WordPress categories help to make finding information about similar topics on your site easier for visitors. Categories also help to organize your content and allow search engines to better index your WordPress site.
Learn about configuring & using WordPress categories in this step-by-step tutorial.
Using WordPress Post Categories
Step 1: Configuring Permalinks
Default WordPress post web addresses aren’t really 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 SEO-friendly URLs, so instead of having a post link that looks like this:
The same post URL can look like this:
If you have not yet configured your permalinks, then we recommend doing so now before configuring your post categories.
If you need help with permalinks, refer to this tutorial: Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
Step 2: Make A List Of 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 looking for, but can also help to significantly boost your site’s optimization for improved SEO.
We recommend, therefore, first planning what kind of broad “topics” you will write about and publish on your site. These can be topics related to your specific niche, your products or services, and even your industry.
We have written a detailed tutorial about planning a website here: A Practical Guide To Web Site Planning For Business Owners
When creating your list of topics, remember to include areas of your business that you believe your visitors, prospects, and clients should 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 come back again to learn from and/or refer to others.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to start a website 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 Locations
- Commitment Ceremonies
Step 3: Select Relevant Category Headings
Dominating an entire market (i.e. “Weddings”, “Travel”, “Sports”, etc…) is extremely hard, especially if you’re just getting started. It’s better to focus on establishing your authority in a smaller niche, or a subniche 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 deciding on 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 monthly searches for each of the sample keywords …
(Use keyword research to help plan your categories)
When planning your category titles, it’s important to take your time and think carefully about all the elements you can control (like the keywords that will be used throughout your site), and how you are going to use these elements to try and gain a competitive advantage. If you set a strategic objective that is too big (i.e. dominating the entire “Wedding” market), you will only end up feeling disappointed. If, on the other hand, you focus on a very narrow niche or sub-niche, you could experience little to no activity on your site and hence no significant opportunities to increase your market share online.
For tutorials on strategic online business planning like keyword research, identifying audience demographics, etc., see this tutorial: How To Plan Your Business Website: A Money-Saving Guide For Business Owners
After mapping out your top-level topics and figuring out what your main keywords are, the next step is to convert these into categories and add them to your WordPress website or blog.
Step 4: Set Up Post Categories
Saving posts under carefully planned categories that relate to the main topics of your site helps to keep your content organized and easy to find, provides your visitors with a better user experience, and helps to optimize your site content for search engines.
(WordPress allows you to easily organize your posts using categories)
To access your WordPress Post Categories area, in your Dashboard menu section, click on Posts > Categories …
(Posts – Categories)
This opens the ‘Categories’ panel …
(WordPress Post Categories Section)
This screen lets you add, edit, and remove categories, including inserting category descriptions and other information that can help to optimize your site for search engines.
How To Add WordPress Post Categories
(Post Categories screen – Add New Category area)
To create a new post category, simply fill in the fields in the ‘Add New Category’ section as per the example below:
(Categories screen – Add New Category fields)
- Name – Enter a short category name here, preferably one that uses 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 then display in all category-related sections of your site.
- Slug – The “slug” refers to the words that display in the URL of all posts published under a category. Your 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 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 website.
- Description – Write a brief category description 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 the ‘Add New Category’ button when done to add your new category …
(New post category added)
Repeat this process to continue creating new categories …
(List of categories)
You can also create “nested’ or hierarchical categories for your posts …
(Creating a hierarchical list of categories)
To create a nested category, add a “child” category and then select a “parent” category from the ‘Parent’ dropdown menu …
(Creating hierarchical categories)
You can also add new categories when creating or editing posts …
(Post Categories feature – Add New Category)
To create a new category while creating or editing a post:
- Click on +Add New Category,
- Type a new category name (and choose an optional ‘parent’ category),
- Click the ‘Add New Category’ button …
(Add New Category)
Your new category will become instantly available …
(New post category added)
Learn how to create and edit a WordPress Post here:
Deleting Categories In WordPress
Deleting a category does not delete posts assigned to that category. Instead, any posts that were assigned to the deleted category will be reassigned to the WordPress default category (see further below).
You can delete categories individually, or in bulk.
Deleting Categories Individually
To remove a single category, place your mouse over the category and click Delete …
(How to delete categories individually)
A warning message will appear in your browser asking you to confirm the deletion. Click OK to go ahead, or Cancel to abort …
(Click ‘OK’ to delete the category)
Deleting Multiple Categories
Let’s say that you import product data into your WordPress site containing a large number of categories (e.g. product manufacturers), and you want to consolidate posts to a fewer number of categories. If there are 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, refer to this tutorial: Editing And Deleting Posts
To delete multiple WordPress categories, click on the main check box next to the ‘Name’ column title. This will select all category items on the page.
Next, go through the table and deselect any categories that you DO NOT want to delete. You can select/deselect categories by toggling on the checkbox next to the item.
After selecting all the categories to be deleted, choose the ‘Delete’ option from the ‘Bulk Actions’ dropdown menu …
(Select the ‘Delete’ option from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop down menu)
Next, click Apply …
(Bulk delete categories)
The selected categories will be removed …
How To Edit Post Categories
To edit a post category, do the following:
In your ‘Categories’ section, find the item to be edited, then place your mouse over the category name, and click Edit …
(Edit – Category)
This brings up the ‘Edit Category’ screen. Edit the category fields, and click Update to save your new details …
(‘Edit Category’ section)
You can also edit a category using the Quick Edit option. Hover over the category title you want to edit and click the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
Edit your details and click on the ‘Update Category’ button to save your changes …
(Category table menu – Quick Edit screen)
Important: Changing the category slug changes the URL of posts assigned for that category. This can lead to “page not found” errors when visitors click on links pointing to posts that have already been indexed by search engines.
