Categories and tags are significant organizational features for your WordPress site. Using them enhances the ability of users and search engines to find your content. Once people find your content, categories and tags help them further discover related material on your site. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into their similarities and differences.
Taxonomies That Add Structure
Categories and tags are default WordPress taxonomies that add structure to a WordPress site.
Taxonomies are the method of classifying content and data in WordPress. When you use a taxonomy you’re grouping similar things together.”— Developer Resources on WordPress.org
Categories are the general subjects you use repeatedly over time, while tags are the more descriptive labels specific to a particular post. You can create sub-categories, but there is no such hierarchy with tags. I often use the following analogy to explain the difference between categories and tags:
|Sub-Category||=||Rooms in Your Home|
|Tags||=||Furniture in Your Home|
The main categories I use on my blog are: Art, Graphic Design, Inspiration, Process, Software Tips, Teaching, Typography, and Web Design (WordPress is a sub-category of Web Design). These are the topics I write about most often. I’ve used many more tags, but the common ones include: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, CSS, HTML, Art Show, Clipping Mask, en plein air, Environment, Gutenberg, Image Optimizing, Mac, Notecards, Olympics, Pastel, Plugins, PDF, Visual Studio Code, and Watercolor.
How to Use Categories and Tags
You need to log into the WordPress administrative dashboard in order to do any of the tasks described below.
Add Categories and Tags
There are three ways to add categories and tags:
1. Go to the Posts > Categories (or Tags) section of the site
If you want to add a bunch of categories and/or tags at the same time, go to the Posts > Categories (or Tags) area of the site. Underneath Add New Category, fill in the empty Name field. There’s no need to do anything further, unless you want to add this new category to an existing parent or want to include a description. When done, click the Add New Category button. The procedure is the same for each new category or tag. The one difference is that there are no “parent” tags.
2. In the post itself, select from the list of categories/tags OR add new ones
Look at the sidebar on the right side of the screen, then select the Post tab. Find the Categories section. If you’ve already constructed a category list, you can easily pick items from it when writing the blog post. You can also add new ones by clicking Add New Category and filling in the empty field. Click the Add New Category button when finished.
In the tags section, you can select from the Most Used list or add a new tag. Enter the name in the Add New Tag field. Separate each name with a comma or the Enter key.
When you’re done assigning the categories and tags, you need to save the changes. Go to the top right corner of your screen. Click the Publish/Schedule button (if creating a new post), or the Update button (if editing an existing post).
3. In the list of Posts, use Quick Edit
In the list of Posts, there’s a Quick Edit link for opening up a mini-screen of options for editing various things, including categories and tags. To view the list, go to the left sidebar and click on Posts > All Posts. When you hover over the post title, 4 hyperlinks will display: Edit, Quick Edit, Trash, and View.
Click on Quick Edit to open up the options screen. In the Categories section is a scrollable checklist where you select the categories you want. Add any new tags in the Tags field. You won’t be able to add a new category in Quick Edit. When finished, click Update button.
WordPress sets a default category for you: Uncategorized. Pretty ironic, as this is very generic and non-descriptive (and not search-engine-friendly). I recommend changing it to something you use frequently. My default category is Graphic Design. Whenever I begin a new post, Graphic Design is the pre-selected category for it. When writing a new blog post or editing an existing one, you can deselect the default category if you want, and select a different one instead.
To change the default category, go to the Settings > Writing area of your site. Change Default Post Category to one of the categories in the drop-down menu.
- Generally, you should try to assign only one category to a post. Occasionally, you will find it useful to assign a second category and that is OK!
- It’s perfectly reasonable to use multiple tags for a single post. Don’t overdo it! I’d say the magic number is 10 (or less). All of the tags should be related to the content.
- It is also a good idea to use a label, or name, for either a category or a tag, but not both. Duplicating the label may actually confuse users and search engines. It would also negatively affect the SEO of your site.
Summary of Benefits
There are several benefits to using categories and tags.
- Similar content is grouped. In fact, you could create a page that displays a certain category or tag. For example, see my graphic design page:
- Makes content easier for users to find.
- Helps users find related content and improves their experience.
- Strengthens SEO.
If you prefer learning by watching, check out my video tutorial about the benefits of categories and tags.