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Categories vs Tags – SEO Best Practices for Sorting Your Content

Readers often ask us what is 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

Here’s what we’ll 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?

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 have 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’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 subcategories 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 subcategories?

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.

Posts in the category 'Recipes'

You can put these posts into their own subcategory, 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 Post 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 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, and 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 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 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?

You can customize the way your categories and tags appear on search engine results pages by using All in One SEO (AIOSEO), the best WordPress SEO plugin on the market.

First, install and activate either the All in One SEO Premium or AIOSEO free plugin. For more details, see our step-by-step guide on how to install a WordPress plugin.

Upon activation, you can navigate to All in One SEO » Search Appearance and click the ‘Taxomonies’ tab to configure the search appearance for categories and tags.

All in One SEO Taxonomies Settings

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’.

AIOSEO Search Appearance for Categories

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.

AIOSEO Search Appearance for Tags

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.

If you liked this article, then please subscribe to our YouTube Channel for WordPress video tutorials. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: Our content is reader-supported. This means if you click on some of our links, then we may earn a commission. See how WPBeginner is funded, why it matters, and how you can support us.

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Reader Interactions

339 CommentsLeave a Reply

  1. I have a question. I have seen some websites that add extra tags. These tags have nothing to do with sorting of posts rather they do keyword stuffing in multiple tags. What is your take on this. Like I have seen such posts with 30 tags and all of them were keywords not tags. Does it help in SEO?

  2. Hi, above you said that having a single post in multiple categories can lead to duplicate content, but what about tags, assigning multiple tags to a single post, doesn’t that too lead to duplicate contents? Because, tags do have a URL right? Will it effect the SEO?

    • While tags could run into that issue, it is unlikely to cause an SEO issue with how tags are handled.

      Admin

  3. No such thing as ‘Document Settings’ on the right hand of my page.
    No sign of Tags or Categories anywhere.

  4. I have almost 10 category and almost 50 sub category in my lyrics website ..but I am not using any tag..is there any issue in seo

  5. Is there anything wrong with having sub-sub-categories? I do think this helps my users find posts on my site, and it fits the hierarchy, but maybe they should be tags instead

    • If it works for how you are organizing content then it is fine unless you think of a better way to organize your content :)

      Admin

  6. I have a page on my site (not category or tag) and the topic is “France tour”, and I also have a category name “France tour”, is it correct? how can I show google that my landing page is Target and the category is different?

    • That type of markup would naturally be handled by your SEO plugin if you are using one on your site.

      Admin

  7. I maintain a web site created using WP that has no blogs/posts i.e. its web pages only. Iam concerned that search engines find the site/right page but I do not know if catagories and tags are relevant to the site. Is their any guidance on this?

    • It would depend on how much content you have but pages don’t have categories by default.

      Admin

  8. Always feel great to land on the wisdom shared by you guys! :)

    For me, I always keep ‘NoIndex’ the tags and ‘Index’ the categories; is it wise to do so?

    I feel like there would be too much of the URLs getting indexed in the search engines coming up with the duplicate/same content.

    Lastly, always the great wokr! :)

  9. I think you can describe more about index and no indexing of tags and categories. There is lot of confusion about this. Also category and tag sitemaps should be submitted to google search console or not?

  10. Pls i created a music and news blog I have about six categories no tag and for my music I use two categories which is trending categories and music categories will I have any issues with that

  11. Great article, very helpful. My only question that I have been unable to find an answer to is this: Should I noIndex Category pages?

    While I think a user that landed my category page would find value, I have read that it can hurt SEO as your category page is essentially competing with your posts under that same category.

    • You would want to reread the section ‘Is it okay to assign one post to multiple categories?’ for our opinion on category pages. Normally, there is no need to noindex category pages.

      Admin

  12. thank you for the article, i understand the difference a little better now, but i have a question.
    we have a magazine, and use wordpress, to have our site.
    we have over 800 articles in a lot off different topics and a lot off them have different tags on them,
    with means we now have over 600 different tags on our site.
    (i have taken over running the site from a former coworker) and tags where always entered when she added our new articles.
    should i remove the tags from our site or should i leave them?
    i dont want to hurt our Seo.

    • That would be a personal choice question but you may want to reduce the number of tags you have over time so more posts are under a tag.

      Admin

  13. Thank you for helping me to be a better novice site builder for my small corner of the web! Let me not forget to mention that thought this is my first “comment” here, I have watched your YouTube for years and am grateful for your wealth of knowledge. Happy 2020!

  14. Thanks for this (and the site in general).

    As someone who has worked on many websites, I’m comfortable with the categories/taxonomy, but being new to WordPress the tags are trickier to get my head around.

    I actually think the key point is in your last paragraph – tags can be across multiple categories, while sub-categories should only sit under the one category.

  15. I am starting a WP site on phones. I don’t have any posts and everything is under custom post types or static texts in a page. It’s meant to be a website rather than a blog, are categories and tags still needed? Thabks

  16. Thanks very much for this writeup. I have lots of irrelevant tags littered all over my site. Will it hurt my site if i delete them?

    • You would likely want to create redirects for the deleted tags to prevent 404 pages, other than that you can feel free to remove them.

      Admin

  17. Would you recommend renaming the tag base from “tag” in the permalinks section?

    I’ve seen another site that has changed theirs to “all-about” and I wondered whether there were any SEO reasons for doing this.

    • You would need to redirect any post using the old link but that shouldn’t have a major SEO impact either way.

