Categories and Tags: Which One to Use and When to Use It

As a novice WordPress user you might be confused about the function of categories and tags. They work in similar ways and they’re both used to classify and arrange your posts. But a category and a tag has its own specific function, and learning to use each one correctly can help better organize your site and make it easier to read.

Categories

Categories are a way to classify and order your posts. They are hierarchical, which means they can be arranged with a parent-child structure. For example, a blog that produces automobile reviews might have categories that take this structure:
Two categories structures

Car type is the first category and engine type is the second. These are the overarching descriptions for cars that will be reviewed. The categories coupe, sedan, sports car, and SUV are child elements of the parent category and each describe a very specific type of car. The child categories 4-cylinder, 6-cylinder, and 8-cylinder describe types of engines.

Multiple Categories for a Post

One might select multiple categories to describe a car. For instance, a Ferrari might be categorized as a sports car and an 8-cylinder; and when searching the website for either of those terms (‘sports car’, ‘8-cylinder’) it would reveal that Ferrari post.

Tags

Tags are another way to classify your posts, but these are non-hierarchical – which means they do not have any established order, or parent-child relationship. Using our car review example above, that site might have descriptive tags like:

  • Red
  • Convertible
  • 2012

Tags are descriptive terms, but as you can see they can describe items that relate to any category. Any number of tags could be selected or created to describe your post.

For instance, you might have post which reviews the Chevrolet Traverse, a 6 cylinder SUV offered in the colors red, black, and green. That post would be tagged with each of those colors. Or you might have a post reviewing an 8 cylinder Monte Carlo which was offered in red, white, and yellow. A viewer searching by the “red” tag would find both posts, the one on the Traverse and the Monte Carlo, because they were both tagged with the term red.

Category and Tag Archive Pages

In WordPress, standard post categories and tags come with archive pages, which means your posts can be sorted automatically and viewed using a simple slug.

Category Archive Pages

These are listings of your posts arranged by a particular category. It takes the following form on your website:

example.com/category/category_name/sub_category_name

Posts tagged with the ‘Sedan’ category can be found at:

 example.com/category/car-type/sedan

Tag Archive Pages

Tag archives work the same way as category archive pages, with slugs following the main classification:

example.com/tag/tag_slug.

Posts tagged with the ‘red’ can be found at:

 example.com/tag/red

Tags do not have child-tags, but you can view archive pages for items that have multiple tags. For instance, if you wanted to make a page available showing all 2012 convertibles (both tags) you could do that using the following url:

example.com/tag/2012+convertible

The ‘+’ symbol shows all posts tagged with both terms, 2012 and convertible.

If you want to search for posts tagged with either 2012 or convertible, you would use a comma in the url like this:

example.com/tag/2012,convertible

Deep Linking Your Categories and Tags

Sites that deep link experience SEO benefits and usually keep readers on the site longer. Most WordPress themes display linked categories and tags automatically, but usually only once per post in a headline or sub-headline meta area.

To automatically deep link your posts and pages inside the text areas you can use a cool plugin called Cross Linker, which turns any mention of your categories or tags on your posts and pages into a link that takes your website reader directly to that archive page listing. For instance, you can set up Cross Linker to turn the word “SUV” into a link that takes the reader directly to the SUV archive page showing all posts in the SUV category.

Contextual linking in the text of your posts and pages can sometimes be more effective and generate more traffic than the simple “posted in category…” or “tagged as…” links put at the beginning or end of each post.

Summary

Knowing when and how to use categories and posts can help organize your site in a clear way, and make browsing your site much easier on the reader.

To learn more about categories and tags you can also check out these two resources:

Is Tagging Beneficial to Bloggers – by Tom Ewer

How to Merge Categories in WordPress – by Sarah Gooding

 

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