WordPress categories can help to make finding information on your site easier for visitors. Publishing posts under categories not only helps to keep your content organized, it also improves both your visitor’s experience and your search engine rankings.
Learn about using WordPress post categories in this step-by-step tutorial.
Using WordPress Post Categories
Step 1: Configure Your Permalinks
Out of the box, WordPress URLs aren’t search engine friendly. In order to make the best use of post categories, you will first need to modify the way WordPress displays your URLs.
Permalinks let you display search engine friendly URLs, so instead of having a post link that looks like this:
The post URL can look like this:
If you have not configured your permalinks yet, then we recommend doing so now before configuring your categories.
For more information about setting up permalinks, go here: Improve Your WordPress SEO With SEO-Friendly URLs
Step 2: List Your Main Topics
Maintaining your content organized is important, as this will not only make it easier for your visitors to find the information they’re searching for, but can also help search engines to better index your content.
We recommend, therefore, planning what kind of broad “topics” you will publish on your website or blog. These can be topics related to your specific niche, your services or products, your industry, etc.
If you need help with planning a website, see this tutorial: How To Plan Your Business Website: A Basic Primer For Non-Technical Business Owners
When creating a list of topics, remember to include areas of your business that your visitors, prospects, and clients need to be better educated or informed about. This is very important in terms of establishing your website as an online authority that visitors will want to come back repeatedly to and/or refer to others.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to start a website or blog to promote your marriage celebrant business. After a little brainstorming, some of the broad topics (i.e. categories) you may expect to see on an authoritative wedding celebrant’s site could include the following:
- Marriage Celebrant FAQs
- Marriage Celebrant Services
- Wedding Tips
- Marriage Vows
- and so on …
Step 3: Select Relevant Category Headings
Dominating an entire market (i.e. “Weddings”, “Travel”, “Pets”, etc…) is extremely difficult, especially when you’re just starting out. you have a better chance of getting somewhere by focusing on establishing your authority in a niche, or micro niche of your market.
Take a look at the illustration below …
You can see in the above hierarchy that “Marriage Celebrant Course” is a subniche (i.e. a subcategory) of the “Marriage Celebrant” niche (a category), which itself is a subcategory of the larger “Weddings” market (another category).
When choosing the keywords you would use as a top-level category to file your posts under, it’s a good idea to consider factors like “market competition.”
For example, the screenshot below shows Google’s estimates for the average number of online searches performed each month for each of the above keywords …
(Keyword research can help you with category planning)
When planning your topic categories, it’s important to spend time thinking carefully about all the elements you have control over (like the keywords that will be used throughout your site), and how to use these elements to gain a competitive advantage. If you set too big a goal (i.e. dominating the “Wedding” market), you will only end up feeling disappointed. If, on the other hand, you focus on a narrow niche or microniche, you could experience little to no activity on your site and hence no significant opportunities to increase your business online.
For tutorials on online business online strategies like keyword research, identifying audience demographics, etc., visit this tutorial: The Web Site Planning Process - A Comprehensive Blueprint For Non-Technical Business Owners
Once you have mapped out your top-level topics and figured out what your main keywords are, the next step is to convert these into post categories.
Step 4: Set Up Categories
Publishing WordPress posts under carefully planned categories helps keep your content organized, provides your visitors with a better user experience, and helps to optimize your web pages for search engines.
(WordPress lets you easily organize posts using categories)
To access your Categories area, in your Dashboard menu, select Posts > Categories …
(Posts Menu – Categories)
This brings you to the ‘Categories’ panel …
This area allows you to add, edit, and delete categories, including inserting descriptions for categories and other information that can help to optimize your site for search engines.
Adding Post Categories
(Categories panel – Add New Category)
To add a new post category to WordPress, complete the fields in the ‘Add New Category’ area as described below:
(Categories panel – Add New Category fields)
- Name – Type a concise category name here, preferably using your main keyword (e.g. if you have a “Travel” related blog, you could have categories like “Travel Tips”, “Travel Destinations”, etc …). Your category names will display in all category-related sections of your site.
- Slug – The “slug” are the words that display in the URL of all posts published under a specific category. The slug can be different than the category name. Note: Keep all words lower case and make sure they only contain letters, number and hyphens (i.e. no spaces between words). If you don’t enter a slug into this field, WordPress will automatically create one for you using a lower case version of the category name.
- Parent – Ignore this field, unless you plan to create nested category hierarchies on your site.
- Description – Add a brief description of your category here. Some WordPress themes display this category description, and it can help with SEO. Your category description will be used for the category pages “meta” description.
