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What is the difference between WordPress Categories and Tags?

pens organised in a shelving unit by colour

What are WordPress Categories and Tags and how they are different?

Consider your wardrobe at home. We all organise our clothes differently, but it’s a fair bet you may group your clothes together by some sort of obvious matching system, so jackets, shirts, T-shirts, graphic t-shirts, trousers, dresses, skirts, socks, shoes, boots, blouses, et cetera. 

These are Categories, the general groupings of similar items that are clearly associated with each other, even though you may have trousers of different colours, and shapes, and materials, they are all pants and fit under the pants category. 

If you’re an extremely organised person, you may organise your pants further into sub-categories, like jeans, and dress pants, and capri pants, and winter pants, and work pants, and exercise pants, you get the idea. 

Somewhere inside your clothes, you find the Tags. These tags provide additional information about the clothes, like the material they were made of, or how to clean that item, or where it was made, and so on. 

All of this information is relevant, but you would never organise your closet based on these tags. Just imagine a wardrobe where you organise your clothes based on the country of origin, or their material composition. 

It would make absolutely no sense, but these tags still matter. When you wash your clothes, you bundle similarly tagged items together, because the tags tell you how hot the water can be, or what kind of soap you want, and whether they can be bleached, and so on. 

So to summarise, Categories are how we organise our things. Tags are additional metadata used to associate items with other items. 

Thanks to WordPress, you have the pretty much unlimited power to publish your thoughts, ideas, and creations on the web and share them with the world. 

To make all that information findable, and sharable, and easy to understand, you need a way of organising it. 

On social media, we use hashtags e.g. “#LoveNewcastle“. In WordPress, we use Categories and Tags

These are the “taxonomies” WordPress uses to associate posts with each other. For reference, a taxonomy is a fancy word for an organised sorting system, and it fits really well here. 

In WordPress, every post must belong to at least one category, and every post can belong to as few or as many categories as you like. 

If you don’t select a category for a post, it’ll be automatically filed under the “Uncategorized” category, which defeats the purpose of having an organising system! 

So the rule of thumb, here, is to always apply a category to every post. 

Categories

Categories are what’s known as hierarchical taxonomies, meaning they can have parent child relationships. 

Tags, by contrast, are non-hierarchical, meaning they have no relationships to any other tags. 

To see how this works, we need a practical example. Categories are the main sorting system for your Post, where you group different types of similar content together, and you can make them hierarchical. 

A main category for travel can have a subcategory for food, which in turn has sub-categories for different types of food vendors, like fine dining, cafes, and fast food. 

That way, you can view all travel posts, only travel posts about food, or only travel posts about cafes. 

Tags

Tags are the smaller factors that may connect posts together, but are not main sorting categories. A post about a specific restaurant may have tags like trendy, and hidden gems, and baby friendly. 

That way, the posts will relate to other posts that mention the same features, even though the posts themselves are not mainly about those topics. 

Personally, I try to give each of my posts one category, and I use tags sparingly. That’s my way of organising content, and it is not the only way. 

Oftentimes, you’ll be told by people, or articles, or videos on the web, that you should add lots of tags to your posts to boost your SEO, or search engine optimisation. This is not always true. 

Tags and Categories are organisational tools added to help your readers, and search engines like Google, find the content they’re looking for. If you make your Tags meaningful, you’ll make your content more accessible

If you add tags just to hook people in, and they don’t find what they thought they would find, they will leave, it’s that simple. So ensuring they are relevant to the article or Post content is essential for a good user experience.