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WordPress Categories vs Tags: What’s the Difference?

Beginners to WordPress often get confused between categories vs tags. When you are new, it is necessary to understand the difference between categories and tags in WordPress when laying out your website.

Categories and tags both contribute to the structure of your website and can have a significant impact on its SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

In this beginners guide, we will explain WordPress categories vs tags and the difference between them. Additionally, we will explain when you should use WordPress categories, when you should use WordPress tags, along with some helpful tips.

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WordPress Categories vs Tags: What’s the Difference?

WordPress comes with built-in taxonomy options for easier content management. A taxonomy is a system of classification that allows for the grouping of items by their characteristics through the use of terms.

As a means of taxonomy, WordPress posts can be organized by utilizing categories and tags. WordPress categories and WordPress tags are both taxonomies.

Pages, on the other hand, do not use categories and tags. Instead, pages utilize hierarchies, are organized in parent-child relationships, and can also be ordered numerically.

To learn more about pages and posts we recommend: WordPress Pages vs Posts: What’s the Difference?

Although WordPress categories and tags both seem similar, they are both unique and serve specific functions.

Categories and tags provide a means of structure for your website. They also enhance its usability and accessibility, which is essential to having a successful website.

When creating categories and tags, it is best practice to use unique names for better organization. And for even better practice, try to use keyword-rich names for better SEO and search engine rankings.

What are Categories in WordPress? And When to use them?

WordPress categories allow you to group and sort related posts into different sections. You can group posts into categories based on your chosen topics.

A category is typically a descriptive word or phrase used as a text label to define a broad-range group of posts.

Having a good category structure will help website visitors find the content they are looking for, including the exploration of your website.

Categories can also have subcategories that allow you to create a hierarchy of terms. WordPress considers posts located in subcategories to be members of the parent categories. This means that subcategories are more specific terms within a parent category.

For example, let us say that you have a blog where you write about books. One of your parent categories could be Fiction. Under Fiction, you might add some child subcategories such as Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Graphic Novels, and Mystery & Crime.

WordPress categories parent-child hierarchy

It is possible to apply more than one category to a post, but best to restrict posts to a single category. Having posts with more than one category can confuse readers and clutter the organization of content. Tags can help with additional grouping between posts.

To learn how to add categories to your WordPress website, we recommend: How to Add Categories in WordPress.

Now that you have learned about WordPress categories. Let us take a look at tags and how they are different.

What are Tags in WordPress? And When to use them?

WordPress tags provide additional grouping and relationship opportunities by allowing keywords to be attached to posts.

Posts can have multiple tags that act as keywords for cross-referencing similar content. This can help with navigation where categories fall short.

While categories are used to group broad topics, tags help describe more specific details about the content in a post. In other words, tags help you explain to your users and search engines what your post content is about.

WordPress post categories and tag selection

For instance, if we refer back to the book blog example. Assume you are creating a blog post about a Sci-Fi book. So Fiction is the parent category with Sci-Fi as the child subcategory. If the book was specific to space, we could use that as a tag. Then anyone that clicked on the space tag would see all the blog posts that are space-themed.

Tags have no hierarchy, which means they can not have parent-child relationships. This is the opposite of categories.

It is also worth noting that WordPress categories are required by default, whereas tags are optional.

Now that you have learned about WordPress tags let’s have a look at the key differences between categories vs tags and their similarities.

WordPress Categories vs Tags (Key Differences)

Here is a summary of the differences between categories and tags in WordPress.

  • Categories can have parent-child relationships, which creates a hierarchy. This is not possible with tags as they are non-hierarchal.
  • Technically it is possible to use multiple categories for a blog post. However, standard practice is to use one per post. This is not true for tags. Posts can have multiple tags attached to them. But don’t add too many!
  • Categories are generally used in your website’s header and footer navigation. Tags are used within your content and can be placed in sidebars.

Even though categories and tags are different, there are also some similarities between them but, not very many.

WordPress Categories vs Tags (Similarities)

Here is a summary of the similarities between categories and tags in WordPress.

  • Categories and tags both use archive pages to display posts.
  • Both should have unique names. They should be clear and descriptive. 
  • Categories and tags are both taxonomies and are used to organize website content.

Tips for using WordPress Categories and Tags

Below we have created some tips to help you make the most out of using categories and tags.

1. Create Categories and Tags based on keywords

To help improve your website’s search engine rankings, try to use keyword-rich categories and tags.

To do this, you will need to do some keyword research to find a set of keywords that are relevant to your blog posts. This will help with organic traffic, including the accessibility and readability of your website.

2. Create a Category structure before publishing content to your site. 

It is important to have a clear plan before you start publishing content on your website.

If you create categories after your content is published, you will have to implement and submit redirects to search engines. Also if you edit categories, subcategories, or tags, after your website has been indexed by search engines, you will need to submit a redirect.

You do not have to build your entire category structure right away. It is best to start with a few in the beginning. As your website grows and you offer more content, you can add more categories gradually.

Just try to be sure of your beginning categories because if you change them, you will need to set up redirects for search engines. SEO plugins like Rank Math can help with redirects.

3. Be careful with Category and Tag naming.

It is easy to get carried away when you create tags, but you will need to be extra careful not to create duplicate content and pay attention to how you name them.

For example, let us say that you have created a tag named Space Books. Then, later on, you create another tag named space books. The problem here is that WordPress does not see Space Books and space books as the same, which will create two different archive pages.

Additionally, you will need to watch out for plural and singular names. For categories and tags, it is normal to get confused over whether you should use the singular or plural form for words.

For example, Space Books and Space Book?

So be aware of this problem and select either based on your needs.

Finally, do your best to use clear and simple descriptive names for your categories. When new visitors land on your website, you will want them to have a clear idea about your website and the type of content you are offering.

4. Avoid duplicating Categories and Tags.

Categories and tags help users and search engines find content on your website more easily. With that said, avoid creating categories and tags with the same name. This will cause duplication issues with search engines which will lower your ranking and could cause confusion with your users.

Wrapping Up!

Categories and tags are an essential part of a successful website. Not only are they important for structure and organization but also search engine visibility.

When you are planning your categories and tags, think about the type of content that you will be publishing. Doing so will help you find quality keywords that you can use to help your website’s search engine rankings and its organizational structure.

That’s it! We hope this guide has helped you have a good understanding of the differences between categories and tags in WordPress as well as how to use them.

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The Editorial Team at TarttWeb is a group of passionate people that love to help others, led by Jeff Tartt.

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