WordPress categories help to make finding information on your site easier for visitors. Categories also help to keep you content organized and allow search engines to better index your WordPress site.
This step-by-step tutorial helps you learn how to set up WordPress categories.
Using WordPress Post Categories
Step 1: Configure Your Permalinks
Out of the box, WordPress URLs aren’t very search engine friendly. In order to make the best use of post categories, you will 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:
You can have the post URL display like this:
If you have not yet configured your permalinks, then do so now before configuring your post categories.
If you need help with configuring permalinks, see this tutorial: Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO
Step 2: List Your Topics
Maintaining your site’s 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 to significantly boost your site’s optimization for improved search engine results.
The first step, therefore, is to plan what kind of broad “topics” you will be writing about. These can be topics related to your specific niche, your business, your industry, etc.
To learn more about website planning, go here: The Website Planning Process Explained - A Useful Primer For Non-Technical Business Owners
When creating your list of topics, include areas of your business that you believe your visitors, prospects, and clients need to be better educated or informed about. This is very important in terms of establishing your web site as an online authority that visitors will want to subscribe to (if you offer a newsletter or ongoing training, tips, etc.) and/or refer to others.
For example, let’s say that you want to start a site 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:
- Marriage Celebrant FAQs
- Marriage Celebrant Services
- Wedding Planning
- Marriage Vows
Step 3: Select Relevant Category Names
Dominating an entire market (i.e. “Weddings”, “Travel”, “Technology”, etc…) is very hard to do, especially when you’re just getting started. you have a better chance of getting somewhere by trying to build your authority in a niche, or a micro niche of your main market.
Take a look at the illustration below …
You can see from the above 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 “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 take into account factors like “market competition.”
For example, the screenshot below shows estimates from Google for the average number of monthly searches for each of the above keywords …
(Google Keyword Planner – Keyword research tool for category planning)
When planning your main topic categories, it’s important to spend time thinking carefully about all the elements you can control (like the main keywords used throughout your site), and how you are going to use these elements to try to a competitive advantage. If you set too big a goal (i.e. dominating the entire “Wedding” market), you will only end up feeling disappointed. If, on the other hand, you focus on a narrow niche or sub-niche, you could experience little to no activity on your site and hence no significant opportunities to grow your market share online.
If you need help with online business areas like effective keyword research, identifying audience demographics, etc., visit this tutorial: A Money-Saving Guide To Web Site Planning For Business Owners
Once you have mapped out your top-level topics and figured out what your main keywords are, the next step is to turn these into WordPress post categories.
Step 4: Set Up WP Post Categories
Saving your WordPress posts under categories that best relate to the main topics of your site helps keep your content organized, provides your visitors with a better user experience, and helps to optimize your web pages for search engines.
(Organize your posts by categories)
To access your WordPress Post Categories section, go to the Dashboard and choose Posts > Categories …
(Posts – Categories)
This opens the ‘Categories’ screen …
This section lets you create, edit, and delete categories, including inserting category descriptions and other information that can optimize your site for search engines.
Adding Categories To WordPress
(Post Categories panel – Add New Category area)
To create a new post category in WordPress, simply fill in the fields in the ‘Add New Category’ area as described below:
(WordPress Post Categories panel – Add New Category area fields)
- Name – Use 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. Your slug can be different from 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 your category name.
- Parent – Ignore this field, unless you plan to create nested hierarchies of categories on your website (explained further below).
- Description – Add a brief description of your category here. Some WordPress themes display this category description, and it can help with search engine optimization. WordPress uses the category description you write here for the category pages “meta” description.
Click Add New Category when done to add your new category …
Repeat this process to keep adding new categories …
(Table of categories)
You can also create “nested’ or hierarchical categories for your posts …
(Creating a hierarchical list of post categories)
To create a nested category, add a “child” category and select a “parent” category from the ‘Parent’ drop-down menu …
(Create nested post categories)
You can also add new categories when creating or editing posts …
(Post Categories box – Add New Category)
To add a new category while creating or editing a post:
- Click on +Add New Category,
- Type in your new category name (and choose a ‘parent’ category if required),
- Click Add New Category …
(WordPress Post Categories feature – Add New Category)
The new category will be added to your list …
(New post category added)
To learn how to create and edit WordPress posts, see the tutorials below:
How To Delete Post Categories
Removing a category does not delete posts assigned to that category. Instead, any posts assigned to deleted categories will be reassigned to the default category (this is covered further below).
You can delete WordPress categories individually, or in bulk.
Deleting Categories Individually
To remove single categories, hover over the category and click the ‘Delete’ link …
A message will appear asking you to confirm the deletion. Click OK to proceed, or Cancel to abort …
(Click ‘OK’ to proceed)
Deleting Multiple WordPress Categories
Let’s say that you import product data into your site containing many different categories (e.g. product manufacturers), and you want to consolidate posts to a fewer number of categories. If you have too many categories to delete individually, this is where the bulk delete feature comes in handy.
Important: Make sure that any posts that will be affected when unwanted 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 Posts In WordPress
To delete multiple categories, click the main check box in the header row. This will select all items .
Next, go through the table and deselect categories that you DO NOT want to delete. Select/deselect categories by toggling on the check box next to the item.
After ticking all of the entries you would like to delete, choose ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop-down menu …
(Choose ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop menu)
Next, click Apply …
(Deleting multiple categories)
The categories you’ve selected will be deleted …
(’Categories deleted’ message)
How To Edit WordPress Categories
To edit a post category, do the following:
Go to your ‘Categories’ panel, find the item that needs editing, then place your mouse over the category name, and click Edit …
(Category table – Edit link)
This brings up the ‘Edit Category’ section. Make changes in the category fields, and click Update to save the details …
(‘Edit Category’ section)
You can also edit a category using the Quick Edit option. Place your mouse over the category title you would like to edit and click the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
(Quick Edit – WordPress post category)
Edit your details and click Update Category to save your changes …
(Category table menu – Quick Edit screen)
Changing the category slug changes the URL of all posts assigned to that category. This can lead to “page not found” errors when visitors click on links pointing to posts published elsewhere.