      Admin

  18. Great article, and I sent a link to my client because it’s so good, but could use a lot of proofreading. A lot.

  19. This is a great article and helped me understand the categories and tags but how do they relate with image galleries if you have hundreds of images?

    • Unless the images are in multiple posts or you’re using a plugin that adds them to images, they aren’t added by default to images

      Admin

  20. Excellent article! It’s very helpful. I’ll be implementing on my blog site immediately.

    Thank you!

  21. Great explanation sir. ..I had little bit of confusion about categories & tags, but after reading your article it is clear to me. ..
    Thanks a lot

  22. I have a WP video site where members can post YouTube links to their videos. I have several categories for the video posts.

    I want to have a “featured” type of display on the home page where I, as the admin, select videos to feature, or post my own videos there, but I want this to be off-limits to users. Otherwise, I think everybody might be labeling their video as “featured.”

    Can any of this be controlled by categories or tags? Is there a way to have a category or tag that only the admin can apply?

    Any hints are appreciated.

  23. Very helpful this blog. I learned many new strategies, especially good use of categories in WordPress. You did great work by sharing it.

  24. I have a WP blog. All of my postings are falling under my Home Page. Nothing is showing up under any of the categories I have across the top. I need to know how to move those posting from Home, to the category that they need to be under.

    Please help me. I worked on it until 3 a.m. and it was frustrating. Also I need to know how to set up a “leave a reply” after each of my posts.

    • For the menu items, rather than pages in your menu you would want to ensure you placed the categories themselves in your menu and your posts are set as part of those categories.

      To allow comments you would want to ensure you’re allowing new comments under Settings>Discussion for new posts and your old posts should have a discussion settings area to enable comments

      Admin

  25. found this information quite useful. I’m starting out new with my travel blog and I found so many answers and information related to my queries on your site. keep up with the great work. !!!

  26. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us. It has been very helpful.
    As they say, knowledge is power, how true. Simple things seem to be very complicated when they are not.

    I am still struggling to get my word press blog to work.

    r. murillo

    • Glad our article could help, feel free to reach out to us should you continue to struggle with your site :)

      Admin

  27. Wow, thanks for the insight. It’s easy to understand. It helps me solving my problem with my new blog.

  28. Really helpful! I was in the same boat, wondering whether I still needed to tag posts. It seems a bit archaic.

    However, I do mark some posts under more than one category. I feel like if I had to narrow my categories further I’d have 50 of them! I do know that at least I find them helpful when I’m looking up old posts at our blog.

  29. Hi you mentioned: “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” But elsewhere in another blog, https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/seo-friendly-url-structure-for-wordpress/ it said that we will lose search engine ranking if we change permalink structure.

    Why is there a contradiction?

    • Hi Kym,

      Yes, you will lose search rankings if the old URL starts showing 404 error or duplicate content. That’s why you need to properly redirect URLs so that search engines can fine the content on new location and start showing it in the search results.

      Admin

  30. On the subject of assigning multiple categories to a post…I see what you mean about this generally being a sign of a much-needed category reorganization, but I would like to point out an exception. My blog is about science—it’s open to every field, though I’ve just started out with 12—and each science field is a category. However, science fields are often multidisciplinary. For example, I might write an Astronomy post on star stuff, but that also fits into Spectroscopy. There are also Astronomy and Chemistry crossovers. I think that ultimately, it’s up to the blogger how they want to organize their categories…but these are all good points :)

    I have a question…will it affect my search rankings at all if I use the “science” tag for all posts? If so, positively or negatively?

    • Hi Emma,

      We agree. As for the ‘science’ tag. If all your posts are tagged science then basically the science tag pages will be duplicate of your main archives with essentially the same content. This could effect your SEO negatively.

      Admin

  31. I would like to ask that if you assign a post to a category and a tag at the same time, won’t that result in duplicates and affect your search engine ranking?

  32. As far as I know, it is important that I give every category and tag not only meta tags but also a description. This can be also a longer text. I planned to do so and optimize those urls for seo too (it was suggested by a seo tool) but these descriptions are usually not visible for my readers. But I thought they would be worth reading and could be a nice introduction into that cercain category. Should I make the effort in the first place and if I do so, how can I make these descriptions visible, readable for my users?

  33. Great explanation! I find this post highly useful, clearing up the confusion I have had about the categories and tags for a long time. I recommend that the net wonderers spend some time and read it with a peace of mind if they were ever to know what “categories” and “tags” really are.

  34. Hi,
    For a site that has mobile phone, automobiles, banking, technology as parent categories; review, tutorials, interviews and news are being handled by tags. But the ‘news’ is always in abundant, i mean they are in hundreds.
    Should i make it (news) a separate parent category and select two parent categories for any post that is news as well as belong to any of the other parent categories or i should keep handling it through tag? and should on the basis of news tag, it can be submitted to google news?

  35. I am in the process of creating a website and am confused whether to create categories in my menu or pages. I understand that pages are for static information such as About me, contact me etc. If I wanted to create a menu bar containing a nutrition, treatments folder etc would you suggest using pages or categories? Thanks!!

  36. This is an excellent tutorial on categories, sub-categories, and tags. You have given me a better understanding on how best to structure my site. Thank you.

  37. Thanks for the great information.

    I need to create an index that links a series of posts to one master post. Basicly, a master post and follow on update posts.

    Is there a way to create a Tag I can use to organize and link these that can’t be seen by users in the Tag cloud and such?

    Any suggestions would be helpful.

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