How to use Categories in WordPress

How to use Categories in WordPress
Categories – Organizing your content

This will show you my take on how to use categories in WordPress.

After 6 years working with the platform and gathering the views of many WordPress authorities, here is the most effective way to use categories on your blog.

If you want to give your blog a fresh start I would recommend sitting down and writing out the main topics that you can comfortably cover with enthusiasm and passion, before doing any editing.

How to use Categories in WordPress

In WordPress, each post must be assigned to a category. Categories help position the content on the mind of the reader as well as the publisher.

The problem is there’s often a big difference between the topics your readers are looking for, and the categories you put your posts into.

If you have a lot of categories, don’t be tempted to use them as navigation. You readers don’t necessarily think about your content in the way you do.

On a focused blog, a popular posts widget can be much more effective tool for engagement. More on fixing your site’s navigation here.

Common Category Mistakes

  • Assigning too many categories to a post
  • Having too many categories with only a few posts in each

When you should create a new category

  • When a new post does not fit into any others.
  • When you’re adding a whole new angle or topic to your blog

How tags and categories work together

Where categories are general, tags should be specific. For example I might publish an article on WordPress security that references plugins and shares some spam strategies.

The category is security, but I would also add the tags spam, plugins, security and because it’s for self-hosted WordPress users.

  • Category: Security
  • Tags: security, spam,, plugins.

Categories – General

Tags – Specific

If you’re going to use categories as a part of your navigation, this is even more important.

Adding Categories to Menus

Once you have published enough content in a category you many want to add it to your navigation menus. The new menus system in WordPress allows you to freely combine pages, posts, categories and custom URLs freely.

Learn how to manage navigation menus in WordPress.

Adding Categories to the Sidebar

Navigate to Appearance >> Widgets and drag a Categories widget into a widget area.

Categories WordPress Widget

If you have a lot of categories this can make for a confusing user interface. It can be a better strategy to use the Menus option instead.

Duplicate Content and SEO in WordPress

When you assign more than one category to a post this creates the same content under as for

However in 2008 Google stated that they would not penalize websites for having archive pages that point to the same content.

Where there is a danger of duplicate content is when your main blog, category and tag archives show the full post content instead of excerpts or automatic summaries.

An example of posts in the security category archives (with post summaries) can be seen here.

Summaries for tags, categories and blog archives make the process of scanning and selecting relevant content much easier for your readers.

NOTE: You can set the maximum number of posts that show on archive pages by navigating to Settings >> Reading and changing the number in the Blog pages to who at most field.

Blog archives number of posts

Optimizing Categories for SEO

This step involves the awesome SEO for WordPress by Yoast plugin. It’s easily the most powerful SEO tool you can be using on your self-hosted WordPress site. An introduction to WordPress SEO.

This tip improves your visibility in Google by indexing only the first page for a category archive.

Navigate to SEO >> Titles & Metas and check Noindex subpages of archives in the Sitewide meta settings section.

Sitewide meta settings NOindex Archives

The rest of the default settings for this plugin are set to optimize the Title tags and meta-descriptions that search engines use to index your category pages.

Just activating this plugin will optimize your SEO for WordPress!

Managing and Editing Categories

If your permalinks structure includes categories in the URL then editing them can create broken links. Visit Settings >> Permalinks to see what your current structure is.

Permalinks Postname Structure
Postname structure – recommended for best SEO

More on permalinks and changing your structure for SEO.

You can edit your blog categories by navigating to Posts >> Categories.

Editing Categories in WordPress

Hovering over a category will make editing links appear. You can edit the category URLs, add a description, delete the category or view it on the front-end of your website.

Deleting a category moves it to the default category – which is set by navigating to Settings >> Writing.

Default Post Category - Settings >> Writing

Reassigning Categories

Navigate to Posts >> All Posts, hover over the post you want to edit and click the Quick Edit link.

Posts Quick Edit link

From here you can easily change categories for a post.

Quick Edit Categories Posts


You can also bulk edit post categories by ticking posts in the list, choosing Edit from the Bulk Actions drop-down and clicking the Apply button.

Bulk Edit Posts WordPress

Now that you have more control over your categories you can hopefully go forth into the information wilderness with a clearer picture of your blog’s content strategy.

Questions? Let us know in the comments.

photo credit: Manchester Library via photopin cc

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  1. says

    So, what I want to know is how to set up a drop down menu with my 4 categories and how to tag the post for those categories. Thank you for telling me about the Posts: Categories page (something entirely missing in the WordPress getting started and Categories documentation.

    • says

      In this case I would use the inbuilt menus system in WordPress. They allow you to add pages, posts, categories and anything else you want.

      i.e. Create a new menu from Appearance >> Menus then assign it to a navigation area in your theme or you can put it into your sidebar as a dropdown using this plugin:

      Let us know if that solves your problem! :-)

      Edit: Sorry you’re using so you can still add a custom menu into the sidebar it just won’t be as a dropdown that’s all.

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