At a glance

Quick summary

  • Simple analogy: To clarify the WordPress Categories vs. Tags confusion, we’ll use a quick, easy-to-understand comparison with physical books
  • Shortcut: How to identify if you should use a Category or Tag
  • Quick tip: How many Categories and Tags you should use
  • Examples: You’ll find a few examples that illustrate how to use Categories and Tags as well
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WordPress Categories vs. Tags can be confusing

Even though they’re a foundational tool in WordPress, I find that lots of folks struggle to understand the difference between Categories and Tags.

I remember, way back when I first started with WordPress, how tricky it was to wrap my head around the difference between the two.

Here’s a quick explanation of the difference, along with some examples to help you understand!

Think of it like a book

Categories and Tags are both WordPress Taxonomies, and they’re all about organizing content. Put another way, they’re used to help your visitors find the content they want.

The easiest way to get your head around the difference is to think of the way a book is structured: with chapters and an index.

Chapters are broad collections of information that all relate to a common theme. The index contains keywords which help folks find information throughout the book.

In the web world, Categories are like chapters; Tags are like the terms in the index.

An example from a real book

I pulled a book off my shelf: Productivity Hacks: 500+ Easy Ways to Accomplish More at Work — That Actually Work!.

In this book, there are chapters around broad topics:

  • Staying Productive at Work
  • Being Productive When You Work from Home Productive Business Travel
  • Having Productive Meetings

And then, in the index, there are common keywords that’ll help folks locate information:

  • Airplane mode for devices
  • Balancing work and life
  • Apps and tools
    • Company chat products
    • Habit-building apps
    • Language translator app
  • Teamwork
  • Water, drinking

So, if I were setting up a WordPress blog using this content, I might structure it this way:

  • Categories: Productivity at Work; Productivity at Home; Productive Meetings
  • Tags: Apps; Tools; Teamwork; Health; Google Fit; Samsung Health; iPhone; Android

Category or Tag? A quick shortcut!

Here’s a quick shortcut to help you decide which to use. Ask these two questions:

  1. Is _____ one of my broad topics?
  2. Is _____ a keyword someone would search for?

If it’s a broad topic, like a book chapter, it’s a Category.

If it’s a keyword, like a term in an index, it’s a Tag.

How many should I use of each?

This is another question I see quite a lot.

The answer I give is the same answer I used to give my English students:

For me, as a general rule, I try to follow these guidelines:

Categories

  1. One Category is ideal, however…
  2. If a post fits into more than one Category (most C&G posts do), and you’re using Rank Math for SEO (link below), be sure to set a Primary term
Screenshot of Courage Grow post categories — WordPress Categories vs. Tags
Screenshot of Courage Grow post categories — WordPress Categories vs. Tags
Download link for Rank Math SEO

Tags

  1. Try to add at least five
  2. Try to keep it at max of 15

Don’t get too hung up in the structure, especially at first

Remember, your content is the most important part. Don’t stress too much about WordPress Categories vs. Tags, especially if you’re just starting out.

It’s important that folks can find things sure, but don’t let the structure get in the way of publishing content.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • SEO: Taxonomies do impact SEO, so be sure to use them. But, they don’t have a huge impact, so don’t stress out too much.
  • Try This for Now: This is my catchphrase for giving myself permission to be imperfect. Don’t let trying to get your structure perfect get in the way. Set it up, and then iterate on it later.
  • Perfection: It will never be perfect! There’s no right or wrong way!
  • Organization: Ultimately, structure is about helping organize your content so that real people find what they want. That’s the most important thing.

Interested in more SEO tips?

Check out my post I just set up my WordPress site. What are 5 simple SEO tips?

Link to 5 Simple SEO Tips post

A few examples of WordPress Categories vs. Tags

Here are a few examples of category / tag structures:

Cooking

  • Categories: Breakfast; Lunch; Dinner; Dessert; Snack
  • Tags: Fruit; Nuts; Veggies; Roasted; Sautéed; Braised

WordPress

  • Categories: Web Design; Security; Copywriting; Plugins; SEO
  • Tags: Taxonomies; Writing headlines; Colors; Fonts

Clothes (version 1)

  • Categories: Pants; Shirts; Dresses; Underwear; Accessories
  • Tags: Blue; Red; Yellow; Plaid; Cotton; Denim; Polyester

Clothes (version 2)

  • Categories: Men; Women; Boys; Girls; Babies
  • Tags: Pants; Shirts; Dresses; Underwear; Accessories
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Others? Questions?

Any thoughts or questions on WordPress Categories vs. Tags? Anything with which you disagree? Anything I missed?

Leave a comment below and let me know!