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use Tags and Categories for WordPress website

How to Use Tags and Categories Effectively to Organize Your WordPress Website

One of the first questions I asked myself when building my first WordPress website was: "What topics will I write about?" To answer this question, I began researching how to use Tags and Categories and crafted a content strategy. Nowadays, after having restructured a news website with over 2000 articles, we can confidently say this: One of the most important skills for a WordPress website owner is knowing how to use Tags and Categories effectively.

Definition of Tags and Categories: What are the Differences?

Tags and Categories are both taxonomies in WordPress. You can switch between them quite easily with plugins (such as Taxonomy Switcher). However, in order to organize your WordPress website effectively, you will need to understand the fundamental differences between Tags and Categories.

Definition of Tags and Categories

To make it easy to explain, let’s take a WordPress website about books as an example.

  • Categories are the main groups of content on a website. The Categories on a website will tell you what content is provided on that website. In our example, the Categories available can be Literary, Self-help, Comics, Children's books,... Categories are hierarchical, so Category can have many Sub-categories.
  • Tags are the specific topics mentioned in your website posts. This means Tags can be anything that a post is written about: Books for preschoolers, books for girls, books for adults,...

A post may not have any Tag, but each post must belong to at least one Category. Posts that are not assigned a Category will automatically be moved into a Category named "Uncategorized".

When the first blogs appeared on the Internet, posts could only be listed in chronological order unless you use some special way to manually reorder posts. For the convenience of both website owners and readers, Category came into being. However, as many people wanted to classify their posts into small, specific groups, every website had a very long list of Categories. Tag was introduced in WordPress 2.5 to solve this problem.

How to Use Tags and Categories Effectively

The basics of Tags and Categories may be familiar to everyone, yet in fact, most WordPress website owners have at least once faced similar questions about Categories and Tags:

  • How many Categories should a website have?
  • When to use Tag instead of Category?
  • What to do when a post can be in more than one Category?
  • How to use Categories and Tags to improve SEO?

I will give an answer to each of these below:

How Many Categories Should a Website Have?

Although there is no limitation, in order to keep your website neat, try to have just enough Categories to fit on the top bar of the website. This will require you to utilize Sub-categories and Tags effectively in parallel with Categories. Take out a pen and a paper, quickly draft out your current website structure and ask yourself: Can this Category fit inside another Category? Is it possible to turn both of them into Sub-categories of a bigger Category?

How many Categories should a website have?

Also, to new website owners: Don't expect to have a perfect Category system right from the start. Instead of having 20 Categories with just a few posts in each, 5 Categories that have frequent new posts will appeal much more to readers.

When to Use Tag Instead of Category?

Let’s have a look back at the book website we used as an example earlier.

Imagine this: You are looking at the list of posts on the website and suddenly realize that many of them have a romantic theme. You have 3 ways to group these articles together:

  • Option 1: You can add a Category called “Romantic”.
  • Option 2: You can reorganize the whole website. The new Categories are Romantic, Detective, Science,...
  • Option 3: You can make “Romantic” a Tag.

Creating a new Category (Option 1) can cause many of your posts to fall into more than one Category (For example Literary + Romantic). The website structure proposed in Option 2 is too specific, which may require you to create a lot of Categories - one for each Book theme. As for Option 3, readers will be able to use the Romantic Tag to quickly find romantic books in all Categories at once.

So in this situation, Option 3 is the optimal choice.

From this example, it can be said that Category categorizes posts vertically when Tag categorizes them horizontally. My tip for website owners is: Maintain a neat but comprehensive Category system that can cover all major contents of the website. Use Tag instead of Category for all other smaller, more specific groups of content.

What to Do When a Post Can be in More Than One Category?

You may picture a website as a bookcase, each Category is a shelf, and each post is a book. Typically, each book can only be put on one shelf only, and each post should only belong to one Category. However, unlike a bookcase, posts may belong to more than one Category in some cases.

Categories separate the main content groups on the website - and sometimes there are posts that are written about more than one of those groups. In this case, it's normal to place these posts in more than one Category.

However, having too many posts with multiple Categories will prevent readers from finding the content that they are interested in. This situation often happens when your Categories are either too general or overlapped. For example, these are ineffective ways of using Category and how to fix them:

Categories: Children’s books, Comics, Poetry, Science

In this case, there are many overlapping pairs such as Children's books + Comics, Children's books + Science, Children's books + Poetry, etc. One possible solution is to make Children’s book a Tag to avoid overlapping.

Categories: Business, Marketing, Entrepreneurship

In this case, Marketing and Entrepreneurship can both fit under Business, so most posts can be in 2 Categories at the same time (Business + Marketing, Business + Entrepreneurship). Turning Marketing and Entrepreneurship into Sub-categories for Business would be more logical.

How to Use Categories and Tags to Improve SEO?

How to use Categories and Tags to improve SEO?

Search engines like Google or Bing use automated processes (crawlers, or spiders) to scan your entire website. Therefore, a website well organized with the use of Tags and Categories will help speed up the process and prevent errors. When you structure your website properly, search engines will be able to identify which pages are more important in your website by analyzing internal links and then prioritize them on the search results page. In contrast, disorganized posts with no Tags and Categories attached to them can compete against each other for the same keyword, reducing SEO effectiveness.

In addition, Google also calculates your SEO scores by parameters such as the time readers spend on the website as well as the number of posts they read. These parameters reflect the website’s user experience. Meanwhile, an important aspect of a good browsing experience is a reasonable Tag and Category system. To achieve that and improve your SEO, you should stick to this 4 advice:

  • Have a comprehensive Category system that covers all content on the website
  • Have a reasonable number of posts in each Category and Tag
  • Avoid having too many posts with more than one Category
  • Avoid having too many similar Tags

Final Words

Using Tags and Categories effectively is an indispensable skill for every WordPress website owner. Mastering the Tag and Category system on your website also means that you know how to keep track of your content library and plan your future content. They are also the effective methods to filter posts. Together with Tags and Categories, you have custom fields and custom taxonomies to deal with filtering or use post series to link short your content.

Start organizing your website today to end up with an appealing, user-friendly WordPress website!

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