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Categories vs Tags – SEO Best Practices for Sorting your Content

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Categories vs Tags – SEO Best Practices for Sorting your Content

One of the most discussed topics we see when attending WordCamps and other events is what’s better for SEO: categories vs tags? What’s the difference between categories and tags? What’s the optimal number of WordPress categories? How many is too many? Is it okay to assign one post in multiple categories? Is there a limit of tags we can assign to each post? Do tags work like meta keywords? Are there any SEO advantage of using categories over tags or vice versa? We’ve seen quite a few commentaries on this subject through out the web, but we found that they were inconsistent and incomplete. If you ever had these questions, then hopefully they will be answered once you are done reading this post, so you can make adjustments to your blog if necessary.

Before we discuss any of the questions listed above, we need to understand what is categories and tags. In the WordPress nomenclature, both categories and tags are known as taxonomies. Their sole purpose is to sort your content to improve the usability of your site. Meaning when a user comes to your site, they can easily browse through your content by topic rather than browsing chronologically which is how blogs were initially setup.

What’s the difference between Categories and Tags?

Sorting Your Content

Categories are meant for broad grouping of your posts. Think of these as general topics or the table of contents for your site. Categories are there to help identify what your blog is really about. It is to assist readers finding the right type of content on your site. Categories are hierarchical, so you can sub-categories.

Tags are meant to describe specific details of your posts. Think of these as your site’s index words. They are the micro-data that you can use to micro-categorize your content. Tags are not hierarchical.

For example if you have a personal blog where you write about your life. Your categories can be something like: Music, Food, Travel, Rambling, and Books. Now when you write a post about something that you ate, you will add it in the Food category. You can add tags like pizza, pasta, steak etc.

One of the biggest difference between tags and categories is that you MUST categorize your post. You are not required to add any tags. If you do not categorize your post, then it will be categorized under the “uncategorized” category. People often rename the uncategorized category to something like Other, ramblings etc.

Another difference is the way your category and tags permalinks (urls) look. If you are using a custom permalink (URL) structure, then your base prefix will look different. Example:


What’s the optimal number of WordPress categories?

Up until WordPress 2.5, there was no built-in support for tags. This led to very long category lists because people were using it to define micro-details. Tags were added to improve the usability of your site. Having that said, we believe there is no specific optimal number of categories. The optimal number varies based on the complexity of your site. However, for the sake of structure and usability, it is best that you utilize sub-categories and tags.

Optimal Number of Categories

Categories are meant to encompass a group of posts. It is always best to start with generic categories and work your way down with subcategories as your site grows. After having run multiple blogs, we have leared that blogs evolve. There is no way that you can come up with all the right categories. Chances are when starting out, you are only writing one post a day. Or maybe 3-5 posts a day. Having 30 top categories is pointless specially when some of them will only have one or two posts. You are better off with 5 generic categories that have fresh content rather than 30 top categories where the majority are not updated.

Let’s take a look at an example. Say that we are starting a social media blog in 2012. We want to share how-to tutorials, news, tools, case studies etc. We can create top categories like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn etc. As sub categories of each, we can have tools, how-to’s, case studies, news etc. However that is a very short-term mindset, and we will run into issues in the future. What if one of the social media network dies and a new one enters the game? You will be required to add yet another top level category and more sub-categories.

A much better way of structuring this social media blog would be to have top categories that are future-proof. You can have your categories like How-To’s, News, Case Studies, Tools, etc. But how would people know that it is about twitter? Well your categories are not suppose to do the entire job. This is where tags come in. Let’s say you wrote a how-to post about twitter, simply add the tag twitter. In your design just add a section called Popular Topics and control that manually with links to popular tags like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc.

When do you add Subcategories?

Let’s say that you do a case-study posts where sometimes you interviewed an expert for a specific case-study. Because there is no category called “expert interviews”, you will add that as a tag on that case-study post. If you find yourself doing a lot of interviews for case-studies and your expert interviews tag has 10+ posts in it and is consistently growing, then you should consider adding expert interviews as a sub-category of your main category “Case Studies”.

Yes, you will have to go back and edit your older posts. If your URL structure is /category/postname/, then you have make sure you are using the Redirection plugin. It automatically redirects your modified posts to their new URL, so you can keep all the search engine rankings.

Do I have to use sub-categories?

