Readers often ask us what is better for SEO: categories or tags?
You might not be sure what WordPress categories and tags actually are and how they are different. Knowing this can help you use them correctly.
In this article, we will explain the differences between categories vs tags for organizing your content and how they can impact SEO rankings.
Here’s what we will cover in this tutorial. You can use the links below to jump to the section you are interested in:
- What’s the Difference Between Categories and Tags?
- How Can You Add Categories and Tags in WordPress?
- How Many WordPress Categories Should You Have?
- Using Categories in Your Post URLs
- Can I Assign One Post to Multiple Categories?
- Is There a Limit to How Many Tags a Post Can Have?
- Categories vs Tags: What’s Better for SEO?
- Can You Control How Categories and Tags Look in Search Results?
- Expert Guides on Categorizing WordPress Content
What’s the Difference Between Categories and Tags?
Categories and tags are both WordPress taxonomies. They are used to group your posts together in different ways.
Categories are meant to broadly group your posts. Think of these as general topics or the table of contents for your WordPress site. Categories are hierarchical, which means you can create subcategories.
On the other hand, tags are meant to describe specific details of your posts. Think of these as your site’s index words. They let you micro-categorize your content. Tags are not hierarchical.
For example, this blog post on WPBeginner is in our category’ Beginners Guide’. You can see all the posts in this category by going to Blog » Beginners Guide in our navigation menu.
This post also has the following tags: categories, categories vs tags, custom taxonomy, SEO, SEO best practices, sorting your content, and tags.
You won’t see these tags displayed anywhere in the article. However, they do help users find this article in relevant searches on our blog.
One of the biggest differences between tags and categories is that all WordPress posts must be filed under a category, but they don’t need to have tags.
If you don’t give your post a category, then WordPress will automatically assign it to the default category. This is called ‘Uncategorized’, but it’s often helpful to rename the Uncategorized category to something like ‘Other’ or ‘Miscellaneous’.
Note: By default, only blog posts have categories and tags in WordPress. However, you can add categories and tags to your WordPress pages using a plugin.
How Can You Add Categories and Tags in WordPress?
You can add categories and tags in WordPress when creating or editing a post. You will find them on the right-hand side under the ‘Post settings.
You can also go to Posts » Categories and Posts » Tags to add new categories and tags.
How Many WordPress Categories Should You Have?
There’s no specific number of categories that you should have. In most cases, you will want somewhere between 5 and 10 in order to properly categorize your posts and make your site easy to browse.
Categories are meant to encompass a large group of posts. You can use subcategories and tags to split your posts into smaller groups.
If you are just starting a blog, then don’t worry about trying to come up with a perfect list of categories. Just choose 3-5 broad categories and add more as time goes by.
Do You Have to Use Subcategories in WordPress?
You don’t have to use subcategories, and many large blogs (including WPBeginner) don’t. However, subcategories are helpful if you have a large category with a lot of posts that could be grouped into smaller sections.
For example, you might have a ‘Recipes’ category that contains a growing number of gluten-free recipes.
You can put these posts into their own subcategory so that it’s easy for readers to find them. You create a new child category for ‘Recipes’ called ‘Gluten-Free’ and move these posts into that category.
Using Categories in Your Post URLs
Some sites use the category name in permalinks (post URLs), which you can set up under Settings » Permalinks.
If that’s the case on your site, then your post will initially have a URL something like this:
After moving the post to a child category, it will have a new URL:
Normally, WordPress will try to redirect the old URL to the new one. It’s definitely worth checking that your links are still working. If necessary, you can create a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one.
Another option is to keep the post in the parent category and also assign it to the child category, but this can have drawbacks.
Although the WPBeginner website has categories in the URL, we always recommend users use a shorter URL structure that only contains ‘Post name’. This will give you maximum flexibility to reorganize content without worrying about setting up redirects.
All of our new websites use the modern ‘Post name’ URL structure. WPBeginner is over 10 years old, so it has a legacy URL structure. Changing the URL structure is not recommended for SEO, which is why we have stuck with it.
Can I Assign One Post to Multiple Categories?
WordPress lets you put a post into multiple categories. This could be several parent categories or a parent category plus a subcategory or subcategories.
Having multiple categories won’t benefit your SEO. You should only assign posts to multiple categories if it makes the most sense for your readers.
It’s possible that having your post in multiple categories could cause some SEO issues due to duplicate content.
If you do use multiple categories, then try to avoid putting one post into two or more main (parent) categories. Each post should fit within one main category.
Is There a Limit to How Many Tags a Post Can Have?
WordPress itself doesn’t have any limit on the number of tags you can have on each post. You could potentially assign 1,000 or more tags to a post!
However, we definitely don’t recommend that.
The purpose of tags is to help link related posts together. Think of them as an index section in a book. Each tag is like a keyword in the index.
Tags are helpful for users searching your site. Some plugins that display related posts use tags to help them figure out which posts’ topics are related.
We suggest that you normally stick to a maximum of 10 tags per post.
Categories vs Tags: What’s Better for SEO?
Are there any WordPress SEO advantages of using categories over tags or vice versa?
The short answer is No.
Categories and tags both have different purposes. You have to use categories, but you don’t have to use tags if you don’t want to. However, we recommend using both appropriately to help readers navigate your site.
Ultimately, you should design your site with users in mind. All search engines want to show users the content that’ll be the most useful to them.
This means that organizing your content for the best usability will also help you get better SEO rankings.
Can You Control How Categories and Tags Look in Search Results?
Upon activation, you must navigate to All in One SEO » Search Appearance and click the ‘Taxonomies’ tab to configure the search appearance for categories and tags.
The default settings will work for most websites, but you can customize them in many ways.
For example, some users prefer to stop search engines from indexing their category and tag archive listings. This can help prevent duplicate content issues and encourages search engines to prioritize your actual posts and pages.
In the Categories section, simply switch the ‘Show in Search’ option to ‘No’.
Next, you should scroll down to the Tags section and do the same thing.
Make sure you click the ‘Save Changes’ button at the top or bottom of the page to store your settings. Search engines will no longer index your category and tag archive pages.
Expert Guides on Categorizing WordPress Content
Now that you know how categories and tags affect SEO, you might like to see some other guides related to categorizing WordPress content:
- How to Add Categories and Tags for WordPress Pages
- How to Add Categories and Tags to WordPress Media Library
- How to Merge and Bulk Edit Categories and Tags in WordPress
- How to Add Categories and Subcategories in WordPress
- How to Show / Hide Categories in WordPress (Ultimate Guide)
- How to Properly Rename Categories in WordPress (Beginner’s Guide)
- How to Properly Change, Move, and Delete WordPress Categories
- How to Automatically Tag Your WordPress Posts and Save Time
- How to Display Most Popular Tags in WordPress
- How to Set Maximum Number of Tags for WordPress Posts
- How to Create Custom Taxonomies in WordPress
We hope that this article helped you understand categories vs tags and the SEO best practices for sorting your content. You may also like our guide on how to track WordPress category and tag analytics and our expert picks for the best keyword research tools for SEO.