WordPress categories help make finding information about similar topics 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 search experience and your search engine rankings.
In this step-by-step tutorial, you will learn about using WordPress categories.
Using WordPress Post Categories
Step 1: Configuring Permalinks
By default, WordPress post URLs are not really search engine friendly. In order to make the best use of WordPress categories, you will first need to modify the way WordPress displays your URLs.
Permalinks allow WordPress to display SEO-friendly URLs, so instead of having a web address that looks like this:
The post URL can look like this:
If you have not configured your permalinks yet, then do so first before configuring your post categories.
If you need help with using permalinks, go here: Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO
Step 2: Create A List Of Topics
Keeping your content organized is very important, as this will not only make it easier for your visitors to find the information they’re looking for, but can also help search engines to better index your content.
The first step, therefore, is to plan what kind of broad “topics” you will write about. These can be topics related to your specific niche, your products or services, or your industry.
If you need help planning a website, go here: The Web Site Planning Process Explained - A Money-Saving Guide For Business Owners
When creating a list of topics, 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 “authority” that online 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 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:
- Marriage Celebrant FAQs
- Marriage Celebrant Services
- Wedding Planning
- Commitment Ceremonies
- and so on …
Step 3: Select Relevant Category Titles
Dominating a vertical market (i.e. “Weddings”, “Travel”, “Business”, etc…) is extremely hard, 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 a subset of your 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 larger “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 estimates from Google for the average number of monthly searches for each of these keywords …
(Google Keyword Planner – Keyword research tool for category planning)
When planning your category topics, it’s important to take your time and think carefully about all the elements you can control (like the main keywords used throughout your content), and how you are going to use these elements to try to a competitive advantage. If you set an unrealistic 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 microniche, you could experience little to no activity on your site and hence no significant opportunities to grow your business online.
For tutorials on strategic online business areas like effective keyword research, identifying target audience demographics, etc., refer to this tutorial: A Comprehensive Guide To Web Site Planning 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 post categories.
Step 4: Set Up WordPress Post Categories
Saving your WordPress posts under carefully planned categories that relate to the main topics of your site helps to keep your content organized, provides site visitors with a better user experience, and helps to optimize your content for search engines.
(Organize your posts with categories)
To access your WordPress Categories section, in the Dashboard menu, click on Posts > Categories …
(WP Posts Menu – Categories)
This brings you to the ‘Categories’ screen …
Here you can create, edit, and remove categories, including inserting category descriptions and other information that can help to improve your site’s SEO.
How To Add Categories
(Categories screen – Add New Category)
To add a new category, complete the fields in the ‘Add New Category’ section as per the example shown below:
(WordPress Post Categories screen – 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 website.
- 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 your 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 automatically using a lower case version of the category name.
- Parent – Ignore this field, unless you plan to create nested hierarchies of categories on your website.
- Description – Write a brief category description here. Some WordPress themes display this category description, and it can help with SEO. WordPress uses the category description you write here for your category pages “meta” description.
Click Add New Category when done to add your new category …
(New post category added)
Repeat this process to keep creating new categories …
(List of categories)
You can also create “nested’ or hierarchical categories for your posts …
(Create a hierarchical list of post categories)
To create a nested category, add a “child” category and then select a “parent” category from the ‘Parent’ pulldown menu …
(Add hierarchical post categories to WordPress)
You can also add a new category when creating or editing posts …
(Add New Category)
To create a new category while creating or editing a post:
- Click on the ‘+Add New Category’ link,
- Type a new category name (and choose a ‘parent’ category if necessary),
- Click Add New Category …
(WordPress Post Categories section – Add New Category)
The new category will instantly become available …
(New post category added)
If you need help creating or editing posts in WordPress, see the tutorials below:
Deleting WordPress Categories
Removing a category does not delete the posts assigned to that category. Instead, posts assigned to deleted categories will be reassigned to the default category (see further below).
You can delete categories individually, or in bulk.
Deleting Categories Individually
To delete categories individually, hover over the category you want removed and click the ‘Delete’ link …
(Deleting a single category)
A message will appear asking you to confirm the deletion. Click OK to proceed, or Cancel to abort …
(Click ‘OK’ to delete the category)
Deleting WordPress Categories In Bulk
Let’s say that you import product data into your WordPress site containing a large number of categories (e.g. an e-commerce catalog), and you want to reduce the number of categories by assigning your imported 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 may be affected when unnecessary categories are deleted have been reassigned to an existing or new category. For more details on reassigning post categories, go to this tutorial: Editing And Deleting A Post In WordPress
To delete multiple WordPress categories, click the main checkbox next to the ‘Name’ column title. 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 of the category entries to be deleted, select ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop down menu …
(Select the ‘Delete’ option from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop menu)
Click the ‘Apply’ button …
(Bulk deleting categories)
The categories you’ve selected will be removed …
(’Categories deleted’ message)
Editing Categories In WordPress
To edit a WordPress post category, do this:
Go to your ‘Categories’ table, locate the category entry that needs editing, then place your mouse over the category title, and click Edit …
(Category table menu – Edit)
This brings up the ‘Edit Category’ screen. Make changes in the category fields, and click Update to save the changes …
(‘Edit Category’ screen)
You can also edit categories using the Quick Edit option. Place your mouse over the category title you want to edit and click on Quick Edit …
(Category table – Quick Edit)
Edit your details and click on the ‘Update Category’ button to save your changes …
(Category – Quick Edit fields)
Modifying the category slug will change the URL of all posts assigned to that category. This can lead to “page not found” errors when visitors click on links to posts published elsewhere.
