WordPress post tags vs categories

WordPress uses two pre-defined taxonomies – Categories and Tags. Every site has them. They are used to help visitors find related content on your website.

Categories and Tags are easy to use, but it’s important to use them correctly. Create a strategy for their use as early in the life of your website as you possibly can – once you have published a couple of hundred posts it’s a lot of work to correct things.

Let’s take a quick look at Categories and Tags, how you use them, and how they get displayed on your website.

Tip : If you want to quickly change some categories to tags, and vice-versa, go to ‘Tools’->’Import’ in your WordPress dashboard. Then, follow the link to install the ‘Categories and Tags Converter’.

What are Categories and Tags in WordPress?

The way I learnt about categories and tags (a long time ago) was to think of your blog as a reference book, where the chapter headings are the categories, and the index entries are the tags. So, if I were to write a book about my home town of Swindon in Wiltshire, I might have chapters covering things like history, industry, famous people, art, and events. Individual references to specific locales, people, and companies might then be added to the index at the back of the book.

Books demonstrating chapters and indices like categories and posts
Categories and Tags are like the chapters and index of a book

If my WordPress blog was dedicated to the same home town, I would have categories such as ‘History’, ‘Industry’, ‘Famous People’ etc., and tags such as ‘Diana Dors’, ‘Honda’, ‘BMW’, ‘Great Western Railway’.

You can have as many categories and tags as you like, although it wouldn’t be sensible to have a category or tag that was only going to be in use for one post. You can add them to your posts in several places from within your WordPress dashboard. In your main posts list, you can mouse over the post name and then click ‘Quick Edit’. Most often, though, you will want to add them as you are writing your post. To do this (assuming you are using WordPress 5+) then click the ‘Document’ tab to the right of your post editing area, and then add your categories and tags in the meta boxes there.

Categories can have sub-categories. So, using the example of our home town ‘History’ category, you might then have sub-categories for pre-1900, 1960’s, World War 1, World War 2 etc.

How Categories and Tags are displayed on my website

Now that we understand the difference between WordPress Categories and Tags, let’s take a look at the ways in which they can be represented on your website.

Archive pages

WordPress automatically creates ‘Archive Pages’ for every category and tag on your website. Your main blog page is an example of an archive page – it’s just a page that lists each of the posts for a specific category or tag. These archive pages can be useful resources for visitors wanting to find out about something specific. For example, ‘Social Media’ is a tag that we have used on this website. Here is how the archive page for ‘Social Media’ looks (bear in mind that your archive pages may look different)…

Screenshot of a tag archive page in WordPress
Example of a Tag Archive page in WordPress

As you can see, the posts are listed in summary form, with just the post title and post excerpt displayed. Readers can then click on the post title to read the full post. Your theme might allow you to display more details for each post, such as a featured image, sharing icons etc.

Navigation

It might be useful to drive visitors to a page listing all posts within a certain category. Then you can add that category to any menu on your site. This would lead visitors to the archive page for that category.

  • Go to ‘Appearance’->’Menus’ in your WordPress dashboard
  • Choose the menu you want to update
  • Click on ‘Categories’ in the list of post types
  • Check the one(s) you want to add and click ‘add to menu’
Screenshot of menu area in WordPress dashboard
How to add categories to your WordPress menu

Individual posts

Your theme might allow you to automatically add post meta data to the top or bottom of your posts. This might include data such as date and author. This meta data would also include displaying all of the categories and / or tags that were assigned to the post. This might be useful for your visitors, as they would be able to find related posts. It would also be important for your SEO, as it would add internal links to other areas of your website. Search engines really like this!

Other useful Category and Tag information

If you want to see all of your active categories and tags, just head over to ‘Posts’ in your dashboard, and then click ‘Categories’ or ‘Tags’

When viewing your category or tag list (from previous point), you can click on the ‘Count’ number over the right hand side to view a filtered list of posts

Categories and Tags are normally only available for posts, and custom post types. You can allow them for pages by using a plugin such as https://wordpress.org/plugins/add-category-to-pages/.

A good category and tag strategy for your site will help search engines understand the structure of your site much better. This should improve your SEO.

Some themes allow you to create pages that list posts only from certain categories. Some page builder and other plugins allow you to do the same. You can also build several post lists into the same page. For example, you could have an events page that listed posts categorised as ‘Current Events’ at the top. You could follow this with a list of posts categorised as ‘Past Events’ underneath.

In Summary

Categories and tags can be very powerful elements in any WordPress website. A good blog post strategy can help your visitors find more content that interests them on your site. It is also great for SEO, as it gives search engines a better understanding of the nature of your site. Search engines will index all of your tag and category archive pages, provided you haven’t blocked them from doing so in your SEO plugin.

Need any Category and Tag help? Leave us a comment or fill the form out.

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