One of the most discussed topics amongst blog newbies is WordPress categories vs. tags. What’s the difference between categories and tags? What’s the optimal number of WordPress categories? Can a post have more than one category or tag? What’s better for SEO categories or tags?
If you’ve ever had these questions, hopefully this post answers then for you, once and for all.
What’s the purpose of categories and tags?
Before we can jump into the thick of the questions listed above, we need to discuss what categories and tags are and their purpose.
Within WordPress categories and tags are what’s known as taxonomies. At its base level a taxonomy is way to group things together. The purpose of categories and tags in WordPress is to group your content and increase usability by allowing readers to browse your content by topic rather than chronologically.
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What’s the difference between Categories and Tags?
Categories are used for broad groupings of your content. They are the general topics you cover on your blog so if a reader looks a list of your categories, they should immediately be able to tell what your blog is all about. An important feature of categories is that they are hierarchical, meaning you can have sub-categories.
Tags on the other hand are used to described your post in more detail. Tags are not hierarchical like categories, meaning they have no relationship to other tags.
The easiest way to think about categories and tags in WordPress is using a book analogy. If your blog was a book, categories would be the chapters (and sub-sections) as seen in the Table of Contents. Whereas tags would be the index items in the back of the book.
For example, if you’re a food blogger and you write a post about chocolate cake. You would categorize that under “desserts” and the tags would be “chocolate”, “frosting”, etc.
One of the biggest differences between WordPress categories and tags is that each post must have a category, but it can be tag-less. If you do not assign a category to you post, WordPress will categorize it under the catch-all category “uncategorized”.
[clickToTweet tweet=”If your blog was a book, categories would be the chapters and tags the index items.” quote=”If your blog was a book, categories would be the chapters and tags the index items.”]
How many categories should a blog have?
This is one of those grey areas where there isn’t a clear cut answer. However, usually less is more in this case. Categories are meant to broadly group your content, not describe your content in micro-details – that’s what tags are for.
To come up with the “right” categories, sit down and write down the topics you cover on your blog. Group like-topics together and flush out the list. When you have 3-5 broad topics, those are your categories. But if you have 7 or even 10 categories, that’s fine! If you’re truly consistently writing posts on all those topics, then you’re good. What you want to avoid is having 30 categories where you only write a post in some of those categories every few months.
When do you add sub-categories?
Generally, your content will all fall into the broad topics or parent categories. However, you’d want to add sub-categories when you want to make it easier for your readers to find specific content.
For example, at the beginning your blog you might have the Parent Category “Holidays” for all your holiday related posts, with tags for the specific holidays – Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. but as your blog grows you might find that you have 20-30 posts under each of those tags. Because tags aren’t related to each other or categories in any way, finding content is becoming harder for your readers. At this point, it’d be wise to create sub-categories for each of the holidays instead.
The bottom line is, do whatever will make it easier for your readers to find the content they want on your blog.
Can a post have more than one category?
Generally speaking, a post should not fall under multiple parent categories. However, that’s not and fast rule. Some people will recommend against it due to SEO reasons but there’s nothing out there that definitely says adding multiple categories to a post will hurt (or help!) your SEO.
This is all about helping your readers find your content easily and efficiently. If you think a post having two categories will help your users, then do it. For example, if you run a lifestyle blog, you might find that a wreath tutorial post falls under both “Holidays” and “Crafts”.
However, if you find yourself doing this too often, consider restructuring your blog or making better use of your tags. After all, if we follow the book analogy where categories are chapters, can the same post be in two separate chapters? The answer is no.
Remember, at the end of the day it’s all about the reader’s experience. Categories and Tags are taxonomies WordPress gives you to help you sort your content to make your blog as user friendly as possible. Make use of the Table of Content (categories) and Index (tags) wisely.