WordPress categories

Previously on the CogitActive Saga:
Whichever permalink structure you decide on, the most important is to stick with it! As for my own decision, I choose the format that suits me the best: /%category%/%postname%/.

Now that I have a new user account (i.e. other than the Super Admin one) for anything content-related, I can start to post, right? Actually, before to publish your first post, there are still few (other) things to take care of. This will be the topic of the coming mini-series: the final stretch before to bring this blog online (i.e. to uncheck the Search Engine Visibility restriction in Settings > Reading)! Allow me to start with Taxonomy.


As a blogging platform, WordPress displays blog posts in reverse chronological order and automatically archives them based on the published date, as well as the author of the post. In fact, it can organize everything you publish even further using taxonomies (i.e. a method of classifying content and data). This way, visitors can browse through your content by subject rather than chronologically. Indeed, by grouping posts together based on a select number of relationships, it makes it easier for readers to find information on a specific topic, as well as related content. By default1, a standard post will have two taxonomy types: Categories and Tags.

Taxonomies are essential to organizing your WordPress content and presenting a well crafted website to the world.Nathan B. Weller

While organization is an important aspect of taxonomies, they can also have implication when it comes to SEO. Your categories and tags will clue the search engines in to what topics your website is about, allowing you to rank for those targeted keywords2. That is why you should optimize your categories and tags (for SEO) by creating a clean, minimalist structure within them. In addition, having the URL structure reflect the category can help3. Thus, I have chosen to include the %category% tag4 in my URL given its semantic value (see Pretty Permalinks). It doesn’t hurt to add an extra keyword, does it?

If your site is a blog and you write several articles about a topic, your category for that topic can be #1 in the search results.Joost de Valk

While tags are optional, every single post you write needs a category. That is why each WordPress installation comes with a pre-set term, namely “Uncategorized”. However, it is important to create appropriately helpful categories of your own. If you don’t, each post will be filed under this default category, thus defeating the whole purpose of this taxonomy. Now the question is how to create a category and assign a post to it?

The Categories screen

All the tools you need to set up and edit categories can be found in Post > Categories. As explained in the WordPress documentation, this Screen allows you to create new Categories, edit or delete existing ones, and organize your Categories hierarchically5. It consists of the Add New Category section (on the left) and the Category Table (on the right).

Add New Category

Creating a new category is straightforward. You just need to provide four pieces of information:

  • Name: how it will appear on your site
  • Slug: the URL-friendly version of the name
  • Category parent: to make this category a subcategory of another category (optional)
  • Description: shown to viewers when they hover over the category’s link (optional)

However, it is important to understand that the Category Name must be unique5, as does the slug. The latter is usually all lowercase and contains only letters, numbers, and hyphens. If you leave this field blank, WordPress automatically creates a slug based on the category name. Regarding the Category Parent drop-menu, select “None” if you want this new category to be a parent (or top-level) category. Otherwise, choose the category that you want to be the parent of this one. About the Description, it can be as short or as long as you want6.

In creating Categories, recognize that each Category Name must be unique. Thus, even if two Categories have two different Parents, they must still have different names.WordPress

While the Description field is optional, you should take advantage of the category description feature to improve your SEO. Most WordPress themes will display it on the category archive pages (among other places6). As explicated by Joost de Valk3, the founder and Chief Product Officer of Yoast, these landing pages are essential for SEO because they prevent individual posts from competing. In fact, you can really round out your site’s SEO strategy by providing well-written descriptions detailing what this category is. You can even add links pointing to the best articles or products in that category3 (in addition to this introductory content); this will go a long way in making sure that when a user lands on such a page, he or she doesn’t bounce3.

Categories and tags not only help readers to navigate your website, but they also have the benefit of making your blog more “sticky” for new visitors.KeriLynn Engel

Once you have filled in all the information about your new Category, use the Add New Category button to save it.

Category Table

This table, which lists all of your categories by row5, contains the following columns by default:

  • Name: the name of the Category
  • Description: if you have provided one
  • Slug: the slug of a Category
  • Count: the number of posts belonging to this Category

Categories are displayed hierarchically and alphabetically; subcategories are displayed beneath their parents and are prefaced by long dashes. These dashed are not part of a Category’s name; they are there only to show hierarchy.

