WordPress: Categories vs. Tags — A User Guide

Many bloggers have asked me to explain in depth about using WordPress Categories and Tags, and the difference between the two.

First, let’s take a look at the definitions as they are explained in WordPress’ own documentation:

Categories provide a helpful way to group related posts together, and to quickly tell readers what a post is about. Categories also make it easier for people to find your content. Categories are similar to, but broader than, tags. For more information on the differences between categories and tags please check out this support doc.

Tags provide a useful way to group related posts together and to quickly tell readers what a post is about. Tags also make it easier for people to find your content. Tags are similar to, but more specific than, categories. The use of tags is completely optional.

Here’s a 101 Level  “How To” on tagging and categorizing your post, by iThemes.

If you read the WordPress documentation on using categories and tags, you’ll notice that in both definitions you’ll find the following: “also make it easier for people to find your content” and “tell readers what your post is about.”

The same verbiage written into both definitions.  Confusing.  So what’s the deal?

Categories are a useful way we organize our sites for ourselves and our readers. Think in broad terms like navigation.

Tags are essentially the keywords in your article or post. Keywords means the most important topics you are covering. Perhaps a nuanced detail that often gets overlooked but is important. Basically, it is a handful of words that are significant or relevant to what you are trying to say.

Search engines like Google are constantly improving their algorithms (the formulaic way they send their spiders to analyze and catalog every site) to ignore and demote blatant attempts to overshadow other sites by using false tags, unrelated links, and other sketchy means. As a result, tagging your blog and tagging it correctly is essential.

Further in the description of tags, WordPress says this:

“The use of tags is completely optional.”

Tags are optional only in the sense that you don’t have to tag in order to write and publish a post.  But tags are absolutely essential to be found by the search engines and your customers and potential customers.

More from WordPress documentation that on tagging, and this is important stuff, too:

Topic Listings
Your posts will appear in the topic listings of any tags or categories you use. Therefore, assigning tags and categories to your post increases the chance that other WordPress.com users will see your content.

However, you don’t want irrelevant content showing up on the topic listings or search, and neither do we. That’s why we limit the number of tags and categories that can be used on a public tag listing. Five to 15 tags (or categories, or a combination of the two) is a good number to add to each of your posts. The more categories you use, the less likely it is that your post will be selected for inclusion in the topic listings.

Did you get that? No extraneous categories and tags because it is deemed “too many” and likely “irrelevant” and will limit your audience.

To grow your audience, make sure you are tagging your content with the appropriate amount of accuracy and aggressiveness. If you haven’t thought of tags as a way to increase your site traffic, it’s time to start. If you are over-tagging to appeal to a wider audience, stop this practice, and write more content specifically targeted to the audience you are trying to reach.

I hope this brief how-to answers a few questions for you.  And as always, if you want to know more, you are always invited and encouraged to contact me.


Contact me for marketing, publishing, content writing and editing for SEO and social media strategy.  I am about your success.  Period.
Melissa I. Hassard


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