WordPress categories can help make finding information about similar topics on your site easier for visitors. Adding categories not only helps to keep your content organized, it also improves both your visitor’s search experience and your search engine rankings.
Learn about configuring categories in WordPress posts in this step-by-step tutorial.
Step 1: Configure Your Permalinks
Default WordPress post URLs aren’t 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 allow WordPress to display SEO friendly URLs, so instead of having a web address 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 categories.
For a detailed step-by-step tutorial about setting up and using permalinks, go here: Improve Your WordPress SEO Using SEO-Friendly URLs
Step 2: Make A List Of Topics
Maintaining 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, then, is to carefully plan what kind of broad topics you will be publishing on your website. These can be topics related to your specific niche, your products or services, and even your industry.
For more information about website planning, go here: The Web Site Planning Process – A Basic Primer For 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 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.
For example, let’s say 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 Tips
- Commitment Ceremonies
Step 3: Select Relevant Category Titles
Dominating an entire market (i.e. “Weddings”, “Travel”, “Health”, etc…) is extremely difficult, especially when you’re just starting out. You have a better chance of getting somewhere by trying to establish your authority in a niche, or sub-niche of your main market.
Take a look at the illustration below …
You can see in the above Market > Niche > Sub niche hierarchy that “Marriage Celebrant Course” is a sub-niche (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 Google’s estimates for the average number of monthly searches for each of the above keywords …
(Use keyword research tools to help with category planning)
When planning your topic categories, it’s important to spend time thinking carefully about all the elements you can control (like the main keywords used throughout your content), and how to use these elements to try to a competitive advantage. If you set an unrealistic goal (i.e. trying to dominate the entire online “Wedding” market), you will only end up feeling disappointed. If, on the other hand, you focus on a very narrow niche or micro-niche, you could experience little to no activity on your site and hence no significant opportunities to grow your market share online.
For tutorials on strategic online business planning like effective keyword research, identifying target audience demographics, etc., see this tutorial: The Website Planning Process Explained – A Comprehensive Guide 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 these keywords into post categories.
Step 4: Set Up Your Categories
Saving posts under categories that best relate to the main topics of your site helps keep your content organized and easy to navigate, provides your visitors with a better user experience, and helps to optimize your site for search engines.
(WordPress lets you easily organize your content by categories)
To access your Post Categories area, log into your WordPress dashboard, then go to the main navigation menu and select Posts > Categories …
(WordPress Posts Menu – Categories)
This brings you to the ‘Categories’ screen …
(WordPress Post Categories Section)
This section lets you add, edit, and remove categories, including inserting descriptions for categories and other information that can help to improve your website’s SEO.
Adding Post Categories
(Post Categories panel – Add New Category)
To create a new post category in WordPress, simply fill in the fields in the ‘Add New Category’ area as described below:
(Categories panel – Add New Category fields)
- Name – Use a short 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 the category-related sections of your website.
- Slug – The slug refers to the words that display in the URL of all posts published under a 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 – Add 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 your category pages meta description.
Click the ‘Add New Category’ button to add the new category …
(New category added)
Repeat this process to keep adding new categories …
You can also create nested or hierarchical categories for your posts …
(Hierarchical list of post categories)
To create nested categories, add a child category and select a parent category from the ‘Parent’ drop down menu …
(Create hierarchical post categories in WordPress)
You can also add new categories while creating or editing posts …
(Add New Category)
To create 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 Add New Category …
(Post Categories feature – Add New Category)
The new category will instantly become available …
(New post category added)
Learn how to add and edit posts in WordPress here:
Removing a category does not delete posts assigned to that category. Instead, any posts that were 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 A Single Category
To delete categories individually, hover over the category you want removed and click Delete …
A window will pop up asking you to confirm the deletion. Click OK to go ahead, or Cancel to stop …
(Click ‘OK’ to delete the category)
Deleting Multiple WordPress Categories
Let’s say that you import product data into your site containing a large number of categories (e.g. product manufacturers), and you want to reduce the number of existing categories by assigning your imported posts to a fewer number of categories. If you have 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 may be affected by deleting unnecessary categories have been reassigned to an existing or new category. For more details on how to reassign post categories, visit this tutorial: Editing And Deleting A Post In WordPress
To bulk delete categories, click the main checkbox in the header row. This will select all items .
Next, go through the list and untick the box next to 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 items to be deleted, choose the ‘Delete’ option from the ‘Bulk Actions’ pull down menu …
(Choose ‘Delete’ from the ‘Bulk Actions’ pull down menu)
Next, click Apply …
(Bulk deleting categories)
The categories you’ve selected will be deleted …
(‘Categories deleted’ message)
Editing Post Categories
To edit a WordPress category, do this:
Go to your ‘Categories’ screen, find the category entry that you would like to edit, then hover over the category name, and click Edit …
(Category table – Edit link)
This brings up the ‘Edit Category’ section. 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. Place your mouse over the category title you would like to edit and click the ‘Quick Edit’ link …
(Quick Edit – Category)
Edit your details and click Update Category to save your changes …
(Quick Edit fields)
Important: Modifying the category slug will affect the URL of all posts assigned for 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, we strongly recommend investing 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.