Click the ‘Add New Category’ button to add the new category …
(New post category added)
Repeat this process to keep adding new categories …
You can also create “nested’ or hierarchical categories for your posts …
(Create nested post categories)
To create nested categories, add a “child” category and select a “parent” category from the ‘Parent’ drop down menu …
(Adding nested categories to WordPress)
You can also add new categories when creating or editing posts …
(Add New Category)
If you need to add a new category while creating or editing a post:
- Click on +Add New Category,
- Type your new category name (and choose a ‘parent’ category if required),
- Click on the ‘Add New Category’ button …
(WordPress Post Categories feature – Add New Category)
Your new category will become instantly available …
(New post category added)
Learn how to create and edit WordPress posts here:
How To Remove Categories
Removing a category does not delete posts assigned to that category. Instead, any posts assigned to deleted categories will be reassigned to the WordPress default category (this is covered further below).
You can delete WordPress categories individually, or in bulk.
How To Delete Categories Individually
To delete categories individually, hover over the category you would like to delete and a menu will display containing various options. Click the ‘Delete’ link to remove the category from your list …
(How to delete a single category)
A message will appear asking you to confirm the deletion. Click OK to go ahead, or Cancel to stop …
(Click ‘OK’ to proceed)
Deleting WordPress Categories In Bulk
Let’s say that you import product data into your site containing many different categories (e.g. an e-commerce catalog), and you want to consolidate posts to a single category. If you have too many categories to delete individually, this is where the bulk delete feature can be useful.
Important: Make sure that any posts that will be affected when categories are removed have been reassigned to an existing or new category. For more details on how to reassign post categories, go to this tutorial: Editing And Deleting A Post
To delete multiple categories, click the main checkbox in the header row. This will select all category items .
Next, go through the list and untick the box next to any categories that you DO NOT want to delete. Select/deselect categories by toggling on the checkbox next to the item.
After selecting all the categories to be deleted, select ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ pulldown menu …
(Choose ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop down menu)
Click Apply …
(Deleting multiple categories)
The selected categories will be deleted …
(’Categories deleted’ message)
Editing Categories In WordPress
To edit a category, do the following:
In your ‘Categories’ table, find the category item to be edited, then place your mouse over the category name, and click Edit …
(Category table menu – Edit)
This brings up the ‘Edit Category’ section. Make changes in the category fields, and click Update to save your changes …
(‘Edit Category’ screen)
You can also edit information in categories using the Quick Edit option. Hover over the category title you want to edit and click the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
(WordPress post category – Quick Edit link)
Edit your details and click on the ‘Update Category’ button to save your changes …
(Quick Edit screen)
Modifying the category slug will change the URL of posts published under that category. This can lead to “page not found” errors when visitors click on links to posts that have already been indexed by search engines.
For this reason, we strongly recommend investing time into planning your categories before publishing content, and avoid changing the category slug afterward if at all possible, especially after your posts and pages have already been indexed in the search engines.
WordPress Category – Useful Tip
All posts must be assigned to a category in WordPress. If you do not assign a post to a category, WordPress will assign your post to a default category called “Uncategorized” …
(Category – ‘Uncategorized’)
The default category cannot be deleted.
Publishing posts under a category named ‘Uncategorized’ not only creates unattractive URLs, but URLs that are not very effective in terms of helping your site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization)…
(Publishing posts under the ‘uncategorized’ category is not recommended)
Instead of publishing unassigned posts as “uncategorized”, let’s make the category a little more meaningful to your users and optimized for search engines too.
Hover over the “Uncategorized” entry and click on the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
Change both the Category Name and Category Slug to a keyword or keyword phrase that will be relevant to the overall topic of your site. For example, in the example below the site is about travel, so you could change the “Uncategorized” category to “Travel Tips” in order to give your site a little extra SEO boost …
(Change ‘Uncategorized’ category to something more meaningful to your visitors and search engines)
Now, when posts are published under the default WordPress category, the URL will make more sense to visitors and be more effective for SEO …
(SEO improved URLs)
Note: The above site has been configured to display search engine-friendly URLs, with the Permalinks set to display posts as “domain/category/post title”. To learn how to set up search engine-friendly URLs on your site, see this tutorial: Configuring WordPress Permalinks
WordPress Categories – Additional Information
Let’s take a look at some of the additional features of post categories:
Multiple WordPress Categories
In WordPress, posts must be published under one or more categories. This means that you can assign multiple categories to a post …
(Posts can be published under multiple categories)
If you use a plugin like Yoast SEO, you can specify which of your categories is the primary category …
(With multiple post categories, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to assign a primary category)
Posts are grouped together into categories, making it easier for your visitors to find related content.