No ofcourse not. You can always leave popular tags as tags. In our example above, almost all posts will have a tag for a specific social media network like twitter, facebook, etc. But we are not creating those as categories. The only reason why you add sub-categories is to make it easy for your users to find the content. You are more than welcome to simply add the Expert Interviews tag in your site somewhere.

Remember the whole purpose of categories and tags are to make it easy for your users to browse your site.

Is it okay to assign one post to multiple categories?

You might read on other sites that assigning posts to multiple categories can hurt your SEO. Some say that you can get penalized with duplicate content because of that. We believe that statement is not entirely true. First of all, don’t get lost with SEO. Remember the purpose of sorting your content efficiently is to help users find it. By the nature of how top categories should be setup, you shouldn’t be able to classify one post into multiple top-level categories. For example, if your blog has three categories “Advertising, Marketing, and SEO”. Your posts often tend to fall into multiple categories. Perhaps you need an umbrella category for all three? Maybe they should all fall under Business? Or you can have one category called Advertising & Marketing. Then have SEO as a sub-category for those.

There is no SEO benefits to adding multiple categories. If you think it helps your users, then you are more than welcome to add one post into multiple categories. However, if you see this becoming a regular issue, then you should consider restructuring your categories. Maybe some of your categories need to be tags. Or maybe they should be subcategories of one major category. It is mainly about making the user experience better.

If you are super concerned about duplicate content penalty, then simply (noindex, follow) your category taxonomy using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin.

Yoast No Index Taxonomies

If you only want to (noindex, follow) specific categories, then you can do so by editing the category themselves. Yoast plugin has the setting to override the global settings.

Basically when you (noindex, follow) certain thing, it tells Google and other search engine bots to follow all post links in these categories, so all posts can be indexed. However do not index the main category archives to prevent duplicate content.

Short answer: WordPress allows you to add one post into as many categories as you like. Yes it is okay to assign one post into multiple categories as long as you think it helps your users. However, if you think of categories as Table of Contents for your blog where posts are chapters, then can you have one chapter in two separate sections? The answer to that question is NO.

Is there a limit of tags we can assign to each post?

Short answer to this question is NO. WordPress has NO limits on the number of tags you can assign to a specific post. You can add 1000+ tags if you like. However, the purpose of tags is to relate your posts together. Again think of tags as the index or your book. These are popular keywords that you can use to loosely relate your posts. This makes it easy for users to find your posts specially when they are using the WordPress search. It also helps if you are utilizing the tag archive for users. We say add no more than 10 tags to your posts unless you can justify it. For example: if you are running a movie review blog, you may add multiple tags: actor/actress names (this alone can be over 10). But chances are that you may review multiple movies that have Adam Sandler in it. But for other simpler scenarios, you should really limit the amount of tags you use. Otherwise, you may find yourself with over 10000+ tags with only 300 posts on the site.

Do tags work like meta keywords?

Often people mistake tags to be like meta keywords for your blogs. This is the main reason why they try to add as many tags as possible. Tags are NOT meta keywords for your blog. At least not by default. Popular plugins like WordPress SEO by Yoast allows you to use your tag values to be in the meta keywords template. But if you don’t have these plugins configured to do that, then your tags DO NOT work like meta keywords.

Categories vs Tags: What’s better for SEO?

The most asked question that we see being asked on this topic is: Are there any SEO advantage of using categories over tags or vice versa? The simple answer to this is NO. You should NOT look at this as categories or taxonomies. They are meant to work together. If you have read this post, then you should be able to understand the individual purpose of categories and tags as well as their combined purpose for your site’s usability.


Your site is about your users not search engine bots. The goal of every search engine is to think the way users think when valuing your content. If you make your decisions based on usability, you will almost always find yourself reaping the SEO benefits. Categories and Tags are just the two default taxonomies that comes with WordPress. Most advanced sites use custom taxonomies for sorting their content alongside with categories and tags. Think of your blog as an ever evolving book. Choose the Table of Content (categories) wisely. Make sure that they are broad topics, but be cautious to not make it too vague. Use tags to loosely relate multiple posts. If you see a certain tag is becoming popular, then consider adding it as a sub-category. However, if you have to add the tag as subcategory of multiple top-level categories, then leave it as a tag. The goal is always to make the site as user friendly as possible.

We hope that this article helps clear any and all confusion when it comes to the topic of categories vs tags. We would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. How do you sort your content? what best practices do you follow?

Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress experts led by Syed Balkhi. Page maintained by Syed Balkhi.

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  1. Fazal says:

    Hi, This post has good information but My concern is: how many words we should use in tags. As you gave example of 1 word like “actor” as a tag. But what if I use: “hollywood actor” “american pop singer”

    Please give advise.

  2. Afzal Hameed says:

    I would like to say thank your for this article, I was only using categories and had posts into multiple categories. Now I have only 5 main categories and separate further using the tags.

    once again thank you for this article

  3. Bhushan Nikhar says:

    Very well written article. Thank you for clearing doubts! :)

  4. Shannon Suitter says:

    Your website is so helpful! Thanks so much for this awesome article. I’m always researching new SEO info, and I always find the best answers here.

  5. Bailey says:

    Finally getting started and learning how it all works, and how to do it well. Thank you so very very much for clearing this up so I can understand! So helpful! I am going to make my first category and get the Yoast plugin now!

  6. Muhammad Ali Pasha says:

    Thanks for this awesome article, this really helped me

  7. Kristin says:

    Thank you for this great article!
    This was very helpful!!!

  8. John Thomas says:

    Thanks for a nice post, its very helpful.

  9. John Allan says:

    My research as to whether or not WP has a limit to the number of categories has not helped – many people have asked the question in different forums, with no one providing a definitive answer. I’ve now encountered a situation where it seems that WP won’t allow me to add a post to any more categories, although it doesn’t seem to be limiting the actual number of categories that I can have.

    Do you have any suggestions for the best way to handle what I’m trying to do, which is to have the following type of category list for all of the U.S.:

    State Name (Parent)
    City (child)
    City (child)
    City (child)
    State Name (Parent)
    City (child)
    City (child)
    City (child)

    As I’m sure you can imagine there will be a LOT of categories with one created for every town and city in every state in the U.S.

    However, I don’t see a better way to do what I need, and “business directory” plugins and themes that I have looked at so far don’t seem to provide a suitable solution either.

  10. Jaswinder says:

    Very interesting and useful article on the Subject!!

    I don’t know much about-Category and Tags, learned a bit and will practice on it.


  11. Saleemiqbal says:

    Thanks, Really good and helping. My one question is how can hide tags given in the categories.

  12. Beth says:

    Nice article! Any thoughts on how to treat tags vs categories in Ghost?

  13. kishore kumar says:

    Hello,mam this is kishore from India.i always follow your advices.but I have one question,how to write article which has h1,h2 & information,as you are aware that in has no column or row features that options.thank you and you are awesome.

  14. Ryan says:

    Awesome post, really useful – i’ve never considered duplication of content through categories and tags.
    Our site is a male grooming, lifestyle and men’s fashion blog. Because these subjects are quite broad we have sub categories too. For example, skincare within male grooming.
    When we upload skincare articles we add them into skincare and male grooming – does this affect our SEO? Should I put one of them as non index? Or leave it as it is?
    If we were to be more specific in regards to skincare, for example acne, should i add this as a sub cat or a tag? FYI, we use acne as a drop down within our skincare menu but using it as a tag shows “tag” in the URL when once clicked on acne.
    Any advice would be much appreciated.

  15. baguzinfomedia says:

    I have a wordpress site with many tags. probably around 12,000 tags. with 140 posts. whether many tags will create a negative effect on my wordpress site? because I see my visitor on the wane.
    please provide an explanation. if necessary, I will remove my tag

  16. Aisha says:

    Thanks for this article!
    I still have a doubt
    1. my parent category an the sub category are showing the same post, is there a matter of duplicate content?
    2. Also my categories represent a similar class of objects, so the sub categories of most of them are same, again should i worry about duplicate content?
    Please give me some advice on the noindex and nofollow thing.

  17. Sanjay Banerjee says:

    Thanks a lot for this post

  18. Poonam says:

    A very useful post. This article gave me a very clear understanding about how should I use categories and tags on my new blog. The suggestion that I should focus on readers instead of search engines makes sense too.

    Thanks a lot!

  19. JC says:

    nice sharing. tks
    so use caterogies for better blog layout

  20. Nicki Lewis says:

    This was very informative. I am trying to resetup my blog and am going to keep this in mind

  21. Joost says:

    Good post! I have one question. I have a tv series blog and i wrote that you should no index one of the two: categories or tags. Is that true? or can i index both taxonomies?

