How to Use Categories & Tags in WordPress

When creating posts on your WordPress site, you will see the option to categorize and tag your posts. In fact, if you forget, WordPress will prompt you: “You must select a category before publishing a post.” So how should you categorize your post? How are categories different than tags? The difference may seem small on the surface, but the impact on search engine appearance and rankings could be huge for your website. Below we will identify the difference between categories and tags, and explain the role of each taxonomy in SEO for your website.

Categories vs Tags: What’s the Difference?

Categories and tags give structure to your website. They associate topics and keywords to specific content. Not only does this help users navigate your website more easily, it also tells search engines how it should treat your website content in searches. Generally speaking, categories are structural, and tags are descriptive. Categories tend to be broad and all-encompassing, while tags tend to be descriptive keywords and phrases.

WordPress Categories

Categories should be a select few (10 or less) broad topics into which all your website content could be sorted. For example, if I had a website about pets, I could use the following categories:

  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Fish
  • Rodents
  • Reptiles

Then when I publish a post, I can choose which type of pet the post is about. Every post should belong to one or two categories, never more. Choosing a category is required for all posts, so be sure to pick categories into which every post could be sorted. You can even create a hierarchical, parent-child relationship with categories. For instance, I could have “Short-haired cats” as a subcategory of “Cats.”

It is best practice to capitalize your categories due to the structural data they supply to search engines. A great example of category capitalization is the Animal Planet website shown below:

Because the Category “Cats” is capitalized, it matches the title of the website or page following it. If I were to create my categories as lowercase, my posts would look a little odd in search engine results by listing a lowercase category in front of a post title.

How To Create Categories

Creating categories on your WordPress website is simple. Just click the blue “+ Add New Category” link on the right side of your WordPress post editor screen, enter a category name, and click the “Add New Category” button to confirm.

You can also create and manage existing categories from the Posts > Categories section in your WordPress Admin Dashboard. This section is where you can manage descriptions of each post, and the URL slug where the content in this category will live.

You should create a new category specifically when you are creating a post that does not conform to any existing categories on your website, but you plan on creating many future posts that fall under the same umbrella.

Quick Tip: When creating new posts, you may want to consider adding some SEO settings using the Yoast SEO plugin. Choosing the “noindex subpages of archives” option in this plugin will help prevent duplicate content SEO penalties by opting not to index additional pages (e.g. /mypage/2/).

How To Delete Categories

Deleting categories can also be done from the Posts > Categories section. Simply hover over the category you wish to delete in the list at the right to see this option.

But before you delete a category, consider first what will happen: any posts using this category will be switched over to your default category (set in the Settings > Writing page of the WordPress Admin Dashboard). Before deleting a category, make sure your default category is updated to the category into which you want these posts move.

WordPress Tags

Where categories are broad topics, tags allow you to get more granular and descriptive about the content in your post. Tags are not required for every post in the way categories are, but you can assign as many tags as are relevant to a post. Get creative: Use phrases, descriptive terms, and call out specific features. In my example of a pets website, I could assign a post about allergies to the Cats or Dogs category, with these tags:

  • long-haired cats
  • long-haired dogs
  • dander
  • pollen
  • shedding
  • fur
  • allergens

All these tags help your website’s users better understand what your post is about, so they provide additional contextual structure. As a best practice, tags should be lowercase as they are typically descriptors. And tags should not be copies of your categories – they should be more specific and granular than the broad category topics.

Generally speaking, categories should be indexed by search engines, while tags should not. You can turn off indexing for tag pages using the Yoast SEO plugin as well. In the plugin settings, navigate to the Titles & Metas > Taxonomies section. Select “noindex, nofollow” for tags:

Adding a tag is as simple as typing a tag you have not used before into the “Tags” section of your Post editor. And if you ever need to delete a tag, this can be done from the Posts > Tags section by hovering over the specific tag in the list and selecting “Delete.”

How To Build a Tagging and Categorization Structure

When building a strategy using tags and categories, remember some quick facts about these structural components:

  • Categories are broad umbrella topics
  • Search engines care about categories
  • You should have roughly 10 or fewer categories that all your posts should fall under
  • Tags are descriptors
  • Site visitors depend on tags to give them context
  • Tags can be used freely and abundantly

With that in mind, we recommend deciding what your primary categories will be before publishing posts on your website. If your website is for a company, you can use your mission statement to help define categories. Because of their structural benefit to search engines, keep in mind that it is difficult to change categories later on, so be sure to pick categories that are built to last.

By contrast, your tags can be decided and created along the way as you publish content. These are just to give context clues like breadcrumbs to your site visitors as they navigate your content. Tags are your chance to use key phrases, descriptors, and related words to link posts together.

Categories and Tags: Beneficial for SEO?

When it comes to categories and tags, SEO should certainly be considered. While search engines do not necessarily care about the use of categories and tags in terms of matching keywords and related posts, they do care about structure. The more structural and schematic information a search engine can glean about your website, the more it can surface it to relevant searches and display it in the right way. With that in mind, remember these key takeaways about SEO for categories and tags:

  • Search engines care about categories, but not tags
  • Use only 1-2 categories per post
  • You can use Yoast SEO to optimize category appearance in searches
  • You can turn off search engine indexing for tags using Yoast SEO as well
  • Categories should be capitalized for the best search engine appearance (title case)
  • Tags should be lowercase and should generally not be indexed

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