Post Categories – Useful Tip
In WordPress, all posts must be assigned to a category. If you do not assign a post to a category, WordPress will automatically assign your post to a default category called Uncategorized …
The default category cannot be deleted.
Assigning 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 visitors and better for search engines too.
Hover over the Uncategorized entry and click on Quick Edit …
(Category table: Uncategorized – Quick Edit)
Change 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 a little extra SEO boost …
(Change Uncategorized category to something more meaningful to readers and search engines)
Now, when new 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 SEO friendly URLs, with the Permalinks set to display posts as “domain/category/post title”. To learn how to set up search engine-friendly URLs on your site, see this tutorial: Setting Up Your WordPress Permalinks
WordPress 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 filed under one or more categories. WordPress allows you to assign multiple categories to your posts …
(WordPress posts can have multiple categories)
Note that using a plugin like Yoast SEO (see further below) lets you specify a primary category …
(When using multiple post categories, use a plugin like Yoast SEO to assign a primary category)
Posts can be grouped together by categories, making it easier for visitors to find topic-related content.
You can display categories in your posts …
(Categories display on your posts)
Clicking on the category links will open an archive page containing other related posts (see below).
As well as displaying categories on posts, WordPress can also list a category menu in the sidebar …
(Categories can display on your sidebar)
Managing your categories is important. Depending on the number of posts and categories published on your site, you can end up with a long category menu …
(Managing your categories is important)
If you plan to use many categories on your site, you can save space on your sidebar by selecting the drop menu option in your ‘Categories’ widget settings …
(Use a drop down category menu)
If you need help with adding sidebar widgets, go here: How To Add WordPress Widgets To The Sidebar
When visitors select a category from the drop down menu …
(Select a category from the drop down menu)
… An archive page displays posts in that category …
(Category archive pages list posts published under common categories)
WordPress Categories – Useful Tips
To view Category Archive pages from your admin area, go to Post > Categories and locate the category whose Archive Page you would like to see. Place your mouse over the category title and click View …
Let’s take a look at some other features of post categories .
WordPress Categories – Sorting Features
You can sort categories by name by hovering near the column title and clicking on the little triangle icon …
(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, Slug, etc.) …
(Categories table – Sorting categories)
WP Categories – Searching Features
You can search for categories by typing in a keyword into the search field and clicking on the ‘Search Categories’ button …
Your Table of Categories can be split into “Category Pages” that you can navigate through using pagination buttons …
To set how many categories you want displayed per category page, click on the ‘Screen Options’ tab in the top right-hand side of your screen …
Input the number of categories per page to show in the Category Table 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 Apply to update your settings when done …
(Screen Options Tab – Categories settings)
WordPress Post Categories – Grouping Features
In the Categories Table, the Count column shows the number of posts assigned to each category. To view these posts, click on an item in the ‘Count’ column …
(Table of Categories – Post count column)
Posts assigned to the category will display in the Posts Table…
(Posts grouped by category – Posts Table)
Post Categories – Tools
Convert WordPress Categories into WordPress Tags using the category to tag converter function found below your Categories table …
(Category to Tag converter link)
This brings up the Tools > Import section …
(Categories and Tags Converter)
We have written a detailed tutorial on Post Tags here: How To Add, Edit, And Delete WordPress Post Tags
WordPress Categories – Plugins
WordPress has many great plugins to help 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 areas of your site, rearrange the way categories are ordered in tables, menus, and lists, even restrict access to content published under certain categories (useful in membership sites) …
(Membership plugins can be used to protect content in specific categories)
Certain plugins can add new fields to your Categories Table …
(Expand the functionality of your Categories Table with plugins)
Step 5 – Use WordPress Categories Effectively
Optimizing content, categories, and post URLs can help increase your site’s navigation and relevance in the search engines, which helps drive more visitors to your site.
Here are some additional tips for getting the most benefit from using post categories.
Choosing Keyword-Relevant Post Titles
SEO experts recommend including the main keyword of your post in your your title, preferably near the beginning. This helps to optimize your post for search engines, catch your visitor’s attention.
So, for example, if writing a blog post for an Outdoors Adventure Travel business focused on the “Winter Camping” niche could be titled “Winter Camping Tips – 7 Survival Tools You Will Need For Your Winter Camping Trip“.
Publish Your WordPress Posts Under Relevant Categories
Every time you add a new article or post, remember to tick the most relevant category box before publishing your post …
(Add/Edit Post – WordPress Post Categories)
Use A WordPress SEO Plugin
An 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 optimize your categories)
The plugin also allows you to optimize categories individually …
(Edit Category screen – Improve 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 WordPress site 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.