Categories vs. Tags: What’s the difference?

Are you not sure when to use a category–and when to use a tag? Does the difference between the two seem small and insignificant? Learn how to use categories and tags well in your WordPress posts to boost SEO and allow your blog’s readers find what they’re looking for–fast!

Learning outcomes

Learners will be able to…

  1. Describe the difference between categories and tags
  2. Use theme blocks and templates related to categories and tags
  3. Create categories and tags effectively for organization and SEO purposes

Comprehension questions

  1. Why are categories and tags important for search engines and users to find what they are looking for?
  2. How are categories and tags similar?
  3. Which are hierarchical–categories or tags?


Categories versus tags. What’s the difference? If you’re new to blogging, you may have noticed in a post settings two options, categories and tags. When you start to experiment with them at first, they can seem very similar. Their dashboards look almost identical. Categories and Tags are two forms of WordPress taxonomies. Both are used to organize and classify content on your website. They help users and search engines understand and navigate through your content easily. They also play a role in SEO by providing search engines with better context about the contents focus, and structure. By the end of this tutorial, you will be able to describe the difference between categories and tags and create categories and tags effectively for organization and SEO purposes. Let’s get started.

First, what’s the difference between categories and tags? The short answer is that categories separate a blog topic so that readers can discover what interests the most and skip what doesn’t. Meanwhile, tags join a blogs topics allowing readers to find related content. Think of a big library. The library contains many different types of books. How do we find a book that we want? Just like the library has different sections for different topics such as comics, novels, poetry, and so on. WordPress categories are like the sections. They help to broadly group your posts into major topics such as fiction or nonfiction. This allows the people looking for nonfiction to find the right books. For example, on a cooking blog, you can have categories like appetizers, main courses, desserts, and drinks. Someone who is hungry for dessert doesn’t necessarily want to read through every single appetizer and main course on that blog. So these kinds of categories help them to quickly locate the content they want, and avoid what they don’t.

Now just knowing the section to look in isn’t always enough. What if, for example, you wanted to read all the books in the library that mentioned for example, dinosaurs, the books about dinosaurs could be in different sections, fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, etc. That’s what tags and WordPress do. They’re like detailed labels allowing people to find similar content. They aren’t meant for grouping your posts, but they help describe specific details of your posts using keywords. For example, and a recipe post categorized under desserts. You would use tags like chocolate quick and easy or gluten free to help users find the recipe more easily. Someone who needs to cook without sugar, for example, could use a tag to be able to quickly hop from one sugar free recipe to another.

Another difference between the two is that categories are hierarchical, allowing you to create subcategories to further organize your content into more specific sections. For example, this travel blog separates its content by continent, but you could also add subcategories such as by country or by region, which are within each continent and thus suitable for a subcategory. Categories are best suited for broad topics, and are generally required when creating a post in WordPress. You can rename your default category, the category that is already selected for each new blog post by going to posts category categories hovering your mouse over the word Uncategorized. Selecting Edit, then giving it a new name, slug, which is the website address of your category and optionally, a description. Now existing posts that use the uncategorized category before and future posts I write automatically have Europe set as the default category rather than Uncategorized. Meanwhile, tags are non hierarchical and can be used across different categories. Tags are optional, though recommended, and can be added to your posts to provide more specific or granular information for better content. Discoverability tags help identify content topics that may not be covered by categories and allow for cross referencing related content. For example, this blog post might have tags such as waterfall and mountains and hikes, something not covered by the categories regions.

By design WordPress creates pages to display only the selected tag or the selected category like you see here. That makes it easy for people to find what they’re looking for. Before you begin writing your blog, what are some quick do’s and don’ts for writing categories and tags? One, primarily use one category per post. Limit the number of categories that you use with each post and make sure each post is assigned to only one category whenever possible. This prevents content from being spread across multiple categories and reduces the chances of search engine confusion. Next, use subcategories wisely. When needed, you can create subcategories to further organize and separate content within main categories. This can help create a structured hierarchical organization that is easier for both users and search engines to understand. With tags, be selective. Use tags to provide specific details or keywords related to your content. Don’t overuse tags or create duplicates, it’s better to have a limited number of well utilized tags, rather than hundreds of rarely used ones. Don’t add tags that aren’t relevant to your content. While it might be tempting to include a popular search term, if that particular post is unrelated, people may get frustrated when they can’t find what they’re looking for, and search engines may rank your website lower. Also, avoid creating empty or relevant categories and tags. Ensure that all your categories and tags serve a purpose and avoid creating them without any actual content. Empty or irrelevant categories and tags can negatively impact your site’s SEO and confuse users. Also, don’t create duplicate categories or tags, ensure that each category and tag is unique and doesn’t have a synonymous counterpart on your site. This prevents redundancy and makes it easier for users to navigate your content.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can better optimize your WordPress websites, categories and tags for SEO and enhance the overall user experience. Don’t forget to regularly audit and clean up your tags and categories. periodically review them for any redundant or outdated terms that you’re no longer using. Consolidate or delete them to keep your site taxonomy clean, efficient and user friendly. To learn additional ways you can creatively display and use categories and tags and block themes. Please visit the tutorials about taking advantage of query loops and exploring category templates with block themes. See you next time.

Workshop Details


Sarah Snow

WordPress educator and/or mad scientist; my professional hobbies include breaking WordPress websites in front of audiences, investigating simple solutions to odd problems collaboratively, and designing lesson plans and courses for Ask me about caring for parrots, training stubborn Shar Peis, cooking super spicy recipes, learning American Sign Language & French, teaching and writing. Changing the narrative one story at a time.