Difference between WordPress Categories and Tags

How they work and how beautifully they compliment each other

WordPress is an amazing platform, with some really great features that come pre-installed with any new WordPress installation, but there are certain features that stand out more than the others, even have more value than the others, and those are Categories and Tags – the additional navigation features of your website/blog, the simple way of allowing people to find your content either through search engines, or through widgets on your own site.

Tags and Categories
Image Source: BRRT – Pixabay.com / License: CC0 Public Domain

Come to think of it, both Categories and Tags are two of the most essential features for letting your users really understand the flow of your content and in which directions it goes. A personal blog is usually going to have only one or two categories, while a more content oriented site like an online magazine or newspaper is going to have a little bit more categories, so as to explain to new and existing users what kind of content to expect.

A well-structured and thought-out Categories and Tags system can have a great impact on the engagement rates for your content, including that from the search engines.

Categories & Tags: What’s the Difference?

To start with, you need to understand what each function does. While both compliment each other beautifully, there are some differences in how they’re perceived in traditional blogging.

WordPress Categories

A category is a particular set of content on your site. You might be an owner of a recipe site, so you will probably have categories such as: Vegan, Vegetarian, and Meat Dishes. That’s a very brief look at the average list of categories for a recipe site, but you get the idea. This is what the URL’s will look like:

http://www.yourrecipesite.com/category/vegan-dishes/
http://www.yourrecipesite.com/category/vegetarian-dishes/
http://www.yourrecipesite.com/category/meat-dishes/

SERPs

As mentioned in the snapshot above, it is a good practice, nowadays, to remove the /category/ part altogether, which can be done in “Settings => Permalinks” in your WordPress dashboard.

Category Base

And once this is done, your categories will now show up as:

http://www.yourrecipesite.com/vegan-dishes/
http://www.yourrecipesite.com/vegetarian-dishes/
http://www.yourrecipesite.com/meat-dishes/

Which isn’t only more beautiful to look at, but also more efficient for people to use, and it certainly looks great on search engines. It isn’t however something to enforce, and you can use slugs such as /recipes/ and so forth.

WordPress Tags

Now that you have a general idea of how Categories work and what you can do with them, you need to understand how to use Tags and how they can help you build a well-organized website. We will continue to use the example of a recipes website, since it’s one of the best ways of explaining these two features. We already have 3 categories established, now we need to write content for them and give them the appropriate tags.

Let’s say you shared a recipe: “Portuguese Pork with Red Peppers” – the two main ingredients are going to be pork and red peppers. These are your tags for this particular recipe. Rather than creating separate Categories for both pork and peppers, you can use Tags to showcase the different recipes on your site that utilize those same ingredients, and this applies for any type of website that might take advantage of Tags.

It makes it so much easier to understand and navigate your site, and it will automatically yield you much lower bounce rates, much higher engagement rates (including clickthroughs), and in long-term you might even notice an increase in revenue, and even signups. It’s basic mathematics, but we often tend to overlook the small things because we’re so focused on stuff that yields the highest result in least amount of time.

Search Engine Optimization
Image Source: Negativespace – Pixabay.com / License: CC0 Public Domain

Mindful Optimization

There is always the question about the impact of Search Engine Optimization on these two functions, and there certainly have been cases in the past where people have tried to trick the system by manipulating Categories and Tags to extensive limits. This is not what it is all about. You need to switch the mindset from SEO to the user, and do everything for the user – which automatically puts you in the spotlight of search engine algorithms.

When you visit a website and notice that it is overly optimized with different types of navigation options, you probably get confused and discouraged of further using that website, which is exactly what could happen to your own website if you’re not mindful about the way you structure your content. Tags and Categories are all about making it easier for your visitors to understand how your site works, and to understand what type of content you’re providing.

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