Categories help you organize your website.
WordPress categories are a way to tell your readers the major topics of the articles you are publishing on your website. Categories refer only to posts not to pages. A new installation of WordPress has one category already established with the name Uncategorized. Every WordPress post must be assigned to at least one category. In the Dashboard Menu under Settings/Writing you have the ability to set the default category for posts – the category into which your new article will be placed if you forget to specify a category. Under the Dashboard Menu item Posts/Categories you have the ability to add, delete and edit categories. Categories may be displayed in a list within a widget in a sidebar or they may be included in the navigation section of your website. When a website visitor clicks on a category title they are taken to a category archive page – a page that lists the title of every post published within that category.
Categories should be descriptive and meaningful.
Post categories are intended to help you organize your posts in a way that allows your readers to see what your website is all about. When a reader looks through your list of post categories it should be similar to looking at a list of the titles of the chapters of a book. Each category title should be descriptive, meaningful and reflect the type of information found in the articles in the category.
How many categories should your website have? As with many website questions, that depends upon how varied you intend to make your posts. If you find you have an inordinate number of post categories established it may hint that you are being too granular or specific in your category titles. You may want to consider either combining some categories or moving to a hierarchical system.
Categories are hierarchical.
One characteristic of post categories is that they are hierarchical. That means that you can have sub-categories of categories. If you have a category called ‘wagons’ you could then have sub-categories of ‘red wagons,’ blue wagons,’ ‘green wagons,’ etc. if you felt that you would have enough content to populate the subcategories.
Can I put my post into more than one category? There are no restrictions on the number of categories into which a post is placed. However, placing posts into multiple categories raises the question about the content of the post or the categories that you have established. Should the post be more directed in its content so that it more logically fits into a single category? Should your categories be less general so that your posts don’t logically fit into multiple categories? What benefit do you provide your readers if they select one of your post categories to see the articles published in that area and then select a different category and find all of the same article titles?
How can you organize your website pages in a similar manner?
Unlike posts, pages can be hierarchical – you can have sub-pages related to a parent page. If you have a business website you may have a general Services page and then sub-pages describing in detail each specific service that you provide. This hierarchical arrangement of content could then be presented in main menu and sub-menu items within your website navigation presentation. Using the website navigation function you can also organize your pages in main and sub-menu items without there being a parent-child relationship between the pages if you prefer that method.
Tags help you organize the information within your posts.
If we consider post categories to be similar to the chapter titles found in the front of a book we can similarly consider post tags to be equivalent to the index of terms in the back of a book. Tags are ways to provide a more granular or specific label on content within a specific post. Tags are not hierarchical – there is no provision for sub-tags. Tags are not keywords for the use of search engines, they are for the use of your website readers.
How are tags used?
A post tag is used to label a specific bit of information mentioned within a post. For instance, if your article is about vacation spots and you mention a particular resort you could generate a tag using that resort’s name – especially if you have mentioned that particular resort in a previous post or expect to in the future. The intent of the tag is to provide your reader with a way to look at other posts that you have published which refer to the same resort.
Tags are a way to direct your reader to another post you have published on your website that contains information related to a specific bit of information you have mentioned in the current post – information that you consider important but that you have not included in posts frequently enough to justify it’s own category.
The WordPress theme that you have activated on your website will determine if or how tags may be presented to your website readers. Some themes present a list of post tags somewhere within the post content display. WordPress comes with a standard widget called Tag Cloud that you can place in a sidebar or other widgetized area on your website. The tag cloud is a graphical representation of the tags used most often on your website with the size of the font relating to the number of times that the specific tag has been used.
How many tags can I have for a post?
Again, that depends. Remember that tags are intended to refer to specific bits of information within the related post. If your post has lots of specific information it could deserve several tags.
How many tags can I have for the website?
Yet again, that depends. The value of tags to your readers is the ability to find additional information on your site about the specific tag. Clicking on a displayed tag takes the reader to an archive page for that tag – a page with a list of all of the posts published on your website that possess the same tag. If you only use the tag for one post what benefit does it provide? Clicking on a tag and finding all of the posts published on the website is also of of little benefit to the reader.
Even though a particular tag relates to a specific bit of information within a post if there is not much likelihood that you will ever use that tag in the future is there a need to use it with this post? On the opposite side of the equation, do not use the same tag on every post – it is of no use to your readers. Remember that the post tags are for the benefit of your readers. Clicking on a post title found on a tag archive page and not finding any additional information about the specific tag will probably just alienate the reader.
Your WordPress dashboard has a menu item called Tags found under the Posts section. If you select that menu item you will see a display of every tag that you have used on your website. The Count column shows how many times the individual tags have been used. If the majority of the tags on your website show only a single use you may want to rethink your use of tags. If a few tags are used on several posts you may want to think about changing that tag into a post category since you seem to be writing about that topic repeatedly.