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How to Use Tags and Categories in WordPress the Right Way

Tags and Categories in WordPress: when should you use them on your blog, and what exactly is the difference between them? If you're reading this, you've probably got some system or other, for how you apply them to your content.

But how much do you really understand about categories and tags? How exactly are they different from each other? And how should you use them to get the most SEO benefits and make your website engaging and easy to navigate?

In this post, you'll discover everything you could reasonably want to know (plus a bit more) about categories and tags.

Mastering the Basics of WordPress Taxonomies: Categories and Tags 

When managing a content-rich WordPress site, understanding and effectively utilizing categories and tags (also known as taxonomies) can make a significant difference not just in how your content is organized, but also in how it is perceived and navigated by your audience. 

But what exactly are categories and tags? 

Simply put, categories help structure your content into digestible sections or themes, much like chapters in a book, allowing for a tiered organization that can include sub-categories. 

Tags, meanwhile, serve as the index of your content, pointing out specific details and themes without affecting the structure.

Why is this distinction important for your online business (whether you run an e-commerce store, blog, membership site, or anything else)? 

Well-organized content enhances user experience, making your website more intuitive and easier to navigate. This not only keeps visitors on your site longer but also helps improve your site's SEO, increasing your visibility in search engine results. Both categories and tags play pivotal roles in achieving these goals, but their misuse or underuse can lead to content that feels scattered or difficult to navigate.

In this guide, we will delve into each element—categories and tags—exploring their unique roles and demonstrating how to leverage them to achieve your broader business objectives. 

From creating a seamless user experience to enhancing your WordPress site's SEO, we will show you how to use categories and tags in the most optimal way to organize your content and drive your online business forward. 

Stay tuned as we unpack these tools and provide you with actionable insights to apply to your WordPress site.

Pro tip

There isn't a native tag or category function for WordPress pages, but you can learn a simple way to add categories and tags on your WordPress pages here.

WordPress Categories: What Are They and How Should You Use Them?

In WordPress, a category is like a big folder where you group related blog posts together to keep your website organized and simple to use.

  • For website visitors, it groups together related content. It's a navigation feature.
  • For your content, it automatically creates pages that internally link related WordPress posts together. This is a search engine optimization feature.
  • You can even have smaller folders within these big ones to sort your articles more specifically. For example, I might have a hierarchical structure with a parent category containing all my blog posts on SEO, but within that, have child categories for Local SEO, Technical SEO, Content Marketing and other more specific subjects.  

    Categories page in WordPress

    Examples of a categories page on Thrive Themes.

    See Categories at Work

    Click here to see our category page for Email List Building. All blog posts in the Email List Building category automatically show on this page, helping visitors to learn more about the subject they're interested in. 

    WordPress Tags vs Categories: How Are They Different From Each Other?

    In function, there's only one real difference between categories and tags: categories can have structure (with as many levels of sub-categories as you want) while tags can't.

    If you have a parent category and sub-categories, the parent category lists all of the content assigned to itself as well as all of the content in all of its sub-categories.

    In most themes, categories are displayed in the post. In most good themes (here are some of our favorite themes), tags are not displayed, because tags are not great for navigation (on your website - we're not talking about Twitter or Instagram, here).

    How to Set Up Categories in WordPress

    Adding new categories in WordPress is straightforward.

    In the WordPress dashboard, click on Posts, in the left sidebar, and look under “Add New”. Here you can choose to create categories for your blog posts.

    Add new categories in WordPress

    You’ll need to give your new category a:

    1. Name
    2. Slug (the URL/permalink version of its name)
    3. Category Description

    You can also add categories in WordPress when creating or editing a post. You’ll find the categories section on the right-hand side under the ‘Post settings.

    Categories on post page

    How Many Categories Should You Have?

    For categories to be useful for your visitors as well as for SEO, follow these guidelines:

    • No orphans: you should not have any categories that have only 1-3 pieces of content in them.
    • Generally, less is more: lots of categories are overwhelming and less useful for navigation. The number of categories on your site should be proportional to the amount of content. Post once a week? 5 categories are plenty. Post 15 times a day? More categories probably help.
    • Keep categories clearly distinct from each other. "Camera Gear" and "Photography Tips" are two clearly separate categories. "Camera Gear" and "Equipment" are not.
    • For most websites, it's better to have categories in a narrow niche than to try and cover too many widely different topics.

    What Should You Call Your Categories?

    I recommend using clear language that is either action oriented or benefit oriented, for your category names. The category name shows up as a clickable label on your site, so copywriting rules apply.

    For example, instead of a generic category name like "Traffic Generation", go with a name like "Get More Traffic".

    You can also use your category names to inject some personality and communicate your brand. For example, think of how the appeal of a fitness website could change based on the category names:

    Example A

    • Build Muscle
    • Lose Weight
    • Diet Tips
    • Motivation

    Example B

    • All Kinds of Gainz
    • Get Shredded
    • Meal Prep Madness
    • LIGHTWEIGHT BABY!!

    These are the same categories in both cases. Example A is generic and widely approachable (although not particularly appealing). The terms in example B will only make sense to people in a certain segment of the fitness market, but will resonate with them much more strongly.

    WordPress Category Page SEO

    If you feel tempted to use generic category labels for SEO purposes, consider two important factors:

    1. You can give your WordPress category page an SEO/meta title that contains whatever keyword you want to target. It's good practice to write your site content for humans and your meta content for search engines.
    2. You won't rank for generic terms like "muscle building" anyway. Actionable, benefit oriented category labels are better terms to target for SEO.

