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.
Learn about using WordPress categories in this step-by-step tutorial.
Using WordPress Post Categories
Step 1: Configure Your Permalinks
Out of the box, WordPress post URLs aren’t 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 your WordPress site to display SEO-friendly URLs, so instead of having a post link that looks like this:
You can have the same post URL display like this:
If you have not configured your permalinks yet, then do so first before configuring your categories.
We have written a detailed tutorial about setting up and using permalinks here: Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO
Step 2: List Your 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 searching for, but can also help to significantly boost your site’s optimization for improved search results.
The first step, then, is to plan what kind of broad “topics” you will publish on your site. These can be topics related to your niche, your business, and even your industry.
We have written a detailed tutorial on website planning here: Planning Your Business Web Site - A Basic Primer For Non-Technical Business Owners
When creating a list of topics, remember to 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 “authority” that online visitors will want to subscribe to (if you offer a newsletter or valuable content like ongoing training, tips, etc.) and/or refer to others.
For example, let’s say that you would like 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 Locations
- Marriage Vows
- and so on …
Step 3: Choose Relevant Category Titles
Dominating an entire market (i.e. “Weddings”, “Travel”, “Technology”, etc…) is extremely difficult, especially when you’re just getting started. you have a better chance of getting somewhere by trying to establish your authority in a niche, or segment (i.e. subniche) of your main market.
Take a look at the example 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 selecting the keywords you would use as a top-level category to publish 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 – Useful keyword research tool for category planning)
When planning your main topic categories, it’s important to take your time and think 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 a strategic objective that is too big (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 sub-niche, you could experience little to no activity on your site and hence no significant opportunities to increase your market share online.
If you need help with online business planning like effective keyword research, identifying target audience demographics, etc., visit this tutorial: Planning A Website: A Cost-Saving Primer For Non-Technical Business Owners
After mapping out your top-level topics and figuring out what your main keywords are, the next step is to turn your keywords into post categories.
Step 4: Set Up WP Categories
Saving posts under categories that best relate to the main topics of your site helps keep your content organized and easy to find, provides your visitors with a better user experience, and helps to optimize your site for search engines.
(WordPress allows you to easily organize content using categories)
To access your WordPress Post Categories section, go to the WP Dashboard and choose Posts > Categories …
(Posts Menu – Categories)
This brings you to the ‘Categories’ panel …
(WordPress Post Categories Area)
In this section, you can create, edit, and delete categories, including adding descriptions for categories and other information that can help to improve your site’s SEO.
(Categories screen – Add New Category)
To add a new category to WordPress, complete the fields in the ‘Add New Category’ section as per the example below:
(WP Post Categories panel – Add New Category fields)
- Name – Type 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 display in all category-related sections of your website.
- Slug – The “slug” refers to 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 your category name.
- Parent – Ignore this field, unless you plan to create nested hierarchies of categories on your website.
- 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 category added)
Repeat this process to keep creating new categories …
(Table of categories)
You can also create “nested’ or hierarchical categories for your posts …
(Creating nested post categories)
To create a nested category, add a “child” category and select a “parent” category from the ‘Parent’ drop menu …
(Adding hierarchical post categories)
You can also add new categories when creating or editing posts …
(Post Categories section – Add New Category)
To add a new category while creating or editing a post:
- Click on +Add New Category,
- Enter a new category name (and choose an optional ‘parent’ category),
- Click on the ‘Add New Category’ button …
(Post Categories module – Add New Category)
Your new category will instantly become available …
(New post category added)
Learn how to add and edit a Post in WordPress here:
Deleting Post Categories
Deleting a category does not delete posts assigned to that category. Instead, posts assigned to the deleted category will be reassigned to the default category (this is covered further below).
You can delete categories individually, or in bulk.
How To Delete An Individual Category
To remove single categories, place your mouse over the category and click Delete …
(How to delete a single category)
A message will appear asking you to confirm the deletion. Click OK to permanently delete the item, or Cancel to abort …
(Click ‘OK’ to delete the category)
How To Delete 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 reduce the number of existing categories by assigning your imported posts to a fewer number of categories. If there are too many categories to delete one at a time, this is where the bulk delete feature can be useful.
Important: Make sure that any posts that will be affected by deleting unwanted categories have been reassigned to an existing or new category. For more details on reassigning categories in posts, see this tutorial: How To Edit And Delete Posts
To bulk delete WordPress categories, click on the main check box next to the ‘Name’ column title. This will select all category listings on the page.