For this reason, we 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 Categories – Useful Tip
All posts must be assigned to a category in WordPress. If you do not assign a post to a category, WordPress will attribute your post automatically to “Uncategorized” …
(WordPress category – ‘Uncategorized’)
The default category cannot be deleted.
Having posts assigned to 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 posts as “uncategorized”, let’s make the category a little more relevant to your site readers and optimize it better for search engines too.
Place your mouse over the “Uncategorized” entry and click on Quick Edit …
(Category table menu: Uncategorized – 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” in order to give your site an extra SEO boost …
(Change ‘Uncategorized’ category to something more meaningful to your readers and search engines)
Now, when posts are published using the default WordPress category, the URL will make more sense to visitors and be more effective for SEO …
(Use search engine-friendly URLs)
Note: The site used in the example above has been configured to display search engine-friendly URLs, with the Permalinks set to display posts as “domain/category/post title”. For more details on how to set up search engine-friendly URLs on your site, see this tutorial: Improve Your WordPress SEO Using 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 …
(WordPress 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 …
(When using multiple categories, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to assign a primary category)
Posts are grouped together under categories, making it easier for visitors to find topic-related content.
You can display categories on your posts …
(Categories display in your posts)
Clicking on category links opens an archive page containing other related posts (see below).
As well as displaying categories on posts, WordPress can also display categories in the sidebar …
(Display a category menu on your WordPress sidebar)
Managing your categories is important. Depending on the number of posts and categories published on your site, you can end up with a really long list of categories …
If you have many categories on your site, you can save space on your sidebar by selecting the drop-down menu option in your ‘Categories’ widget settings …
(Using a drop-down category menu)
For a detailed step-by-step tutorial about adding sidebar widgets, go here: Adding And Configuring WordPress Widgets In Your Website
When visitors select a category from the drop down menu …
(Select a category from the drop down menu)
… An archive page displays all posts in that category …
(Category archive page)
WordPress Categories – Useful Tips
To view Category Archive pages from your WordPress dashboard, go to Post > Categories and locate a category to view. Hover over the category title and click View …
Let’s take a look at some other features of post categories worth knowing about.
Post Categories – Sorting Features
The Table of Categories lets you sort categories by name by clicking on the triangle icon next to the title …
(Sort categories by 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.) …
(Sort categories in the table of categories)
Post Categories – Search Features
This 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 …
(Table of Categories – Searching Feature)
Your Categories Table can be divided into “Category Pages” with pagination buttons …
To select how many categories per category page, click on the ‘Screen Options’ tab in the top right-hand side of your screen …
(Screen Options Tab)
Input the number of categories per page you would like to show 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 the ‘Apply’ button …
(Screen Options – Categories settings)
WordPress Post Categories – Grouping Features
Click on an entry in the ‘Count’ column …
(Categories Table – Count column)
All posts assigned to the selected category will display in your Table of Posts…
(WP Posts Table – Posts grouped by category)
Post Categories – Tools
You can convert WordPress Categories into WordPress Tags using the category to tag converter link found below your Table of Categories …
(Category to Tag converter)
This will take you to the Tools > Import screen …
(Categories and Tags Converter tool)
We have created a detailed tutorial on WordPress tags here: How To Set Up Tags In WordPress
Categories – Plugins
WordPress has many great plugins that can help you manage and enhance the usefulness of post 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 lists and menus, even restrict access to content published under certain categories (useful for membership sites) …
(Membership plugins can help protect content in specific post categories)
Certain plugins can add new fields to your Categories Table …
(Plugins can expand the functionality of your Categories Table)
Step 5 – Use WordPress Categories Effectively
Optimizing content, categories, and search-friendly URLs can help improve your site’s navigation and relevance in the search engines, which helps drive more visitors to your site.
Here are some tips for getting the most benefit from using categories.
Choosing Keyword-Relevant 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, catch your visitor’s attention.
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 Trip“.
Publish Your Posts Under The Right Post Category
Every time you add a new article or post to your website, remember to select a category box before publishing your post …
(Select a post 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 improve your categories’ SEO)
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 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 better index your content.
"If you're new to WordPress, this can stand on its own as a training course and will stay with you as you progress from beginner to advanced and even guru status." - Bruce (Columbus, Ohio)