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      You can index both taxonomies. However, if they have totally similar posts then this could be treated as duplicate content.

  22. Lezly says:

    If you create a sub-category, do you put the post in both the parent & sub-cat or just the sub-cat?

    Thank you for this helpful article.

    • LeChat says:

      Hello, thank you for the great article. Really comprehensible.
      I have the same question as Lezly. The post will have to be added to both Category & Sub-Cat so the user could either see all posts under Category, or if they wish only see the specific posts of Sub-Cat. Is that correct?
      I don’t know about duplicate content & google, from your article it sounds like i have to do some research.
      Also, if tags are not used via the search for people to find the article in the blog then i would not use any… would that be a mistake search-wise?
      Many thanks.

  23. Tasos Perte Tzortzis says:

    I have a brand new blog / site and now I can understand crystal cleared what is going on with the taxonomies inside WordPress.

    I was only using categories and had posts into multiple categories.Now I have only 3 main categories and seperate further using the tags.

    Thank you for this article


  24. Mohit says:

    Thanks for such a nice info…I have recently created my wordpress Blog and was desperately looking for this info..Thanks again

  25. Betty says:

    Hi … a great article for a beginner like me! I have a question. My blog is about places I have traveled. Every place will be assigned a destination category and an interest (inspiration) category. Here are my categories (every post will be assigned two categories) The structure looks like this
    Cat 1:Destination
    Sub Cat 1: Africa
    Sub Sub Cat 1: Kenya
    Sub Sub Cat 2: South Africa
    Sub Cat2: United States
    Sub Sub Cat 1: Florida
    Sub Sub Cat 2: New York
    Cat 2: Inspiration
    Sub Cat 1: Safari
    Sub Cat 2: Beach and Sun
    My questions emphasizes mainly on the impact of Archive pages and SEO. So here is my question: in WordPress when I assign a category for a blog about a safari in Africa — would the categories be (1) Kenya and Safari or (2) Destination, Africa, Kenya, Inspiration, Safari?
    I am trying to limit myself to two categories for every post.

  26. Suis says:

    Hi, thats a great article thanks a lot. I have a web site that i am writing reviews about health classes in my city. I have health classes(main cat.) > yoga classes (sub) and pilates classes (2nd sub.)

    But sometimes, a health center gives yoga and pilates lessons together so i am assigning my post to each category. This is for users, i hope google will not punish my site because of that otherwise do i have chance to see the problem on web master tools?

  27. WPBeginner Staff says:

    Yes if you are using excerpts on the category and tag pages. See this article on full post vs summary on WordPress archive pages.

  28. Ammar says:

    Hey, is it good to index Categories & Tags In WordPress SEO By yoast for using it in Google Webmaster Tools?

  29. WPBeginner Staff says:

    You change the category slug by editing a single category. Go to Posts > Categories select the category you want to edit and then change its slug. This slug will then be used in the URL. You categories title and slug can be different.

  30. Abinash Mohanty says:

    This is quite useful! I have a question. If I have to define a category name such as “Graphic Design” in two words then what would be the final url look like “graphic-design”? Does it add hyphen in between automatically? Another live example on your site that I came across with the way you have added the category name “WORDPRESS PLUGINS” while on the URL it shows only “plugins”, how did you do that! I wonder if you can help me out with the above 2 questions. Thanks :)

  31. Jing Cucio says:

    got it. well explained. Thanks!

  32. Stacey Van Horn says:

    Explained in language I could understand … thanks!

  33. guil2209 says:

    The meta description for categories depends on the category, right? Why is it asking to write a meta description in Titles & Metas settings then?

  34. J. Kristina says:

    This was very helpful!!

  35. reseo says:

    Question about the site structure.

    Let’s say my site is (which isn’t – I just try to layout a simple example)

    Let’s further say, I build the following categories:

    – Sugar Free Cookies

    – Gluten Free Cookies

    – Vegan Cookies

    As we can see, every category has the word “cookies” in it. If I understood the concept right, I should have the following perm structure:


    Since I do have the word cookies already as my root domain… wouldn’t it be sufficient enough to have the following word structure only:

    Good idea ? Or bad idea ?

    Thank you so much for any little help,

    appreciate it !

    • Rustem Gareev says:

      Yes, it’s good idea both for your site users and for SEO

    • Susan says:

      Agree ^^^. You don’t need to repeat cookies. It’s actually a best practice not to repeat it. Your suspicions are correct.