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.
WordPress Post Categories – Useful Tip
In WordPress, every post must be assigned to a category. If you do not assign a post to a category, WordPress will automatically assign your post to “Uncategorized” …
(’Uncategorized’ WordPress post category)
The default category cannot be deleted.
Having posts attributed 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 unassigned posts as “uncategorized”, let’s make the category a little more relevant to your readers and optimized for search engines too.
Hover over the “Uncategorized” entry and click on the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
(Category: Uncategorized – Quick Edit)
Change both the Category Name and Category Slug to a keyword or keyword phrase that will be 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” in order to give your site an extra SEO boost …
(Change ‘Uncategorized’ category to something more meaningful to your users 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 SEO-friendly URLs, with the Permalinks set to display posts as “domain/category/post title”. If you need help setting up search engine-friendly URLs, see this tutorial: Changing WordPress Permalinks
WordPress Categories – Additional Information
Let’s take a look at some of the additional features of categories:
In WordPress, posts must be filed under one or more categories. WordPress lets you assign multiple categories to a post …
(Posts can be published under multiple categories)
If you use a plugin like Yoast SEO, you can specify a primary category …
(With multiple categories, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to assign a primary category)
Displaying WordPress Categories
Posts can be grouped together into categories, making it easier for your visitors to find topic-related content.
You can display categories in your posts …
(Categories display on your posts)
Clicking on the category links opens an archive page containing other category-related posts (see below).
As well as displaying categories on posts, WordPress can also show categories in the sidebar …
(Display a category menu on your WordPress sidebar)
Managing your categories is important. Depending on the number of categories and posts published on your site, you can end up with a very long list of categories …
If you plan to use many categories on your site, you can save space on your sidebar by selecting the dropdown menu option in your ‘Categories’ widget settings …
(Use a drop-down category menu)
To learn more about adding and configuring sidebar widgets, refer to this step-by-step tutorial: Adding And Configuring WordPress Widgets In Your Sidebar Section
When visitors select a category from the menu …
(Select a category from the drop down menu)
… An archive page displays the posts listed under that category …
(Posts can display in category archive pages)
WordPress Categories – Useful Tips
To view Category Archive pages in your WordPress dashboard, go to Post > Categories and select the category to display. Hover over the item and click the ‘View’ link …
Let’s take a look at some other useful features of categories worth knowing about.
Post Categories – Sorting Features
You can sort items alphabetically (or in reverse alphabetical order) by hovering near the column title and clicking on the black triangle icon …
(Sort categories by 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 selected (i.e. Name, Slug, etc.) …
(Sorting categories in the Categories table)
Categories – Searching Features
This feature is useful if you have 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 loads of categories, you can split these up into “Category Pages” that you can navigate through using pagination buttons …
(Table of Categories – Category Pages)
You can select how many categories per page, by clicking on the ‘Screen Options’ tab in the top right-hand side of your screen …
Enter the number of categories per page to show in the Categories > Pagination > Number of items per page: field. If you want, you can also hide some or all of the columns (e.g. ‘Description’, ’Slug’, ‘Count’). Click Apply to update your changes when done …
(Screen Options Tab – Categories options)
Post Categories – Grouping Features
In the Category Table, the Count column shows how many posts are assigned to each category. To see these posts, click on an item in the ‘Count’ column …
(Categories screen – Category posts)
A list of posts assigned to the selected category will display in the Table of Posts…
(Grouping posts by category)
WordPress Categories – Tools
You can convert WordPress Categories into WordPress Tags using the category to tag converter link found below your list of Categories …
(Category to Tag converter)
This will take you to the Tools > Import section …
(Categories and Tags Converter tool)
To learn more about Tags, go here: How To Set Up Tags In WordPress
WordPress Categories – Plugins
WordPress has a number of great plugins that can help manage and enhance your categories.
For example, there are plugins that allow you to add images to your categories, exclude categories from displaying in certain sections of your site, rearrange the way categories appear in menus, tables, and lists, even restrict access to content published under certain categories (e.g. when used in membership sites) …
(Use membership plugins to protect content in specific categories)
Certain plugins will add new fields to your Table of Categories …
(Use plugins to enhance the functionality of your Table of Categories)
Step 5 – Use Post Categories Effectively
Optimizing content, categories, and search engine-friendly URLs helps to increase your site’s navigation and relevance in search engines, which helps drive more visitors to your site.
To further improve your results, here are some tips for getting the most benefit from using categories.
Choose Relevant Keywords For Your Post Titles
SEO experts recommend including the main keyword of your post in the the title of your post, preferably near the beginning. This helps to optimize your post for search engines, and improves click-through rates.
So, for example, a blog post on Outdoors Adventure Travel targeting the “Winter Camping” niche could be titled “Winter Camping Tips – 5 Survival Accessories Everyone Needs For A Safe Winter Camping Adventure“.
Publish Your WordPress Posts Under Relevant Categories
Each time you add a new article or post to your website, remember to tick a relevant category box before publishing the post …
(Select a category to file your post under)
Use A WordPress SEO Plugin
One additional step you can take to maximize the SEO benefit of using categories is to use an SEO plugin for WordPress …
(Using a plugin like Yoast SEO helps optimize your categories)
The plugin also allows you to optimize categories individually …
(Optimize your categories with SEO plugins)
Hopefully, this tutorial has helped you to better understand the role and importance of setting up and managing WordPress post categories correctly. 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 content.
"These tutorials have so much information and are easy to understand. If you use WordPress or plan to in the future these will help you with everything you need to know." - Valisa (Mesa, Arizona)