A Complete Guide to WordPress Categories & Tags

WordPress is chock full of powerful tools. One of the simplest and most under utilized is its native taxonomy system—better known to users as categories and tags.

Did we lose you yet? We hope not! While this topic seems a little dry, we often find many custom clients and <em>press customers don’t take full advantage of their site categories. But in fact:

Categorizing your content consistently and accurately is the key to showing users content they want to see and engage with! 

Having well categorized (and organized!) blog posts makes your menus more powerful, your search more useful, and can even enhance your site SEO.

What happens when content isn’t categorized well?

In a simple example, let’s say you haven’t been categorizing your beauty posts, with most still labeled as “uncategorized.” If a user clicks on the “beauty” category in your navigation and sees only 3 posts (out of 50 total you’ve written), it tells the user one of two things: 1) you either don’t have a lot of content in this category, or 2) your site is poorly organized and difficult to use. Both scenarios aren’t good!

But what’s the difference between a tag and a category? When should you use one versus the other? Today, we’re breaking it down! Click through to read our complete guide to WordPress categories and tags!

What’s the difference between categories and tags?

If you think of your blog as a textbook, categories are like the chapters, and tags are your book’s index. In other words, categories organize topics you regularly feature or wish to be known for. Tags further describe those topics based on specific features or details.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you run a fashion blog featuring your personal style, along with beauty tutorials. “Style” would likely be a major parent category for you. So would “Beauty” or “Beauty Tutorials.” However, you could also apply tags to your Style posts, with specific brands, retailers, or items you’re wearing, which better describe the exact nature of the content. A tag list on an outfit post could be “Nordstorm,” “Over the Knee Boots,” “Burgundy Sweater,” and “Madewell jeans.”

Categories tend to be more useful in organizing content because they correspond with how users search for content on your site. Readers casually browsing fashion content want to look at a large group of posts that are all “Style” or “Outfits.” It’s less useful for them to access a category like “Burgundy Sweater,” of which you also might only have one or two posts anyway. Additionally, many users search for something this specific via a Search box, not an Archive/Category page.

This is why it’s important to create categories that focus on the topics you write about most.

Categories can also be applied to series you feature often. For example, if you write a Friday link round up named “Link Love,” creating a “Link Love” category makes a ton of sense. Readers who click on the “Link Love” category can then easily browse every post you’ve categorized with this label.

Tags & SEO

Contrary to Internet myths, your SEO will not necessarily be enhanced by keyword stuffing your posts with a ton of tags. It’s usually dependent upon a ton of other factors, like the copy in your post, how your images are named, what you named your post.

Does it hurt to add them? No, but many blog themes today do not even feature tag listings, because when they’re very long, they tend to look messy. And, as discussed above, they’re not usually helpful to readers when listed out in giant, haphazard blocks.

To be honest, this is why <em>press themes never feature a tag listing anywhere on post pages. We believe there are better ways to use tags and ensure they’re actually useful for your readers, versus a long list of links that might not return as much relevant content as the user is expecting.

We recommend prioritizing your category system first, then adding tags if you think about it (and ONLY for posts in which it would be useful. In other words, your Friday link round up post probably doesn’t need a long list of tags).

Using tags as a backend organization tactic also enhances one major feature on your blog: your search bar. With tags applied, if a user searches for that specific set of keywords in your blog’s search bar, the post will be returned in the results. This avoids having the messy tag cloud at the top or bottom of your posts, but enhances your search functionality on the site!

Sub-categories (a.k.a. Child Categories)

Let’s go back to categories for a second—we need to talk about something big! You might remember when we were using our fashion blog example, we referred to the Style category as a parent category. Categories are great because you can create child, or sub-categories, of parent categories.

Using our fashion blog example:

Suppose you created a Parent category, named “Style.”

“Outfits” could be a sub-category of Style, along with additional sub-categories based around other recurring features/columns you publish to your blog (examples here could be “Collages,” “Fitting Room Try-ons,” “Fashion Wish List”).