For this reason, it’s best to invest time into planning your categories before publishing content, and avoid changing the post category slug afterward if at all possible, especially after your posts and pages have been indexed in the search engines.
Post Categories – Special Tip
In WordPress, every post must be assigned to a category. If you do not assign a post to a category, WordPress will attribute your post to a default category called “Uncategorized” …
(Post category – ‘Uncategorized’)
The default category cannot be deleted.
Attributing posts to the ‘Uncategorized’ category 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 posts as “uncategorized”, let’s make the category a little more meaningful to your readers and optimized for search engines too.
Place your mouse 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 generally relevant to the main 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” to give your site an extra SEO boost …
(Change ‘Uncategorized’ category to something more meaningful to your site readers and search engines)
Now, when posts get published using the default WordPress category, the URL will make more sense to visitors and be more effective for SEO …
(Use SEO-friendly URLs)
Note: The site used in the example above has been configured to display SEO-friendly URLs, with the Permalinks set to display posts as “domain/category/post title”. For more details on how to set up SEO-friendly URLs on your site, go here: Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO
WordPress Categories – Additional Information
Let’s take a look at some of the additional features of post categories:
In WordPress, posts must be filed under one or more categories. WordPress lets you assign multiple categories to a post …
(WordPress posts can be published under multiple categories)
Note that using a plugin like Yoast SEO (see further below) lets you specify a primary category …
(With multiple categories, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to assign a primary category)
Displaying WordPress Categories
Posts are grouped together into categories, making it easier for visitors to find related content.
You can display categories in your posts …
(Display categories in your posts)
Clicking on the category links will open an archive page containing other related content (see below).
As well as displaying categories on posts, WordPress can also list categories in the sidebar …
(Display categories on your sidebar)
It’s important to manage your categories. Depending on how many categories and posts are published on your site, you can end up with a long category list …
If you have many categories on your site, you can save space on your sidebar by listing categories using a drop-down menu …
(Categories widget – Using a drop-down menu)
We have written a detailed tutorial about adding and configuring sidebar widgets here: How To Add Widgets To WordPress
When a visitor selects a category from the list …
(Select a category from the dropdown menu)
… An archive page displays the posts in that category …
(Posts can display in category archive pages)
WordPress Categories – Useful Tips
To view Category Archive pages in your WP dashboard, go to Post > Categories and select the category to view. Place your mouse over the item and click the ‘View’ link …
(Category table – View)
Let’s take a look at some other features of post categories .
Categories – Sorting Features
Your Categories Table lets you sort items alphabetically (or in reverse alphabetical order) by clicking on the black triangle icon …
(Sort by category name)
You can also sort categories using the other columns in the Category Table. Your categories will be rearranged according to the column you’ve selected (i.e. Name, Count, etc.) …
(Table of categories – Sorting categories)
WP Categories – Searching Features
This feature is useful if you have a large number of categories. To locate a specific category, type in a keyword into the search field and click on the ‘Search Categories’ button …
Your Categories Table can be divided into “Category Pages” that you can navigate through using pagination buttons …
You can select how many categories to display per category page, by clicking on the ‘Screen Options’ tab on the top right-hand side of your screen …
Edit the number of categories per page you would like to show in the Table of Categories 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’). Click the ‘Apply’ button to save your changes …
(Screen Options Tab – Categories)
Post Categories – Grouping Features
Click on an item in the ‘Count’ column …
(Categories Table – Count column)
All posts assigned to the category will display in your Posts Table…
(Posts grouped by category – Table of Posts)
Post Categories – Tools
Convert WordPress Categories into WordPress Tags using the category to tag converter link found below your Table of Categories …
(Category to Tag converter feature)
This opens the Tools > Import section …
(Categories and Tags Converter feature)
If you need help with Post Tags, go here: How To Add, Edit, And Delete Tags
Post Categories – Plugins
WordPress makes available many great plugins that can help you manage and enhance your categories.
For example, you can use plugins to add images to your categories, exclude categories from displaying in certain sections of your site, rearrange the way categories appear in menus and list, even restrict access to content published under certain categories (e.g. when used in a membership site) …
(Use membership plugins to protect content in specific post categories)
Certain plugins can add new fields to your Table of Categories …
(Expand the functionality of your Categories Table with plugins)
Step 5 – Use 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 helps drive more visitors to your site.
To optimize your site further, here are some tips for getting the most benefit when using categories.
Choose Relevant Keywords For Your Post Titles
In your content strategy, include the main keyword of your post in your title, preferably near the beginning. This helps to optimize your post for search engines, catch your visitor’s attention.
So, for example, an article on Outdoors Adventure Travel targeting the “Winter Camping” niche could be titled “Winter Camping Tips – 7 Survival Tools Everyone Needs For A Safe Winter Camping Adventure“.
Publish Your WordPress Posts Under The Right Category
Every time you add a new article or post to your site, remember to tick a relevant category box before publishing your post …
(WordPress Post Categories box)
Use An SEO Plugin
One additional step you can take to maximize the SEO benefit of using categories is to use an SEO plugin …
(Using a plugin like Yoast SEO helps optimize your categories)
The plugin also allows you to optimize categories individually …
(Improving your category SEO with SEO plugins)
Hopefully, this tutorial has helped you to better understand the role and importance of setting up and managing WordPress categories correctly. Following these simple steps will help keep your website 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.
"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now