  36. Caroline Oakes says:

    Thank you. Great post — very helpful!

  37. Tommy says:

    Thanks. Good stuff

  38. Bharat says:

    Really a awesome article with valuable information.

  39. Mike says:

    Nice article. And i just wanted to say thank you for this website. This site has become my “go to” whenever I’m looking for answers on Google. Whenever i have questions this site is right up there, that’s cool. I’ve just started using wp to build a personal blog, and a great deal of my required knowledge has come from here. So thank you Syed, very much!!

  40. Niek says:

    Really interesting article! It helped me out on the right track but I do have a question though :-)

    Currently I am creating a wordpress website. I allready developped this website
    myself in, but I no langer have the time to keep up developping it, so I am choosing WordPress to be my new platform.
    My begist issue is how to categorize everything. And I hope some-one can help me out.
    I have a lot of content which is related to each other. Here is how my content is related:

    Breeds ->
    Breed A ->Info about the breed
    ->Dog Sellers

    Breed B ->Info about the breed
    ->Dog Sellers

    Illnes -> All kind of diseases from which a lot of diseases can be related to a specific breed (So I think tags?)
    Training -> All sorts of training abilities which can be breed related (So I think tags?)

    My breeds are about 250. So here is where my concern is. How do I have to categorize this? Just as I mentioned above? My main concern is that I have to put in a lot of sub-categories.

    (If you take a look at my website as it is now maybe you can understand my concern about how to categorize everything.


  41. Michael McGinnis says:

    If you use link rel=’canonical’, you don’t have to worry about any duplicate content penalty. That meta tag tells Google to use that as the official URL for the page, and to ignore any other URLs that point to it. Canonical URLs have been part of the standard WordPress default themes for years, I think.

  42. Ayaz Mazhar says:

    Thank you!. I am WordPress coder. Your analogy really helped me alot about category and tags concept.

  43. Caroline says:

    Thanks so much for this explaination – I was wondering if it is possible to somehow group posts tagged as specific categories into different sections in a WordPress site so that it’s not one long stream of posts? For example, the wpbeginner site has tabs/buttons for ‘Recent articles’, ‘popular articles’…how did you guys make the tabs? Are they category/tag based?

    Thanks guys!

  44. Drew Taylor says:

    Now i am wondering where to draw the line between sub-categories and tags though, or when to choose one over the other..

  45. Drew Taylor says:

    Very helpful article.. Your book analogy made these concepts very easy to understand..

  46. Swayam Das says:

    You have explained it quite well. Now I was wondering that if I post to multiple categories which has sub-category also. For maybe SEO reasons, I “noindex, follow” the main category. Will this be a problem for indexing my subordinate categories under that main category?

  47. Nico says:


    Thanks for an interesting and easy readable article!

    I am very new to WP, SEO, so excuse my questions if they are a bit simple, but:

    1) What is the link between Categories, Sub-categories, Tags (C,SC,T) and simple ‘keyword-search’ on the website ?

    2) And regarding the line before the last paragraph: “The goal is always to make the site as user friendly as possible…” Who is my user?: Readers e.g. privat induviduals who will look for C, SC,T, to reach their point of interest fast and effectively, Marketers e.g. people who want to place ads vis-a-vis C, SC, or T, or Search Engines who wants to match input search with output (also) by way off C,SC, and T? I guess the user point of view will influence how you structure and organize your contents.

    3) Are there strategies for organizing for commercial vs private engagement.

    With further thought, I guess “Tags” equals “Topic or Subject” and I guess marketers will advertise towards “Topics/Subjects” rather than keywords found through keyword-search mostly relevant for subjective versus generic advertisement. This still, however, requires that you strategize your C,CS, and T, intelligently and efficiently.

    Perhaps we can continue the discussion a bit further?


  48. Anthony says:

    Thanks! Very helpful. I was and still am concerned about the duplicate content issue and am probably going to stick with one category for each article I write while having multiple tags. I think SEO-wise this is the best strategy. Google has been very aggressive about duplicate content and I have been personally penalized for duplicate content on other sites.

    Single Category / Multiple Tags. I feel in my gut that this is the way to go.

  49. Nicolas says:

    Thank you, really instructive and really helping.
    You just solved a big issue I have every time I start a new blog – plus you gave me something priceless: the importance of NOT bothering too much with categories and tags at the beginning of a blog!

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