You should use both, Categories and Tags, in WordPress!
It is as simple as that. Yet this question of Categories vs Tags keeps coming up now and then.
The differences between Categories and Tags are too many. So making use of both of them actually makes sense.
In this tutorial, I am going to talk about these differences and why you should aim to use both of them.
Good enough? Then let’s get started.
Let’s first understand what Categories and Tags actually are.
What are Categories in WordPress?
Categories are broad classifications that can be applied to your content in WordPress.
Confused? Don’t be. Let us take an example to understand this. Say, you run a blog where you write about your life experiences, from the movies that you watch to spiritualism to pure rants about anything.
So your categories could be Movies I Watched, Spiritualism, My Rants etc. These are all broad topics and so they can be modeled as Categories in WordPress.
For more information on WordPress Categories, read this article:
What are Tags in WordPress?
Unlike Categories which are broad, Tags are specific classifications that you can apply to your content.
For example, if your favorite hero is “Brad Pitt” then his name can become a Tag for you in WordPress. Every time you write a blog post about a movie starring Brad Pitt, you can tag that post with his name.
Similarly, you can rant about your relatives, politics, economy etc. and all of them can become Tags too.
I think you get the idea.
For more details on Tags, read this article:
Categories vs Tags – What is the Difference between the Two?
Now that you know what are Categories and Tags, let me briefly summarize how they differ from each other in WordPress.
Categories are Broad, Tags are Specific – I am reiterating this again since this is so important to understand. Categories need to be broad and Tags need to be specific.
Categories are Mandatory, Tags are Not – In WordPress, each post should belong to at least one Category. You cannot have a post which belongs to none of the Categories. If you do not assign the post to one of the Categories then WordPress will assign it to the Default Category.
Categories are Hierarchical, Tags are Not – In WordPress, you can create a Category as a child of another Category. So basically you can create a hierarchy of Categories in WordPress. You cannot do that with Tags in WordPress. Tags are independent of each other and one Tag cannot be created below another Tag.
One Post – One Category, Tags Can be Multiple – Ideally, your post should belong to one and only one Category. It can have multiple Tags. This is explained in more detail below.
Permalink Structure Varies for Both – If you create a Category called “Games” then the URL of this Category’s Archive page will be http://www.yourdomain.com/category/games. While if you create a Tag called “Games” then the URL of its Archive page will be http://www.yourdomain.com/tag/games. Did you notice the slight difference in the URL structure?
As far as the differences between Categories and Tags go within WordPress, this is pretty much what you have to be aware of.
Now that you know the differences between the two, let us see which one should you use.
Should You Use Categories?
Well, actually you don’t have a choice. WordPress by default assigns your post to the Default Category if you don’t assign any Category to it. So the question to use Categories or not is pointless.
Now that you have to use Categories, you should use them in such a way that your site’s visitors find it easy to go through your content. In the above example of your blog, if your visitors are interested in reading about movies that you have watched, then they can quickly find all of your posts in the “Movies I Watched” category.
Use Categories to make it easier for your visitors to find your content, not for Search Engine Optimization. Search Engines will find a way to follow your content provided you make it easier for your visitors to find it.
Commonly Asked Questions About Categories
There are a few questions that keep coming up now and then about the use of Categories. Let us talk about them before moving on to Tags.
How Many Categories Should I Create?
If you are thinking about the ideal number of Categories that you should create then let me tell you there is no such number. Create as many Categories as you see fit for your website. Always try to make it easier for your visitors to find your content.
However, from my experience after working on other sites, usually the number of Categories hovers around 10 to 12 on the maximum side. Why so less? Because Categories are broad in nature, remember?
Can I Assign a Post to Multiple Categories?
Can a particular movie belong to both “Movies” and “Spiritualism” Categories? No.
Can a book belong to both “Books” and “Shoes” Categories? No.
Similarly, your post should belong to only one Category. If you have multiple Categories that you think are appropriate for your post then you need to take a relook at your existing categories and either delete them or convert them to Tags.
Should I Create Sub-Categories?
Yes, why not?
Your Movies Category can very well have sub-categories like Horror, Drama, Romance, Thriller etc.
Use sub-categories wisely as they can really help your visitors to further drill-down into your content and easily find what they want.
Should You Use Tags?
Similar to Categories, Tags too help visitors to quickly find content. So there is no question of not using them. You should use them.
But don’t go overboard with your Tags and create hundreds of them. If you plan to write about a specific topic consistently then create a Tag for that topic, else don’t. There is no sense in creating a Tag just to have 2 or 3 posts assigned to it.
In the above example of your blog, actors like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Travolta etc. can easily become your Tags. Each of them has acted in many movies. So if you were to watch those movies and write a post for each of them then your every Tag will have a good amount of posts assigned to it.
Also, similar to Categories, create Tags for your visitors, not Search Engines. Your visitors are more important than some Search Engine algorithm.
Commonly Asked Questions About Tags
The following questions keep coming up for Tags. Let us address those before we talk about the impact of Categories and Tags on SEO.
Should I Set Tags to be Indexable?
This one is difficult to answer. Ideally, I would say Yes.
So far, I personally have not marked them to be indexable by Search Engines. This is because, like many people, even I struggle to properly define Tags so that they are distinctively different from Categories.
If you are able to define Categories and Tags as outlined above then you should mark them as indexable in my opinion. They can also help you in SEO.
Is There a Limit to Number of Tags I can create in WordPress?
The simple answer is No. There is no such limit.
But the correct question should have been, Should I Create Limited Number of Tags?
Yes, if you ask me. The problem is, once you start creating Tags, they can quickly grow in number. You will end up having many Tags that will not have many posts tagged with them. This will make your content look scattered.
That is why it is always better to keep the number of Tags under control so that you can consistently write multiple posts for each of them.
Are Tags The Same as Keywords?
No, they are not.
Keywords form the metadata of your web page. WordPress Tags do not.
Categories vs Tags – Which is Best for SEO?
You are asking the wrong question. The correct question should be “Which is Best for My Visitors?”.
And the answer to that question is pretty straightforward, both of them.
And since both of them are good for your visitors, they are also good for your SEO. However, you need to be careful with defining Categories and Tags. It is very easy to end up creating Categories and Tags that serve the same purpose and in the end being useless to visitors. For example, creating a Category called “Horror Movies” and then creating a Tag called “Horror”.
In such cases, the list of posts will end up being the same for Categories as well as Tags. There is no added benefit for your visitors and neither for your SEO efforts.
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It is futile to debate about Categories vs Tags. Both of these serve a different purpose and so both are useful to your visitors.
If you have not been using Categories and Tags then you should start using them now.
And if you do happen to use them then let me know in the comments how you structured your Categories and Tags. I would love to hear it.