When writing content on your WordPress website, you should do your best to organize that content for your visitors. WordPress comes with two default taxonomies, or ways of grouping blog posts together: categories and tags. There is a clear difference between categories and tags, but many people mix them up and misuse them. While that kind of mistake won’t really affect your site’s user experience, it can affect the way Google understands the structure of your site. And if Google has trouble understanding how everything on your website fits together, you may lose out on higher rankings in the search results.
In this post, we’ll explore the difference between categories and tags in WordPress. Then, we will show you how to use them properly when grouping blog posts on your website.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Using WordPress taxonomies
Depending on the types of content you plan on creating for your audience, you may find that the defaults in WordPress suit your needs just fine. For most of our clients, categories and tags get the job done nicely.
However, your site’s blog or shop might require a more complex organizational structure. In cases like these, you can create custom taxonomies to help make your content easier for both Google and your visitors to understand.
What’s the difference between tags and categories?
Categories are broad; tags are specific.
WordPress asserts that categories work best when used to broadly group post topics. For instance, if you run a blog about homemaking, you might use categories like Cleaning, Cooking, Sewing, or Childrearing. Maintaining a limited set of categories helps keep your content focused, so you only write about the topics that fit in with the theme of your blog.
Tags, on the other hand, work best for more specific groupings. You use tags to further dissect your content into digestible clusters. Using our same homemaker blog example, let’s say you write a blog post about the many versatile uses of cast iron skillets and place it in the Cooking category. You might then tag your post with the Cast Iron Skillets tag, to help readers locate other posts in which you discuss cast iron skillets. For example, maybe you write another post containing your top five cast iron skillet recipes. You could then tag this post with the same Cast Iron Skillets tag, along with a separate Recipes tag.
Categories are hierarchical; tags are not.
Categories in WordPress can be arranged in a hierarchy. This means your main categories (ex. Cleaning) can have sub-categories and even sub-sub categories (ex. Furniture and Couches, respectively). Tags, however, exist on their own and have no relationship to anything else, including other tags.
The hierarchy present in categories can help structure your site, as it gives you friendly URLs like /cleaning/furniture/couches that show your visitors exactly where they are on your website or blog. This doesn’t happen with tags. If you require more structure, then creating a solid web of categories is the way to go.
WordPress requires at least one category per post
There is one more difference between tags and categories in WordPress: you need to add at least one category to a post. If you forget to do so, WordPress will add the post to the default category, “Uncategorized”, unless you set a different default in your WordPress Dashboard at Settings > Writing.
Please remember to set categories! Marking something as “Uncategorized” doesn’t help your visitors or Google. It gives the impression you do not care about your website’s structure or maintenance. In addition, we would also recommend setting your “Uncategorized” category to “noindex”, so Google isn’t tempted to display that meaningless, empty page in the search results.
Differences between categories and tags, summed up:
Below is a handy table that summarizes the differences we talked about in this post!
|Best for broad grouping||Best for more specific topics|
|At least one required per post||None required per post|
Organize your content!
Now that you know the difference between categories and tags, you can get started planning how you will group your content. And if you need to overhaul your current structure, make sure you don’t simply delete taxonomy pages without properly redirecting them!
Read More: Why Every Small Business Should Start A Blog