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Categories and Tags in WordPress


Times Change

Some time ago I needed an X-ray. I went to the hospital reception and was told to follow the blue line on the floor. Great idea, however I needed several X-rays by the time I arrived, I had walked into so many trolleys whilst looking at the ground.

When I first started creating websites it would take several months to get sites listed on search engines. One would write a site, generally half a dozen pages or so, add a few keywords and a description to the code and wait for it to all happen. It was infuriatingly slow, there were debates as to whether one should submit sites to the UK and/or the US versions of the search engines and whether submitting to both would cancel each other out.

My recent record for site submission is about 40 seconds. That is from the time that I made a blog post live to being able to find it on Google. 40 seconds.

Nowadays sites are much larger entities, this one already runs into hundreds of pages, it’s a blog and although the posts all sit in a single page, that page is effectively a placeholder for as many posts as I write. Click on the title of the posts and you will see that they open up into their own page.

New World Order

Clearly there is a need to ensure order so that firstly people find your site through search engines and secondly so that once at your site they can find the information that they want. If one were to nip down to the local library and find that they had decided not to classify their books you would probably either,

  1. Leave and go and find a more organised library
  2. Find something unexpected but interesting to read

The same goes for blogs, ultimately your work will get lost in an ever increasing pile if you don’t implement a good system early on. OK so you aren’t going to implement the Dewey Decimal Classification system but you can and should implement some category system.

For Categories and Tags, Read Contents and Index

Quick Search

Quick Search (Categories)

A brief exercise. In the sidebar of this site you will see a drop-down called “Quick Search”. I could have called it anything and it says ‘Select Category’ on it because this is what the tool does. Your readers can use the category selector to filter out all of the bits that they don’t want to read and find the bits that they are interested in. It’s like the contents list at the beginning of a book.

Play around, go on, try it.

So your reader can click on the drop-down, find a subject that interests them and find they are presented with a subset of your posts.. It’s a hierarchical system eg Transport>Bicycles>Gazelle, all in all a very powerful tool.

I recommend that my customers start by considering a category structure as a paper exercise before a WordPress site is to be created. This is normally quite a difficult process that includes a fair amount of soul-searching and self-analysis. It is unlikely to be a completed item ‘at-the-off’ but it is essential. It will ask questions about what you do and what the site is to do and communicate.

Using WordPress to Create Categories and Tags

Once created on paper WordPress provides a number of ways to create and develop the category structure through the dashboard.

  1. Under the “Posts” tab you will find a link to the categories page where you can add a new category either as a standalone item or as a sub-category with a parent. For instance the parent of ‘Cars’ in my system is ‘Transport’.
  2. When creating a post, a categories box appears where you can either assign your post to an existing category, or create a new category. This is a particularly useful tool because your blog will develop and hopefully the category structure will develop too.

So to tags. We are now back at the beginning (sort of), you may recall that I mentioned keywords being applied pages. Keywords are words that people may use to search for. Whilst being related to categories they may not necessarily be the same.

As a simple example, Aston Martin is undeniably ‘transport’ but if you Google transport you will probably find information about busses and tubes. (yep- I’ve just checked it, you do).

Instead you might search for “luxury + car” and sure enough, page one Google a reference to Astons.

So in this example Transport is “Category” that Aston Martin might be in but “Luxury, Fast, car, James Bond, Aston, Martin” are the tags that people will use to find the post .

Again WordPress allows you to apply tags to your posts. These tags will act as keywords that will help people to find your posts through searches.

This probably all sounds hopelessly long-winded, it isn’t though. It will become second nature to you when writing posts. The bottom line is that you will help people find their way to your site and then find their way round when they are there.