Next, go through the list 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 of the items to be deleted, choose ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop menu …
(Choose the ‘Delete’ option from the ‘Bulk Actions’ drop menu)
With the ‘Delete’ option selected in the drop menu, click Apply …
(Bulk delete categories)
The categories you’ve selected will be removed …
(’Categories deleted’ message)
How To Edit Post Categories
To edit a category, do this:
In your ‘Categories’ screen, locate the category entry to be edited, then place your mouse over the category name, and click Edit …
(Category table menu – Edit link)
This brings up the ‘Edit Category’ panel. Make changes to the information in the category fields, and click Update to save the changes …
(‘Edit Category’ section)
You can also edit information in categories using the Quick Edit option. Hover over the category title you want to edit and click on Quick Edit …
(WordPress post category – Quick Edit)
Edit your details and click Update Category to save your changes …
(Category table menu – Quick Edit fields)
Important: Modifying the category slug changes the URL of all 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, 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 site is established.
WordPress Post Categories – Useful Tip
All posts must be assigned to categories in WordPress. If you do not assign a post to a category, WordPress will automatically assign your post to a default category called “Uncategorized” …
(WordPress 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 posts as “uncategorized”, let’s make the category a little more meaningful to your site readers and better for search engines too.
Hover over the “Uncategorized” entry and click on the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
(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 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” to give your site a little 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 SEO-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”. If you need help setting up search engine-friendly URLs, see this tutorial: Using Permalinks To Improve Your WordPress SEO
WordPress Post Categories – Additional Information
Let’s take a look at some of the additional features of categories:
Multiple WordPress Categories
Every post in WordPress must be published under one or more categories. WordPress allows you to assign multiple categories to your posts …
(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)
Posts are grouped together into categories, making it easier for visitors to find topic-related content.
You can display categories on your posts …
(Categories display on your posts)
Clicking on category links will open an archive page containing category-related posts (see below).
As well as displaying categories on posts, WordPress can also display category menus in your sidebar …
(Categories can display on your sidebar)
It’s important to manage your categories. Depending on the number of categories and posts published on your site, you can end up with a long list of categories …
(WordPress categories widget)
If you have many categories on your site, you can reduce space on your sidebar by specifying that your ‘Categories’ widget display as a drop-down menu …
(Categories widget – Using a dropdown menu)
We have created a detailed tutorial about adding and configuring sidebar widgets here: How To Add WordPress Widgets To Your Site
When a visitor selects a category from the menu …
(Selecting a category from the drop menu)
… An archive page displays the posts in that category …
(Category archive pages list posts published under common categories)
WordPress Post Categories – Useful Tips
To view Category Archive pages in your admin area, go to Post > Categories and locate the category whose Archive Page you would like to display. Hover over the item and click the ‘View’ link …
(View – Category table menu)
Let’s take a look at some other useful features of WordPress categories worth knowing about.
WordPress Categories – Sorting Features
You can sort categories by name by clicking on the little 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 rearranged according to the column you’ve selected (i.e. Name, Slug, etc.) …
(Sort categories in the table of categories)
WordPress Categories – Search Features
To locate a specific category, type in a keyword into the search field and click on the ‘Search Categories’ button …
(Table of Categories – Search Feature)
If your site has loads of categories, WordPress allows you to break these up into “Category Pages” with pagination buttons …
(Table of Categories – Category Pages)
You can select how many categories to display per page, by clicking on the ‘Screen Options’ tab at the top of your screen …
Type in the number of categories per page to display 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’, etc.), and click Apply …
(Screen Options Tab – Categories options)
WordPress Post Categories – Grouping Features
Click on an item in the ‘Count’ column …
(Table of Categories – Category posts)
A list of posts assigned to that category will display in your Posts Table…
(Grouping posts by category – WP Table of Posts)
Categories – Tools
To convert WordPress Categories into WordPress Tags, use the category to tag converter tool found below your Table of Categories …
(Category to Tag converter tool)
This takes you to the Tools > Import section …
(Categories and Tags Converter tool)
To learn more about Post Tags, go here: Configuring And Using Tags In WP Posts
Categories – Plugins
WordPress has a number of great plugins to 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 order of your categories, even restrict access to content published under certain categories (useful for a membership site) …
(Use membership plugins to protect content in specific post categories)
Certain plugins can add new fields to your Categories Table …
(Use plugins to expand the functionality of your Categories Table)
Step 5 – Using Categories Effectively
Optimizing content, categories, and post URLs helps to 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 Relevant Keywords For Your Post Titles
SEO experts recommend including the main keyword of your post in your the title of your post, preferably at the beginning. This helps to optimize your page 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 – 5 Survival Tools Everyone Needs For A Safe Winter Camping Trip“.
Publish Your WordPress Posts Under The Correct Category
Each time you add a new article or post, remember to select a relevant category box before publishing the post …
(WordPress Post Categories module)
Use An SEO Plugin
One additional step you can take to maximize the SEO benefit of using categories is to use an SEO plugin …
(A plugin like Yoast SEO helps to optimize your categories)
The plugin also allows you to optimize categories individually …
(Edit Category screen – 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 your 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 better index your content.
"This is AMAZING! I had learnt about how to use WordPress previously, but this covers absolutely everything and more!! Incredible value! Thank you!" - Monique, Warrior Forum