Ever walked into a library searching for a book? How did you find your book amongst the thousands racked up there ? Surely because the books were stacked into neat rows that were labelled. You searched under ‘Fiction’ or ‘Non Fiction’. If Fiction was what you were looking for, you could narrow down your search to choose from genres like ‘Fantasy’, ‘Mystery’, ‘Thriller’, ‘Romance’, ‘Comedy’ and so on. If you had chosen ‘Comedy’, you looked further under specific authors to find the exact book you wanted.
Now, just like the indexing in a library helps you find the book you are looking for, Categories and Tags will help a reader who lands on your website to find the exact post they are searching for. In the above example, you could liken the headings ‘Fiction’ and the genres to Categories, and the specific author or the book title to Tags. Categories and tags help users and search engines narrow down their search to find the exact post they are looking for.
Categories and tags are the different ways that WordPress helps you to organize content to make it easily searchable. If you want the technical term for them – Taxonomy.
Difference between Categories and Tags
You may now be having a fair idea of the difference between categories and tags from the example above. But to put it more clearly,
- Tags describe the post in a rather specific manner. Categories are hierarchical, a generic head containing more specific subheads.
- Categories contain posts that fall under the same group or head or subhead, tags are used for posts that cannot really be slotted into any category.
- The URLs for categories can get as long you want it to – Books/Fiction/Comedy/Author. The URLs for tags are typically shorter – Author/Title.
- All posts must be assigned one category. By default, WordPress will use ‘Uncategorized’ (You can change it in the settings). But all posts need not be tagged.
- If the number of posts having the same tag grows, you can choose to retain the tag or to upgrade it to a sub category.
Categories and tags make it easier for the reader to browse through your website. It is best to add them at the time of creating the post. The Categories will become the framework of your website and so, you must choose category headings with care.
Of course, the blog will evolve over time, and you may have to add additional categories. Changing them later will mean that you lose valuable backlinks and may slip in SEO rankings, not to mention the 404 errors that may creep in. So, without having too many categories at the start, try and find the optimum number for your blog that will make it easy to be searched.
Does It Matter For SEO Purposes ?
Categories and tags will help search engines when they examine your site for the right keywords. Your post will appear in the search results when the category or tag is searched. A single post can fall into multiple categories and have many tags.
Do search engines penalize duplicate content ? Opinion among experts is divided, but the simple rule you should follow is, does it make it easier for your reader to find ? If it will make it easier, go ahead and add. You can always choose to select a No Follow option with the Yoast SEO plugin.
Using commonly used descriptions for categories and tags can help search engines find them better. However, adding categories and tags should not be done with search engines in mind. The main consideration should be to make it easy for the reader to find you using commonly used descriptions.
There are numerous plugins that can help you attach categories and tags to posts. They also help you to manage the posts and give you control over how the categories and tags work. Some of the popular and often used plugins are highlighted here.
Automatic Post Tagger
If you find it tedious to tag all your posts, look up Automatic Post Tagger. Based on a keyword list that you prepare, this post will tag all your posts automatically when you save them or publish them.
A little work is required at the start. Install the plugin and activate it. Create a list of tags and related words. You can add them from the settings page or from your post. If you already have a tag list, it can be be imported in CSV or JSON format.
Once you have done this, the plugin begins to do its job. It will detect the keywords used in the title and content and automatically add tags. If you haven’t tagged your earlier posts, this plugin can add tags to older posts in bulk. A simple plugin that does a great job and can be downloaded for free from the WordPress plugin directory.
Extended Tags Widget
This is the first of two premium plugins on my list. Extended Tags Widget is an advanced plugin that gives you total control over tagging your posts. It takes the place of the default tag cloud widget in WordPress.
Use this plugin to add tags to posts in over 20 tag styles. Link, edit or view tags and hide empty tags with this plugin. Tags can be separated and ordered in any way that you like. You can specify how many tags are to be displayed as well as include or exclude specific tags.
The plugin is well supported by the author, who is also open to suggestions as to what features are to be included in the next update. It can be purchased on CodeCanyon for $6.
List Category Posts
Using a shortcode, this plugin will list the posts category wise in a page or post. The shortcode is to be inserted while writing or editing a page or post, and the post will appear under that category. You can use a widget too that is included in the plugin, but choose the shortcode for maximum functionality.
