

There is usually (it can vary in different themes) a main blog page which lists all the blog posts in chronological order. Often this is the home page on a blog but on small business site this page is frequently a separate page called ‘Blog’ or ‘Latest News’.

Further to that there can be post archives for the author, for dates, for categories and for tags.

(We’ll leave author and date archives to one side for now. They’re more important for more established blogs with several writers. In fact you can disable author archives altogether in the Yoast plugin or in your theme. )

So Category and tag archives are useful ways of grouping similar content together. You can have a link that goes directly to one of these pages – as a menu item or as a link from within a post and there is no reason you should not encourage other sites to link directly to a category page if it is relevant. You will probably want Google to index your category archives as they make great landing pages.

The Uncategorised Category

By default posts are added as ‘uncategorised’. You can either remove posts from uncategorised and not use it or rename it to one of your main categories.

To rename a category go to the dashboard>posts>categories screen and click on quick edit underneath the category and give it a new name and slug.

If you have worked out your categories before you start posting then you will usually be adding posts to categories from the post editor. The category box is normally on the right hand side (if you do not see the category box make sure it is enabled in the screen options at the top of the page)

You can change the post categories in bulk on the post lists screen but unless you use a plugin you cannot add categories in bulk.

Permalinks and tags and categories

A permalink is the url to your post. The default WordPress permalink are ugly and unhelpful. Out of the box a WordPress post permalink looks like www.myblog.com/?p=1353  which is not very helpful to search engines or visitors. You can change the permalink in the dashboard at dashboard>settings>permalink.

A safe and common way to change them is to choose postname as the permalink structure so that your permalink becomes www.myblog.com/my-post-name.

To learn more about WordPress permalinks, check out this article at Elegant themes.

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