And, sub-categories can even be further sub-categorized. The Outfits sub-category might have additional sub-categories underneath it — perhaps by season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer). Here’s an example of what this taxonomy could look like, visually:

  • Style –> Parent category
    • Outfits –> Sub-category of Style
      • Fall –> Sub-category of Outfits
      • Winter –> Sub-category of Outfits
      • Spring –> Sub-category of Outfits
      • Summer –> Sub-category of Outfits
    • Collage Posts–> Sub-category of Style
    • Fitting Room Try-Ons –> Sub-category of Style
    • Wishlist Wednesday –> Sub-category of Style

By organizing your specific content features into sub-categories, you can now feature those sub-categories in your Primary menu, or as dropdowns in the Primary menu. An example can be seen in our Presidio theme here and here—notice when you hover over the category “Style,” there are multiple Style sub-categories readily available to the user?! Imagine if you did this with Outfits. You could easily create a dropdown menu featuring outfit content by season, occasion, etc.

The other thing to note is when you link to “Style” it would return all the sub-category posts, making it easy for users to view everything within a parent category. So, you can see how relying on parent and child categories can help you get your content organized and easy to browse!

How do you edit categories and tags?

Now for the nitty gritty. Where to edit categories and tags, and how to apply categories and tags to your post?

Applying categories and tags to a new post

This one is easy. When you are writing a blog post, simply check off which categories you want to apply to the post in the panel on the right side of your WordPress post editor. Just below, you should also see a space to list out tags. Separate all your tags with a comma. Here’s a visual example:

If you don’t have a category already created for the post you’re writing, simply click on + Add New Category, and type your category. You can also designate whether this new category is a parent, or should have an existing parent category assigned.

Generally, we don’t recommend creating a new category every time you write a post—that would indicate your content lacks focus. Remember, categories should reflect the types of content you feature most!

Editing existing categories and tags

To access all your existing categories, you can go to Posts > Categories from your WordPress dashboard. This will display an alphabetical list by parent category. You’ll also note numbers next to each category—if you click on this, it corresponds to all posts you’ve included in that category!

Hovering over any existing category will reveal links to edit the category.  You can use these features to change the name of the category and the URL associated with it.

Finally, within this window, you can use the features on the left to add a new category. Note that the “slug” refers to how you want the category to appear within a URL. For example, if we had a category named “EmPress Tips” we might instead prefer to name the slug something like “wordpress-blog-tips-for-beginners.” This tells search engines what that category of content is actually about! Ideally, we recommend naming your categories and your slugs the same thing, but sometimes, you might need to shift one or the other based on the content or SEO opportunities.

Adding categories to previously published posts

So you haven’t been categorizing your posts and now you have 20 or more posts in a single category that need to be edited. No worries! You do NOT need to go into every single post in order to apply your new category! You can use WordPress’ bulk editing features to apply the category to lots of posts at once. Here’s how you do it.

1. Navigate to the Posts section of your WordPress Dashboard. It looks like this:

2. Check off which posts need a new category applied. Then, head to the top of the post list and locate the dropdown menu that reads Bulk Actions. Click the menu, then select Edit. A panel will expand down. From here, apply the category to your selected posts, and add tags if they apply to all selected posts. Hit Update. The categories have now been added to multiple posts at once! Here’s a short video showing you how to do this:

We hope this guide to WordPress categories and tags helped you feel like an expert on the topic! If you spend time keeping your content organized and logical, we promise you—your menus become more useful, your search gets better, and your readers are more likely to spend time on your site. If you have any questions about categories or tags, leave a comment below!!


Photo by Nicole Honeywill, Thought Catalog, Arnel Hasanovic,  STIL, STIL

Make your blog stand out.

Ready to start, redesign, or monetize your lifestyle blog? Get it done this week with Your Blogging Roadmap, our free choose-your-adventure guide to achieve your next big blogging goal.

Click the button below to get started, and we’ll send you a step-by-step daily plan and emails to keep you motivated, so you can blog better — or, as we like to say, blog in italics.