WordPress Categories vs. Tags: What’s the Difference?

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Many first-time WordPress users pay little attention to the categories and tags boxes on the right of the posts page. But in terms of SEO and user accessibility, these ubiquitous features are your best friends. By correctly using WordPress tags and categories, you can make sure that search engines can easily index your site, and that your readers will be able to find the content that they want.

But first, it’s important to understand the difference between categories and tags. Although they perform similar tasks, each has its own unique superpower.

Categories in WordPress

A wordle of all the different categories I've used in my posts.If you’ve ever published a post in WordPress, you’ve used WordPress categories. The use of categories is mandatory in WordPress – even if all of your posts are listed under “uncategorized.” Categories make it easier for users to sort posts in your WordPress blog and access the content that they want to read. For example, if you’re visiting the hilarious blog The Comics Curmudgeon, you can limit your reading to posts about Mary Worth or Hagar the Horrible.

On Supernova Media’s blog, we have a number of broad categories that largely relate to WordPress, web design, and social media. On the right, you can see a word cloud of the different categories that I have used since I began posting in October. By clicking on any of the category links at the bottom of my posts (like “mobile marketing” or “WordPress themes”), you can see a list of all the posts that fall under that category.

Here’s another handy fact about categories – they can be arranged into hierarchies. For example, if one of your categories is “Baking,” then you can make subcategories for cookies, cakes, muffins, and squares. Generally, the rule with categories is that you want enough to be manageable – a dozen or so – with names that are sufficiently general to cover all of the topics on your blog. To manage hierarchies and more, head over to your WordPress Dashboard and go to Posts and then Categories.

Tags in WordPress

A wordle of all the different tags I've used in my posts.Unlike categories, the use of tags in WordPress is not mandatory. Originally, the WordPress platform only used categories, but this soon proved unwieldy when users wanted to describe posts in more specific terms. Thanks to tags, writers can now describe their posts in greater detail. So, if you have a great recipe for lemon crinkle cookies (which were a big hit in my household over the holidays – thanks Pinterest!), you can assign specific tags along with the categories, like this:

  • Categories: Baking, Cookies
  • Tags: lemon crinkle cookies, only 4 ingredients, lemon cake mix, egg, Cool Whip, powdered sugar

You can see some of the tags that have appeared in my posts on the right. Since I write a lot about WordPress, this is unsurprisingly the most prominent tag in my posts. I’ve also written about dyslexic fonts, emoticon comment plugins, and serif vs. sans-serif fonts. These topics all fall under the broad categories of WordPress and web design; but unlike categories, tags allow you to add colour and definition to your post’s metadata.

So tag wisely, and tag often – your readers will thank you, and so will your blog search rankings.

(Tag and category clouds courtesy of Wordle.)

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About Nancy Bain

Our services include building optimized, functional and self managed WordPress websites, Nova Scotia social media training and consulting, interactive full screen high definition virtual tours with lead capture and print advertising. For most of our clients, we are their one stop solution for all things marketing, branding and small business development related.

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