One of the major benefits of the Web is that it allows us almost unlimited space to publish our thoughts, ideas, and creations and share them with the world. The challenge in doing so is that if we don't organize our published content in an easy to understand way, it becomes impossible to find. This is why, in WordPress, we sort our posts using categories and tags. “Categories” and “Tags” are the two main taxonomies WordPress uses to associate posts with each other.
For reference, “taxonomy” is a fancy word for organized sorting system, and it fits very well here. Categories and tags are two different types of taxonomies. So before we use them, it's important to know how to use them.
Categories first. In WordPress, every post must belong to at least one category, and every post can belong to as few or as many categories as you like. If you don't select a category for a post, it will automatically be filed under the category named, “Uncategorized,” which makes no sense.
So, the rule of thumb here is to always apply a category to every post. Categories are what's known as, “hierarchical taxonomies,” meaning they can have parent-child relationships.
Tags, by contrast, are non-hierarchical, meaning they have no relationships to any other tag. To see how this works, we need a practical example. Consider an average closet. This is where you would typically organize your clothes into main groups.
Jackets, shirts, t-shirts, graphic tees, pants, dresses, skirts, socks, shoes, boots, blouses, etc. These are categories, general groupings of similar items that are clearly associated with each other. If you're an extremely organized person, you may have organized them further, into subcategories. Suit jackets, sports jackets, winter jackets, summer jackets, workwear, leisurewear, party wear, you get the idea.
In the back of your clothes, you find the tags. These tags tell the information about the clothes, like the material they were made of, or how to clean the item, where it was made, and so on. All of this info is relevant, but you would never organize them based on any of it. Just imagine a closet where you have a selection for cotton, another for acrylic, or you organized your clothes based on country of origin. It would make no sense. But, these tags still matter. When you wash your clothes, your bundle similarly tagged items together.
You would also check to make sure you never wear wool and linen together, as it creates static electricity. So this is what categories and tags are all about.
“Categories” is the main sorting system for your posts, where you group different types of similar content together. And you can make them hierarchical. The main category for “News” can have a subcategory for “WordPress,” which, in turn, has a subcategory for “Courses.” That way, you can view all news, the only news about WordPress, or only news about WordPress courses.
Tags are the smaller factors that may connect posts together but are not main sorting categories. When I write a post about this course for my own blog, I might give it tags like, “SEO,” “Themes,” “Plugins,” and “HTML.” That way, the posts will relate to other posts that also talk about these topics, even though the posts themselves are not mainly about those topics. Now, before we continue, I have to bring up a warning. You will be told by people, or articles, or videos on the web, that you should add lots of tags to your posts to boost SEO.
This is not true. Adding tags for the sake of SEO is pointless, and can be counterproductive. Tags are there to help your readers, and search engines, like Google, figure out the connections between your posts. If you make your tags meaningful, you'll make your content more accessible. And that's what they're there to do.