Understanding categories and tags in WordPress

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WordPress provides two useful ways of allowing you make content easy for your visitors to find. These are Categories and Tags.

Which should I use?

Using both can help make your site easier to navigate. But before we go any further you must remember:

Never use a category or a tag only once! Why? Well, when you use either a category or tag just once, WordPress will display that one post that has been tagged twice. Duplicate content is a definite no no and can harm your sites Search engine placement.

Tags

Let’s say you created a post called: The Answer is 42 and you created a tag for this post called hitchhiker. That post will be displayed on the following URLs.

http://www.yourdomain.com/the-answer-is-42  and http://www.yourdomain.com/tag/hitchhiker.

What’s wrong with this? Well if the tag hitchhiker is used only once, then your post will be displayed in full on http://www.yourdomain.com/tag/hitchhiker and http://www.yourdomain.com/the-answer-is-42 thus the same post is displayed twice. Google and other search engines will see this as duplicate content.

If you write a second article called: So long and thanks for all the fish and tag this post also with the tag hitchhiker. You will now have a post at the URL http://www.yourdomain.com/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish but this time instead of the content being displayed on http://www.yourdomain.com/tag/hitchhiker there will be a short excerpt from the post with a link to the full post at http://www.yourdomain.com/so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish.

Why does this happen, it’s just the way the WordPress works. Now whilst it is possible to make a fix for this, you really need to stop and think how useful a tag page would be with just one result? Not useful at all.

To summarise how you should use tags?

  • Always make sure a tag is used more than once
  • Make sure the tags you use are useful and will group together similar posts.
  • Use around 4-7 tags per post (if you are using 10 or more, you are using too many!)

Categories

The same rule with regard to making sure a tag is used more than once, always use a category in at least two posts.

Categories are a way of grouping your posts together by topic.

If we take the posts above, these are posts relating to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Before we create a category we need to decide, what other articles will go in this category. If our website is all about different genres of books, we might decide to call the Category Science Fiction Novel. The next post we right might be about a Dictionary, in which we would create a new category called Reference Books. Don’t add the category at this point though, you might want to wait until you add another post about a Thesaurus which could also go under the category Reference.

To summarise how you should use categories?

  • Always make sure a category is used more than once
  • Make sure the categories you use group the posts together well.
  • Use only 1 category per post.

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