The Ultimate Guide to Using Categories in WordPress (2024 Edition)

If you‘re new to blogging with WordPress, you may be wondering what categories are and how to use them effectively on your blog. Categories are a powerful built-in feature that allows you to organize your blog posts by topic. When used strategically, categories make it easy for readers to navigate your blog and find the content most relevant to them. They also help search engines understand your site structure.

In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive into everything you need to know about WordPress categories in 2024 and beyond. You‘ll learn what categories are, why they matter, and step-by-step instructions for setting up your own category structure. We‘ll also cover best practices and common pitfalls to avoid.

By the end, you‘ll have a strong grasp of this core WordPress concept and be able to use categories to maximize your blog‘s potential. Let‘s get started!

What Are WordPress Categories?

In WordPress, categories and tags are the two default ways to group and classify your blog posts. Categories are meant for broad groupings of topics, while tags are more specific keywords that describe your post in more detail.

Here are a few key characteristics of categories:

  • Categories are hierarchical. This means you can create sub-categories that sit below a main "parent" category.

  • Posts can be assigned to multiple categories, but should fit mostly into one main category.

  • Every post must be assigned to at least one category. If you don‘t set one, WordPress will default to assigning posts to the "Uncategorized" category.

  • Categories are meant to encompass the main topics you repeatedly blog about.

Think of categories like the table of contents for your blog. They provide a high-level overview of what your blog is about and the different topics you cover. Categories make it easy for readers to zero in on their area of interest.

Categories vs. Tags

If categories are your blog‘s table of contents, tags are more like your blog‘s index. Tags are non-hierarchical keywords that describe the specifics of each post. While categories cover the general topics, tags drill down to the granular details.

For example, let‘s say you have a blog about running. Your categories might be:

  • Training
  • Gear Reviews
  • Nutrition
  • Races & Events

Then for an individual post, you might use tags like "5K training plans", "running shoes", "carb loading", "NYC Marathon", etc. These tags would sit across the different category pages.

The key difference is that categories are meant to be consistent navigation elements, while tags are more freeform and will evolve over time as you create new content. We‘ll get more into category and tag best practices later on.

Why Categories Are Important for Your WordPress Blog

Now that you understand what categories are, let‘s look at a few reasons why they are so important for your WordPress blog:

1. Improve User Experience & Navigation

The most obvious benefit of categories is that they create a better experience for readers. Categories act as a navigational tool that allow readers to quickly access a list of all your posts on a certain topic.

For example, if a reader lands on your site and is interested in your posts about training, they can simply click the "Training" category link to see those posts grouped together. Without categories, that reader would have to sift through your archives chronologically to find relevant posts.

2. Boost SEO & Organic Traffic

Categories also carry SEO benefits. When you assign a post to a category, that category automatically becomes part of the page‘s URL (e.g.

Search engines use these URLs to understand the structure of your site and the topical relevance of each post. A well-organized category structure sends positive signals to Google and can help your content rank higher for related keywords.

Category pages themselves can also rank in search engines for relevant queries. A strategically-optimized category page has the potential to bring in a significant amount of organic traffic to your blog.

3. Help You Plan & Create Content

Finally, categories are a useful tool for you as a blogger. Your category structure serves as a high-level editorial calendar and ensures you are creating content across the main topics of your blog.

If one of your categories is looking a little thin, that‘s a signal that you may want to prioritize that topic in your upcoming posts.

Seeing all your posts laid out by category can also spark new content ideas and help you identify opportunities to cross-link between posts.

How to Create Categories in WordPress

Convinced that categories are important? Great! Now let‘s walk through exactly how to create categories in WordPress.

Method 1: Create Categories from the Posts Page

The quickest way to create a new category is directly from the Posts page in your WordPress dashboard. Simply:

  1. Go to Posts > Categories

  2. Under "Add New Category", enter a name for your category

  3. Choose a parent category if applicable (to make it a sub-category)

  4. Click "Add New Category"

Your new category will now appear in the list on the right.

Method 2: Create Categories While Writing a Post

You can also create categories on the fly while writing a post. In the right-hand sidebar of the post editor, you‘ll see a Categories box.