If you want to manage all the posts within a category, you can click on the number in the Count column (of this category); this will redirect you to the All Posts screen. On the other hand, if you want to perform actions on a category itself, hovering over its row will reveal the Edit, Quick Edit, Delete and View links (under the Name column). These are Immediate Actions and are performed immediately, as opposed to Bulk Actions, which are performed, at one time, on several categories selected using the checkbox. However, the only Bulk Action allowed is Delete5.

Deleting a category does not delete the posts in that Category, but the posts that were assigned to the deleted Category are assigned to the Default Category, as defined in the Settings Writing Screen. Note that the Default Category cannot be deleted.WordPress

Finally, below the Category Table, there is the following statement: categories can be selectively converted to tags using the category to tag converter. This tool, which needs to be installed, can indeed be used to convert categories to tags or vice versa.

How to assign a post to categories?

There are two ways to assign a post7 to a category.

The first is via the Add New Post screen (i.e. when writing the post). From there, all you have to do is to select a category (i.e. click the checkbox next to it) from the Category module (under the Document settings). To remove a post from a category, just uncheck the box next to the category name.

The second way is to bulk add posts to a category via the Table of Posts (Posts > All Posts). Once you have selected the posts you want to add a category to, select “Edit” in the Bulk Actions drop-down menu and then click on the Apply button. Select the categories you want to add those posts to (from the Categories section) and click on the Update button. Done!

If you publish a post to your site and don’t assign this post to a category, it is assigned to the default category automatically. As explained earlier, every single post you write needs a category; hence, WordPress comes with the pre-set “Uncategorized” category. The latter serves as a fail-safe and therefore cannot be deleted. Actually, this is not entirely true: you can delete it, but not before setting a new default category (in Settings > Writing). Alternatively, you can change its name to one that applies to your blog.

Sometimes a post can belong to many categories at the same time. WordPress allows you to add multiple categories to a single post (using either one of the above-mentioned method); however, it is best to assign only one category to each blog post. Not only will this help having your content neatly organized (i.e. in a way that makes accessing it easier for the reader), but also this will prevent an issue with Pretty Permalinks (when using the %category% tag). Indeed, when you assign multiple categories to a post, only one can show up in the permalink. The thing is that they are ordered alphabetically and – unless you use some plugins – you cannot choose which category will show up in the permalink.

Blog posts should clearly fit into a single category. In some super rare cases, it may be appropriate for a post to fit two categories, but this is definitely the exception rather than the rule.Matt Zack

Which structure?

Make an organizational structure before publishing.

Knowing how to create and assign categories to posts is one thing, defining them is another story! To make things worse, you should create the site’s organizational structure before publishing content on your blog; hence this post! Granted, you can add new categories later, but it would be difficult to reorganize your website’s structure by changing your existing categories2. This is especially true if – like me – your URL reflects the category of the post. You don’t want to change your URL structure!

Ideally, you will know what the main categories of your blog will be before you go about creating content.Brenda Barron

Now, it is not always easy to come up with all the right categories, especially if your blog is evolving. In that case, there are still few guiding principles to follow if you want to keep your categories under control; the control you need to demonstrate over them being the first rule!

Insofar as categories is the most general method of grouping your posts, you’ll want to use these to create broad groupings of content types for your blog. In doing so, you should keep in mind that categories are there to help identify what your blog is really about. Not only should they be keyword-focused, but also align with the main topics covered on the rest of the site.

Podcating involves mulitple disciplines: sound engineer, composer, graphic artist, web-designer, writer, among others.

As touched upon in The Who and the When, there are many components involved in podcasting. How to keep the content of this blog focused given its (initial) purpose: to unfold my podcasting adventure from the conceptualization stages to the final publication of my podcast?

Anyway, maintaining a limited set of categories can help keeping your content focused. Importantly, categories should cover a large expanse of blog posts (and not just one or two)8. Of course, the optimal number varies based on the complexity of your site. If you are able to sustain a consistent number of posts for each category, then there is no reason against having more categories. Nonetheless, according to most, you should create anywhere between five and ten categories under which your content can neatly fit8.

DON’T create a category that you won’t write about again in the future. Use categories to topics you’re planning to expand on later. If you’re only going to write a few posts about a topic and then never revisit it again, consider linking them together with tags instead.KeriLynn Engel

For the sake of structure and usability, you may work your way down with subcategories (aka child categories) as your site grows. Indeed, they can further refine the main category topic by listing specific topics related to the main (parent) category. Moreover, parent and child categories make hierarchical arrangement of your posts possible, which in turn can make it easy for your users to find the content they are most interested in. WordPress allows up to three levels of categories; yet, when it comes to categories, it is quality before quantity.

