Diving into WordPress Taxonomy

WordPress offers a few ways for you to organize your content using built in taxonomies. One common question we get is “Should we use tags or categories to make our posts easy to find”. To answer this it’s probably best to get a brief understanding of the history of WordPress taxonomies. Initially WordPress only offered categories and subcategories, but as the platform matured tags were introduced to help solve the problem of too many categories cluttering up our sites. The idea behind Tags was to allow us to identify specific details of the post, where as categories are meant to broadly group your posts.

With this in mind, here is an example of how we would use the two taxonomies on a sports related blog site. Your categories might be something like: Baseball, Football, Hockey, and Tennis. So then when you write a post about last night’s Baseball game you you would use that category and maybe tag it with yankees, red sox, championship or other important details that might help people searching for it. Subcategories are generally recommended if you find yourself using a tag a lot under a similar category, however they are not in any way required and should only be used if you think it will help your users navigate content.

There are a few technical differences between tags and categories. The first main technical difference between tags and categories is that categories can be hierarchal, so you can have subcategories. In WordPress posts at least one category is required, if your blog install is fresh you will notice the category “Uncategorized” will exist by default. Usually one of the first thing admins will do is change the name of that category to something more specifically related to your content. Another difference is how your URLs (when using custom permalinks) will display for each. Let’s say we decide we want a few subcategories (Major and Minor) for our Baseball category to differentiate between leagues.

Category: http://yoursite.com/category/baseball/
Subcategory: http://yoursite.com/category/baseball/major/
Tag: http://yoursite.com/tag/yankees/

One other related question clients often have is whether or not to use tags or categories for better SEO. The clear answer here is you should focus more on how these taxonomies help organize your data. Tags and categories work together to help make your data structure more usable to site visitors, keeping this in mind should most likely result in better SEO.