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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. Aroos says:

    You answered my question. Very well written article. Thank you.

    I also decided to remove my tags from google index. Just looking through your site, the simple and clean design and awesome content now I understand why you rank well for google.

  2. raghavendra says:

    thank you so much for posting this article , and describing in details

  3. Anil says:

    Thanks a ton..was useful

  4. Dennis Fleming says:

    Great article, thank you. You made it perfectly clear and easy to understand!

  5. Vikram Sarin says:


    My permalink structure is –

    Is this better compared to from SEO perspective? If yes, then how do I get rid of ‘product-category’ from the urls?


  6. Ola says:

    I’m very grateful on this topic, I finally understand how posts are in general. I didn’t know this quite long that all i need is about clarification on categories as like table of contents. I was so much confused how post are organised for visitors. THANKS SO MUCH.

  7. Pierre says:

    Thank you for clearly explaining the difference between categories and tags!

  8. Shoaib ahmad says:

    Best information..i have one question if my blog is about technology and my titel is top 10 best solor pannels then what is my categories and tags.?

  9. Satya Sahu says:

    I have a small doubt regarding to navigate users to my posts. I had written two posts related to iOS. One is belong to news category and other one is tutorial category but i have used same tag for the two posts. So i want to navigate the user to different categories( news, tutorial) with tags i used in my posts without showing two category posts.

  10. Michael Romano says:

    Great article, very informative. One possible typo though. When you said, “Categories are hierarchical, so you can sub-categories,” did you mean to say, “Categories are hierarchical, so you can sub-categorize?”

  11. vijaykumar says:

    Hi! my question is should i force to index i mean fetch as google for categories it is bad practice or good ……? i have seen in google some sites have got the results like this it it good as you said we should not index but i need more clarity please explain this.

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      You should let Google index your tags and category pages if you are only showing excerpts on the archives. If you are showing full posts on those pages and a tag or category has only one post, then this could cause duplicate content penalty.

  12. Vishnu says:

    Hello sir ,

    My blog have not get much visitors , just 5 views only .

    dont know why i didnt get any visitors ?

    Kindly reply .


  13. Alban says:

    Hi, nice post. For example if I had a website and my domain is… my 1 category is called dog-traning….the post permalink it is 10 ten best dog training tips…
    1) Is my category confusing google, and will it hurt to rank that particular post.
    2)Since my keywords (dog training) are already in the domain, do I have a over-optimized permalink in keyword sense?
    Please some help

    • WPBeginner Support says:

      You should use different variations of dog training using alternate keywords.

      • Alban says:

        Yes but will my category dog-traning will delute the keywords, will it create duplicate content?

        • WPBeginner Support says:

          Yes, if the category and your homepage has near identical content. Search engines may also consider it as keyword stuffing and may penalize your site by giving it low ranking on those keywords.

  14. akmal says:

    I am regular reader of your blog and no doubt it all stuff is awesome. The best thing about your sharing and posting is that you always provide content that is helpful for both the newbie and experts. Looking for more stuff and tutorials.

  15. Khyrberos says:

    (I’m aware this bit of “necroposting” will likely go unanswered, but here goes:)

    Thanks for this post; it was really quite useful; answering lots of the questions associated with this tool. I am curious, however, about the inter-play between Categories, Tags, and *Titles*; most especially Categories and Titles. I.e., I have a variety of posts under the general heading of “Design”, so I figured I should make a “Design” Category for them. However, those said posts are quite varied and have Titles that can be quite esoteric; since the the Title is “the thing you see”, it behooves me to put something about “Design” in the Title as well… But now I have, in a way, defeated the purpose of having a Category.


    • WPBeginner Support says:

      If you think an article should be filed under Design, then you should do that. Having keywords in Title that people actually use to search for similar content, will certainly help your SEO.

      • Khyrberos says:

        (Wow, thanks for the (rapid) reply!)

        Ok, so you’re saying that”s no problem, that (hypothetically) a blogpost named “Design – blah blah blah” *inside* a “Design” Category (i.e. both in Title & Category) is no big deal & in fact, may be useful for SEO purposes? Seems… redundant, but you’re the expert. : )

        • John Alexander says:

          This article does a great job of describing how to think about Categories and Tags in relation to your blog posts, so I’ll refer back to it. If you think of your blog as a book, and each post as a chapter, then Categories are the general sections of your book, and the Tags are like the Index in the back of the book, that helps users find specific things quickly.
          Since a Category simply tells users and search engines what broad topic an article covers, it’s fine if the keyword appears in both the Title of the article and the Category. So you may have a category “Design” and an article called “Top Web Design Trends of 2016.” This wouldn’t be a problem for SEO unless the majority of your articles and categories were all focused on the same keyword. If you’re in doubt about the frequency you’re using a word, have a friend (who doesn’t work on your site) read your post and see if the writing sounds awkward to them. If it seems like you’re using terms a natural number of times, then you should be fine.
          So, again, Categories and Tags are organizational elements, and have less to do with the SEO value of individual articles. They can have an impact, but your Categories aren’t generally the make-or-break factor. So make them useful for people!

        • Khyrberos says:

          @John Alexander: Thanks for your insightful response.

          I think I may have done a poor job communicating the meat of my question. I am not so concerned about the interaction between Categories and *Tags* (in relation to SEO & general blog organization); rather I am concerned about the interaction between Categories and *Titles* (in relation to SEO & general blog organization). Perhaps I can better illustrate with a personal, related example.

          Currently I’m treating my blog somewhat as an extension of my computer’s file-system, which is organized thusly (if we take the sub-folder of “Pictures”): at first just a massive pile of ‘every picture ever’, with each picture named pretty descriptively for what it was (i.e. “20100520 – Summer Reunion Party in California with Jones Family – Picture 1” … “Starcraft – Concept Art -Protoss – Archon – Picture3” … etc). I began to realize there were some common groupings that I could create Folders for inside the greater Pictures folder (i.e. “Family Pictures” or “2010 Pictures”, “Starcraft” or “Concept Art” or a sub-sub-folder “Protoss” or “Units”); at which point, the files therein would no longer need the long, descriptive title (i.e. all the pictures in the “2010” folder would not need that in their title to describe them; in fact it would be redundant & waste space)

          So in a way, that’s what I’m looking at here. My blog exists as a series of posts (i.e. files) within a series of Categories (i.e. folders). I currently harbor a wide range of topics & concentrations within my blog, but as time goes on & I begin to get more ideas within the same ‘topic’, I go ahead & make a Category for them (say, “Design” or “Writing”). At which point, it would make sense (for all the aforementioned reasons above) to edit the Title of the Post, removing the (now-Categoried) term(s).

          However, I’m finding that that presents other problems (some not necessarily present in my file-system organization); for one, this can change the Title of the Post so drastically as to be unnecessarily confusing or oblique; sometimes that keyword is nearly the whole Title; etc. Unlike my file system (where 1: the folder is obvious and 2: I’m only concerned about my own navigation), my blog suffers from a need to allow *others* to navigate.

          Hence my question: ‘Is there a certain protocol/expectation/procedure for the naming of Posts and the naming of Categories? e.g. Does it look bad to have a Post that starts with the name of the Category it’s in (redundancy)? Or does it look worse to have half-written/unclear Post Titles and just hope the reader can see the Categories? Etc.’

  16. Michele says:

    Really enjoyed this article. It was very easy to understand and answered all of my questions. Thank for the great info!!

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