Writing and Publishing

What’s the Difference Between a Category and a Tag on Your WordPress Blog?

Part 5 in the continuing series on using WordPress for blogging: a platform-building, book-selling tool.

WordPress categories and tags are confusing. They seem to do the same thing and offer similar results.

WordPress Category

A category is like a file cabinet drawer for your posts where you place related content. Categories are general groupings of broad topics. Our site (or blog) should have at least three categories (else, why bother) but no more than perhaps eight (else, it’s too hard to find things).

Each post needs one—and only one—category. Just as you wouldn’t try to put one piece of paper in two folders, don’t assign one post to two categories. (I understand using multiple categories for one post can mess up search engine optimization, and no one wants that.)

Last, never default to “uncategorized.” That’s just lazy and doesn’t help anyone.

Word Press Tag

Think of a tag as a cross-reference tool. Tags can be a subset of a category (like a folder in a file cabinet), transcend categories (like an index), or both. Regardless, their purpose is to link related content. Every post needs at least one tag and can have more, but don’t go crazy. One or two is great, three is okay but definitely stop at six.

In determining tags, consider reoccurring themes or words in your posts. Unlike categories, you don’t need to limit the number of tags you use, but do seek tags you will reuse. A tag used only once accomplishes nothing.

Also, a tag is not the same as a keyword. Keywords are used (or more correctly, were used) to indicate main topics within a post, whereas tags link related posts.

(In case you’re wondering, I wrote many posts on this blog before I understood the difference between tags and keywords, so I have many tags used only once; I will remove or consolidate them – when I have time.)

This blog has seven categories and 231 tags (though once I redo the tags, it will be closer to 50). This post is in the category of “Tips” and has three tags: “blogging,” SEO” and “WordPress.”

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Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

6 replies on “What’s the Difference Between a Category and a Tag on Your WordPress Blog?”

I may have two many categories for each post, but about the right amount of tags. Do you do something with key words, other than have them in your post? Or is it part of the writing?

That’s a great question.

If you’re talking about using the meta tag “keywords,” I give them only passing consideration (since Google supposedly ignores them anyway).

If you’re talking about keywords in the post, I don’t give that much thought either. I just try to write the best post I can for people and hope search engines like it too. I don’t do any keyword research beforehand or try to insert common search phrases into my text to accommodate search engines. (The one exception is if I’m writing a landing page.)

Update: I made time to redo the tags for all 160 posts of this site. The result is that I now have 41 tags (as opposed to 231). All but three are used more than once, and those three will be used again in the future. A side-effectis that I eliminated one category as well and am presently down to six.

In case you’re curious, it took about three hours to make these changes, but the results are worth it. (In my opinion!)

I can’t tell what your one category is, but I suspect it might be the same as your blog’s theme. Look for ways to divide it into subgroups — and make those be your categories.

(By the way, your tags look great! Well done!)

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