One layer of subcategories is probably all the farther you would want to take this particular taxonomy though. It is at this point that generalities need to begin giving way to specifics. Tags are the perfect kind of taxonomy for this.Nathan B. Weller


There are few considerations worth mentioning here. While using subcategories can help visitors to navigate easily, it will probably take too long to bring meaning to the subcategories SEO-wise if you are not publishing frequently enough. Indeed, it’s better to have less categories/subcategories that have more content available than have a subcategory with only one post or two that’s dedicated to it.

In regards to WordPress handling of subcategories, they show up on your blog’s page just like Categories, except they will typically be nested under their Parent Categories5. Similarly, if you are using the %category% tag in your pretty permalink structure, WordPress will automatically resolve your URLs like this (if you only assign the subcategory without its parent; otherwise it will only use the parent category):


While having your URL reflecting your site structure can be beneficial, there is a downside to this approach: you cannot modify it down the road (because it will affect your URL structure). If you do so, not only will you have to edit your older posts, but also to redirect your modified posts to their new URLs. This is not an impossible task (especially if handled by some plugins), but the ‘cost’ of redirecting all those URLs outweighs the benefits of changing the structure3.

At the end of the day…

Taking the time to use categories and tags correctly can boost your SEO, raise the average time-on-page of your visitors, and provide an overall better experience for your readers. The categories and tags you create become the skeleton of your website, clueing in both readers and search engines to its structure and content. And because they’re so integral to your website, they’re difficult to change later on without losing backlinks, search engines rankings, or littering your website with 404 errors.KeriLynn Engel

Certainly, it is essential to use categories, and more importantly to use them properly. They not only manage the entire structure of the site but also enhance the usability and accessibility. In keeping with this idea, you should provide the full list of categories your readers can quickly reference. The goal is always to make your site as user friendly as possible. The Categories widget (see sidebar) allows you to do just that: to make them easily accessible.

Links to your Categories are, by default, shown in two different places on your blog’s home page if you are using the WordPress Twenty Seventeen theme. First, WordPress lists these Categories as links in your sidebar. Second, WordPress shows all the Categories to which a given post belongs under that post. When someone viewing your blog clicks on one of these Category links, an archive page with all the posts belonging to that Category will be displayed.

As I said earlier, ideally you should define your categories during your blog planning process. On the other hand, it is not always easy to do. Besides, your blog may grow and/or evolve in an unexpected way. Going back to my own scenario, at the time of this writing, I have three categories: News, Podcasting and Website, but there are still few to come…

Coming next: WordPress tags

1 These default taxonomies can be removed or changed and you can even add more if you like, but I will not cover this here. ^
2 KeriLynn Engel (2014) Best practices for using Categories and Tags in WordPress. Elegant Themes. ^
3 Joost de Valk (2019) Using category and tag pages for SEO. Yoast. ^
4 Tag, here, refers to the structure tags used by WordPress permalinks, and not to the aforementioned taxonomy. Beware that tags can also be the formatting tool used in HTML. Admittedly, the fact that the world “tag” has many definitions can be confusing. However, each kind of tag used a specific syntax. For instance, the structure tags are wrapped between percent signs (e.g. %category%), whereas the HTML tags are contained with a less than and greater than angle brackets (e.g. <strong>). ^
5 See Posts Categories Screen. ^
6 Beware that by default, the description is shown to viewers when they hover over the category’s link (e.g. in the Categories Widget when using the list view). This is great for very short descriptions, but can look congested with longer ones. To avoid this issue, you could disable this feature with some lines of code in your functions.php file or simply opt for the dropdown view (instead of the list view). ^
7 By default, categories can only be added to posts; not to pages! Indeed, unlike posts, pages are hierarchical by nature (see Creating the structure of my website – from pages to menu); they don’t need to be organized using categories (and tags). Yet, even though pages cannot be associated with categories (by default), there are workarounds (e.g. plugins or code) allowing you to create and assign categories to pages. ^
8 Brenda Barron (2018) WordPress Categories and Tags: what’s the difference and how to use them. WPmudev. ^

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