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Categories vs Tags – SEO Best Practices for Sorting your Content

Readers often ask us, what’s better for SEO: categories vs tags?

You might not be sure what WordPress categories and tags actually are, and how they’re different. Knowing this can help you use them correctly.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between categories vs tags for organizing your content, and how they can impact SEO rankings.

Using categories and tags for sorting content in WordPress

What’s the Difference Between Categories and Tags?

Categories are meant for broad grouping of 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 sub-categories.

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 has the tags: categories, categories vs tags, custom taxonomy, seo, seo best practices, sorting your content, and tags.

You won’t see these tags displaying anywhere on our 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 have to have tags.

If you don’t give your post a category, 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’ll find them on the right-hand side under the ‘Document’ settings.

Adding categories and tags when creating a post

You can also go to Posts » Categories and Posts » Tags to add new categories and tags.

For more about the process of adding categories and tags, check out our explanations of What is a category? and What is a tag? for help and guidance.

How Many WordPress Categories Should You Have?

There’s no specific number of categories that you should have. In most cases, you’ll 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 sub-categories and tags to split your posts into smaller groups.

If you’re 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 I have to use sub-categories?

You don’t have to use sub-categories, and many large blogs (including WPBeginner) don’t. However, sub-categories 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.

Posts in the category 'Recipes'

You can put these posts into their own sub-category, so 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 Posts’ URLs

Some sites use the Category name in permalinks (post URLs), which you can set up under Settings » Permalinks.

Including your posts' categories in your URLs

If that’s the case on your site, then your post will initially have a URL something like this:
/recipes/gluten-free-pancakes/

After moving the post to a child category, it’ll have a new URL:
/recipes/gluten-free/gluten-free-pancakes/

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 as well as assigning it to the child category, but this can have drawbacks.

Although, WPBeginner website has categories in the URL, we always recommend users to use 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 legacy URL structure and changing 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 10 tags maximum 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 by organizing your content for best usability will also help you get better SEO rankings.

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 article on how to track WordPress category and tag analytics, and our comparison of the best keyword research tools for SEO.

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Reader Interactions

331 CommentsLeave a Reply

  1. It is rare that a post responds in a consolidated way to so many questions. Yours does and thank you for that. I have a question though in regards to a blogsite structure. Mine has one MOVIE tab and sub-tabs for each movie treatment that I write, one MOVIE SCRIPT category for all that posts about the process of writing those treatments or scripts and multiple tags for each posts, some common to multiple posts. The posts (progressive blog log wise) are strictly related to the writing challenges of each treatment or script. I believe that this structure is user friendly as you rightfully label one sample as such.
    Question: How bad or good is my structure though for the SEO?
    Thank you,

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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. 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. 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)
    etc.etc.

    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.

  7. 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.

    Thanks.

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

  9. 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 wordpress.it has no column or row features that options.thank you and you are awesome.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

    • 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.

  16. 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

    Tasos

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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?

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

  21. 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.

  22. 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 :)

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

  24. Question about the site structure.

    Let’s say my site is cookies.com (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:

    cookies.com/sugar-free-cookies/

    cookies.com/gluten-free-cookies/

    cookies.com/vegan-cookies/

    Question:

    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:

    cookies.com/sugar-free/

    cookies.com/gluten-free/

    cookies.com/vegan/

    Good idea ? Or bad idea ?

    Thank you so much for any little help,

    appreciate it !

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

  25. Hi,
    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!!
    Mike

  26. 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 asp.net, 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
    ->Pictures
    ->Breeding-group

    Breed B ->Info about the breed
    ->Dog Sellers
    ->Pictures
    ->Breeding-group

    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.

    Regards,
    Monique

  27. 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.

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

  29. 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!

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

  31. 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?

  32. Hi,

    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?

    Thanks.

  33. 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.

  34. 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!
    Cheers!

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