Using the shortcode, specify the number of posts to be displayed, the order in which they are to be displayed and the category name. Name of the post author, date and many other elements can be displayed. All elements can be customized with CSS and HTML. If you run into any glitches, check the FAQs where a number of shortcode solutions are provided.
Recent Posts Widget Extended
To display your recent posts in a widget, try Recent Posts Widget Extended. Posts can be taken from single, multiple or specific categories, or even from specific tags.
Recent Posts will help you do many things – add thumbnails, taxonomy and excerpts to the display, set the title URL, display recent posts by comment count or by date, display modification date, and display read more or post type options. So you really have a great deal of control over how and what to display under recent posts.
Categories to Tags Converter
Did you mistakenly add a category to a post instead of a tag ? Or did you do the reverse – add a tag to a post instead of a category ? Categories to Tags Converter will help you to pick the wrongly categorized or tagged post and right the mistake. You can change it both ways, from Categories to tags and tags to categories.
After installing and activating the plugin, you can access it from the Tools menu. This plugin can save you hours of work if you happen to mix up the categories and tags for your posts.
Post Tags and Categories for Pages
Usually, only posts are categorized and tagged. But if you want to do the same thing with your WordPress pages as well, this is the plugin you should turn to. The number of active installs (30000+) indicates that many users want to categorize their pages too.
Post Tags and Categories for Pages will add the same categories and tags to pages that are used for your posts. This makes it easier for your readers to browse through your pages.
Site Categories is the second premium plugin on my list. It figures here because it can be particularly useful to multisite networks.
You can categorize entire sites with Site Categories. It offers flexibility and control to the Network Administrators helping them to create as many categories as maybe required. Related categories can be picked at the time of signup. Site descriptions, custom category icons and avatars can make it a pleasant search experience within the network for users. It is ideal for malls, education network or a blog community.
Once you have installed this plugin, you can display the category lists in many ways – built-in lists, dropdown, grid or accordion style. The lists can be ordered or unordered. The category pages can also be customized a great deal.
Most Popular Tags
Most Popular Tags will help you to highlight your websites most popular tags and categories prominently in a sidebar or in any widgetized area.
The number of categories and tags to be shown, as well as the size of each can be specified by you. You can also embed a tag cloud in your posts and pages using shortcode.
Cool Tag Cloud
Cool Tag Cloud will make your tags look neat in a post. It creates a cloud around the tags that is responsive and shows correctly in all browsers. The size of the fonts of the tags is restricted to 17px.
Recent Posts By Category
Recent Posts by Category is the plugin of choice if you want to display recent posts from any particular category. (Not all your recent posts, but only those from any specific category). You can pick the category to be displayed, the number of posts and the titles.
Some more handy plugins that you can try if you have the specific use for them:
- Collapsing Categories will expand the the list of categories and subcategories. It is primarily designed to be used as a widget, but you can use code to customize it. It can also expand to show posts.
- Category Sticky Post will take your flagship article and put it up there at the top of each archive page for that category. You can pick the category to which a sticky post is to feature and you can stick only one post for each category. When a list of posts from that category is displayed, the sticky post will appear right at the top. The plugin can add some light styling effects to highlight the post.
- Whenever you add a category, the URL of the post will appear like this – mydomain.com/category/my-category/. If you do not like ‘category’ appearing in the URL, you can use Remove Category URL. It removes ‘category’ from all the permalinks in your WordPress. Your URL will now appear like mydomain.com/my-category/. It is a simple plugin which requires no configuration, just needs to be uploaded to your plugins directory in the contents folder.
- Ultimate Category Excluder will allow you to exclude categories from your front page, archives, feeds and searches. You can use this when you want to retain content that may not be interesting to all readers and you don’t want it to be very visible.
- Category Features Images will help you set a featured image for each category. So, if you have forgotten to add a featured image for any post, this plugin will do it for you, if you have set up a default category image.
Categories and tags make it easier for the user from the frontend and for the admin from the backend. Now that you know a little more about categories and tags than you did at the start of this page, you can try to use them on your WordPress. If you have other useful options, do share them with us in the comments below!