    Pro tip

    Check out a WordPress SEO plugin like AIOSEO to help you customize your meta data and other key SEO elements. 

    Rules for Applying Post Categories

    Here are the rules I follow, when categorizing content on my sites:

    • 1 post, 1 category: apply only one category to each post and don't leave it as uncategorized (the default category). If a post fits into multiple categories, add it to the most closely related one.
    • Near misses are fine: if you create a piece of content that doesn't perfectly fit any of your categories, just add it to whatever is most related. It's better to have a few tangentially related pieces in a category than to have many categories with almost no content.
    • Plan for the future: if you write a post about something that doesn't fit any of your current categories but may be joined by other, related posts in the future, add a unique tag to it. Once you have at least 5 posts with this new tag, you can split them off into a new category.

    How to Add Categories to Your WordPress Website's Navigation

    Part of the job of categories is to make your content more navigable. So, how exactly should you go about this?

    First, something you shouldn't do: don't add category pages in a drop-down menu in your main navigation. Drop down menus aren't very user friendly and they quickly lead to choice overwhelm in a navigation menu.

    If you have a sidebar on your blog, that's a good place to add a categories list. A secondary navigation menu on the blog, listing categories can sometimes also work.

    Categories in sidebar

    Another way in which good categorization can improve navigation on your site is through related posts widgets. Themes and plugins that let you display related posts at the bottom of articles will usually choose those posts based on categories.

    Showing most popular posts

    Finally, keep in mind that you can manually link to a category page.

    For example, if I mention that at Thrive Themes, we constantly update our products and release new stuff, I may add a link to this category page.

    If you want to read more about how to set up WordPress Categories check out this post.

    Tags: An Underutilized WordPress Element

    In WordPress, a tag is a label that you put on a blog post to describe what it's about, like a sticky note. Tags help you find all the posts with the same note quickly, even if they're in different folders.

    They're incredibly useful when updating posts. For example, say we add a new feature to our product, Thrive Architect. We want to make sure every blog post that talks about Thrive Architect mentions the new feature, but we've got 1,000 blog posts and 10 products. 

    How do we identify the relevant posts?

    Well if we've been using tags well, then it's simple. 

    How to Set Up Tags in WordPress

    Setting up tags in WordPress is straightforward.

    When you're writing or editing a post, you'll find a Tags section in the right-hand side of your dashboard. Just type in the tags that best describe your post's content, separate each tag with commas, and then hit 'Add'. 

    These tags will help categorize your post with similar topics, making it easy for you to quickly identify the key themes of each post. Remember, there's no need to overdo it—just use a few relevant tags that truly relate to what you've written.

    Don't Use Tags as a Navigation Element

    My first rule for tags is to not use them for site navigation. People used to have tag clouds on their sites (sometimes even animated tag clouds... *shudder*). These have thankfully gone out of fashion.

    WordPress tags are generally not a good way to facilitate navigation. There's usually too many of them and there's no good way to display navigation of a ton of items without any internal hierarchy (remember: tags cannot be structured with parent/child relations like categories).

    On various social platforms, tags have their uses, but I recommend you keep them as a backend only thing for your website.

    WordPress Tags for Internal Organization

    If not for navigation, what should you use tags for? Here are some examples:

    • Add ToFu, MoFu, BoFu tags to your content, to indicate which segment of your audience it's aimed at.
    • Create a "no optin" tag for posts where you don't want your usual lead generation forms to trigger.
    • Add tags for post types like "video" and "audio" to quickly find all posts that contain a certain media type.
    • Add tags based on your content marketing strategy. For example you might have "case study", "story", "news", "tutorial" and "promotion" tags and use them to make sure you keep publishing these content types at a certain ratio to each other.
    • Use tags to highlight what products are mentioned in each blog post.
    • Some related posts widgets may also take tags into consideration. In that case, you can use tags to help fine-tune the related posts recommendations.

    Unlike with categories, you can add an unlimited number of tags to each post. However, the "no orphans" rule applies for tags as well: there's no use having 100 tags on your site when 50 of them contain only one post each.

    WordPress Tags & SEO

    Make sure that your tag pages are not indexed. Indexing your tag pages creates a ton of redundant content on your site, which just has to be rel:canonical'd back and forth. There's probably no negative impact from this (as long as the canonicals are in place), but there's certainly no benefit from having all these tag pages indexed.

    If you want to learn more about how to set up WordPress Tags, check out this article.

    Next Steps: Get Your Content in Front of Your Target Audience

    Now you know how to use tags and categories to organize your blog posts in a tidy, straightforward way.

    The next step is to drive more traffic to your posts, so more people can engage with your content and even convert. Here are four free resources to help you attract more traffic to your website and get them to convert:

    And if you're yet to create your website, or feel like your current one needs a big change  so you can finally reach your business goals, you should consider buying Thrive Suite.

    Thrive Suite is an all-in-one toolkit that contains plugins, landing page templates, opt-in form templates, quiz templates and more; designed to help you create amazing content and make money from it.

    If you've been thinking about building your own independent business and want to use high-quality tools for a crazy reasonable price - Thrive Suite could be for you.

    Click here to learn more about Thrive Suite.

    About the Author Shane Melaugh


    Shane Melaugh is a co-founder of Thrive Themes. When he isn't plotting new ways to create awesome WordPress themes & plugins, he likes to geek out about camera equipment and medieval swords. He also writes about productivity here.

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