To add a new category here, simply:

  1. Click "Add New Category"

  2. Type in the category name

  3. Click the "+Add" button

Once you publish or update the post, your new category will be live.

Additional Category Settings

When you create a category, pay attention to these additional settings:

  • Slug: The slug is the URL-friendly version of the category name. It‘s a good idea to make it short and descriptive. You can edit the slug by clicking the "Edit" button next to the category in your list.

  • Parent: You can choose an existing category as the "parent" to make your new category a child (sub-category) underneath it. Child categories are an optional way to create a hierarchy.

  • Description: If desired, you can add a short description to your category. Some WordPress themes display this description at the top of category archive pages. Even if your theme doesn‘t show it, the description can provide additional context for search engines.

After creating your category, be sure to click "Update" to save your changes.

Category Best Practices & Tips

With the technical how-to out of the way, let‘s look at some best practices to keep in mind when planning your blog‘s category structure. These tips will set you up for success!

1. Choose 5-10 Main Categories

There‘s no hard and fast rule for how many categories to create, but a good guideline is to have 5-10 main top-level categories. This provides a focused and scannable list for your readers without being overwhelming.

Remember, you can always use sub-categories or tags to get more specific. The main categories serve as the high-level groupings for your blog.

2. Be Descriptive & Relevant

When naming your categories, choose labels that are descriptive and clearly convey what posts will be about. Avoid cryptic one-word labels or clever names that don‘t mean anything to new readers.

Your category names should make it easy for readers to predict what type of content they‘ll find when they click through. "Baking Tips" is a much clearer label than "Flour Power".

3. Find the Right Level of Specificity

Aim to have categories that are broad enough to encompass multiple posts, but specific enough to be useful. You want a healthy balance.

For example, "Desserts" is likely too broad of a category for a baking blog. But "Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes" is probably too narrow. "Cookies" would be a good middle ground category that is both useful and allows room for plenty of individual posts over time.

4. Use Sub-Categories Sparingly

Sub-categories can be useful for blogs that cover very deep and complex topics, but be cautious about going overboard.

Having too many nested sub-categories can get confusing for readers and make your blog look cluttered. A simpler top-level structure is usually preferable. Try to avoid going more than 2-3 levels deep with your categories.

5. Don‘t Delete Categories with Existing Posts

Be very careful about deleting categories once your blog is established. If you delete a category that has existing posts assigned to it, those posts will be re-assigned to the default "Uncategorized" category.

This can create confusion for readers and broken links from other sites. If you need to delete a category, be sure to first re-assign all linked posts to a new, relevant category.

Examples of Strong Blog Category Structures

Need some inspiration for your own blog‘s categories? Here are a few examples of blogs with clear, logical category structures:

Example 1: Cooking Blog

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Appetizers & Sides
  • Desserts
  • Drinks
  • Special Diets (gluten-free, vegan, etc.)

This structure covers all the major food-related topics one would expect from a recipe blog. The "Special Diets" category is a smart addition to highlight the blog‘s range of offerings.

Example 2: Personal Finance Blog

  • Budgeting
  • Saving
  • Investing
  • Retirement Planning
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Real Estate

These categories comprehensively cover the most important aspects of money management. The separation of Investing and Retirement Planning allows for more specific targeting of different audiences.

Example 3: Travel Blog

  • Destinations
  • Trip Planning
  • Packing
  • Flights & Transportation
  • Hotels & Accommodations
  • Travel Gear
  • Travel Inspiration

With categories for different stages of the travel process – from daydreaming to planning to taking the actual trip – this blog can easily target readers at all points of the journey. The "Travel Inspiration" category is a smart way to capitalize on aspirational readers.

Wrapping Up

We‘ve covered a lot of ground in this guide to WordPress categories! You should now have a solid understanding of what categories are, why they are important, and how to use them strategically.

To recap, categories are a default way to organize your WordPress blog posts by topic. When planned and implemented well, categories make your blog easier to navigate and more appealing to search engines. Be thoughtful about creating categories that are clear, relevant, and not too broad or narrow.

At the end of the day, categories are all about creating a great experience for your blog‘s readers. Invest the time to set them up and they will pay dividends for years to come!

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