You can display categories in your posts …
(Categories display on your posts)
Clicking on the category links will open an archive page containing other related content (see below).
You can also display category menus in your sidebar …
(Display a category menu on your WordPress sidebar)
Managing your categories is important. Depending on how many posts and categories are published on your site, you can end up with a really long list of categories …
If you plan to use many categories on your site, you can save space on your sidebar by listing categories using a dropdown menu …
(Categories widget – Using a drop-down menu)
We have written a detailed tutorial about adding and configuring sidebar widgets here: How To Add And Configure Widgets In WordPress
When a visitor selects a category from the drop-down menu …
(Selecting a category from the dropdown menu)
… An archive page displays all posts published for that category …
(Category archive pages list posts published under common categories)
Post Categories – Useful Tips
To view Category Archive pages from your WordPress admin area, go to Post > Categories and locate the category to view. Hover over the item and click the ‘View’ link …
(View – Category)
Let’s take a look at some other features of WordPress categories worth knowing about.
WordPress Categories – Sorting Features
You can sort items alphabetically (or in reverse alphabetical order) by hovering near the column title and clicking on the triangle icon next to the title …
(Sort by category name)
You can also sort categories using the other columns in the Category Table. Your categories will be sorted according to the column you’ve chosen (i.e. Name, Slug, etc.) …
(Table of categories – Sorting categories)
WP Categories – Searching Features
The search feature is useful if your site has many categories. To locate a specific category, type in a keyword into the search field and click on the ‘Search Categories’ button …
If you have many categories, WordPress allows you to divide these up into “Category Pages” that you can navigate through using pagination buttons …
You can set how many categories to display per page, by clicking on the ‘Screen Options’ tab at the top of your screen …
(Screen Options Tab)
Edit the number of categories per page you would like to display in the Category Table in the Categories > Pagination > Number of items per page: field. Note: you can also hide some or all of the columns (e.g. ‘Description’, ’Slug’, ‘Count’), and click Apply to save your changes …
(Screen Options – Categories)
WordPress Categories – Grouping Features
Click on an item in the ‘Count’ column …
(Category screen – Post count)
All posts assigned to that category will display in your Table of Posts…
(Grouping posts by category)
Categories – Tools
To convert WordPress Categories into WordPress Tags, use the category to tag converter tool found below your Categories table …
(Convert categories to tags)
This opens the Tools > Import screen …
(Tools > Import section – Categories and Tags Converter)
To learn more about Post Tags, see this tutorial: Configuring And Using Tags
Post Categories – Plugins
WordPress makes available a number of great plugins to help you manage and enhance your post categories.
For example, you can use plugins to add images to your categories, exclude categories from displaying in certain areas of your site, rearrange the order of your categories, even restrict access to content published under certain categories (e.g. when used in a membership site) …
(Use membership plugins to protect content in categories)
Certain plugins will add new fields to your Categories Table …
(Plugins can be used to expand the functionality of your Table of Categories)
Step 5 – Using WordPress Post Categories Effectively
Optimizing content, categories, and search engine and visitor friendly URLs can help improve your site’s navigation and relevance in search engines, which can help drive more visitors to your site.
Here are some more tips for getting the most benefit from using categories.
Choose Keyword-Relevant Post Titles
SEO experts recommend including the main keyword of your post in the your title, preferably at the beginning. This helps to optimize your post for search engines, and improves click-through rates.
So, for example, an article on Outdoors Adventure Travel focused on the “Winter Camping” niche could be titled “Winter Camping Tips – 7 Survival Accessories Everyone Needs For A Safe Winter Camping Adventure“.
Publish Posts Under Relevant Post Categories
Each time you add a new article or post to your website, remember to tick the most relevant category box before publishing the post …
(Choose a category to save your post under)
Use An SEO Plugin
One additional step you can take to maximize the SEO benefit of using categories is to use a WordPress SEO plugin …
(Using a plugin like Yoast SEO helps to optimize your categories)
You can optimize categories individually …
(Optimize your categories with SEO plugins)
Hopefully, this tutorial has given you a better understanding of the role and importance of setting up and managing your WordPress post categories correctly. These simple steps will help keep your site organized, easier to manage, and make it easier for your site visitors to find exactly what they are looking for and for search engines to index your pages.
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