Lego People Representing a Lack of Taxonomy

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ClassicPress Categories and Tags Demystified

ClassicPress categories and tags allow you to sort your content in logical ways. Should you use categories or tags? Or both? Learn how to organize your content for maximum impact!

If you have ever struggled to understand the proper use of categories and tags in ClassicPress, you just found a goldmine! Then again, maybe you have a decent understanding of categories and tags already? I guarantee you will learn something here! This article will discuss categories and tags in depth, provide real-world examples, and make simple explanations to help you master the art of taxonomy in ClassicPress. I’ll cover similarities and differences, best practices, and even SEO! Let’s get to it!

ClassicPress Categories and Tags

ClassicPress categories and tags are taxonomies. To put it simply, a taxonomy is a method of classification, or a way of grouping similar things together. It’s not a ClassicPress thing; it’s a science thing. In a ClassicPress website, these taxonomies (categories and tags) group your blog posts together in a meaningful way that allows your readers to quickly find the content they want to consume. Before we get too far, though, let’s setup a scenario.

Let’s say you’re running a blog that talks about how one goes about getting particular jobs. So, at a very high level, the blog is about careers. Will you talk about a specific industry? Will you talk about them all? Let’s say you decide to write about a wide variety of jobs in a wide variety of industries. Great! Now, let’s slay this.

Use Categories for Broad Topics

Categories are your broadest terms. Think about how a book uses a table of contents to help you quickly find sections of interest. Your ClassicPress categories have the same function. When creating and editing posts, you have the option to select relevant categories, but there is no reminder to do so. Posts without a defined category will simply be saved as Uncategorized. And speaking of that, if you change the name of the Uncategorized category, you won’t have any more uncategorized posts.

Lego Person Representing Categories and Tags
Categories are the main chunks of your topic and require careful choosing.

The goal is to structure your content in a way that makes sense to end-users, so you need to divide up the huge topic of careers into smaller, logical chunks. Consequently, these smaller chunks will be your main, or top-level, categories and might look something like:

  • Legal
  • Medical
  • Sports
  • Tech
  • Arts
  • Government

The list of categories would probably be much longer, but you get the idea – these are broad career categories. If you wrote an article about working as a radiologist, you would categorize it under Medical. Likewise, an article on attorneys would fit under Legal. And an article on becoming a software developer would fit under Tech.

Each time someone searched these categories, the appropriate articles would come up. Awesome! However, along comes Joe Schmoe who wants to learn about becoming a software developer, so he searches the Tech category and – BOOM! – he gets every last article in the Tech category. This isn’t helpful and, in fact, places too much burden on the visitor. This is where sub-categories come in.

Use Sub-Categories to Split Up Broad Topics

Continuing from above, let’s say you really want to help Joe Schmoe find what he’s looking for, so you add some sub-categories to the Tech category. Super awesome of you, I might add! Your updated categories might look something like:

  • Legal
  • Medical
  • Sports
  • Tech
    • Aerospace
    • Communication
    • Hardware
    • Software
  • Arts
  • Government

Again, the list would probably be much longer – it’s just an example. Now, let’s say your next article will talk about a career in software development. It can go into the Tech category and the Software sub-category. This causes the article to be relevant in searches of the Tech category and the Software sub-category. However, if someone searches the Hardware sub-category, this article wouldn’t come up because it isn’t relevant. Sweet!

Lego Person Representing Categories and Tags
Sub-categories are a bit more focused than categories, but not quite as focused as tags.

Now, while you can technically build your sub-categories as deep as you like, it’s important to keep in mind that using too many levels may actually over-complicate the structure of your content. And, if you don’t produce a lot of varied articles on a frequent basis to populate those sub-categories, you could end up with some sub-categories being slim or even completely empty. That’s not a good look.

Use Tags to Narrow and Focus

Continuing again with the example, your article is going to be about a career in software development. Now, what’s your angle? Are you going to be writing about becoming a game developer? An application developer? A web developer? Let’s just say web developer and move on. And, in fact, that’s a great tag for your article: web developer. Yes, tags can be multiple words! Are there any other tags that you think would be good here? You might tag it with a salary range, or the hours of the average work week, or the workplace attire, or any other terms relevant to how your visitors search your site.

Lego Person Representing Tags
Tags are very focused, allowing visitors to hone in and find very specific content.

Developing Content Structure

The way your content is structured can vary widely and, unfortunately, there’s no way provide a lesson on Information Architecture (IA) in this space. Generally speaking, a broad topic such as careers will require many categories (and sub-categories!) while a narrower topic like careers for stay-at-home dads will need fewer. The determining factor will be how general or specific your content is.

Category and Tag Limits

There is no hard rule about how many categories or tags to use and, in fact, there isn’t an enforced limit. The discretion is all your own. I prefer placing articles into a single top-level category most of the time, and then adding 1-5 tags to them (if I’m using tags at all).

While you want to help your visitors find relevant content, you also need to avoid cluttering the display. It stands to reason that there will typically be more tags than categories, so if you find that you have more categories than tags, you might want to investigate how your content is structured.

Category and Tag URLs

Categories and tags are essentially archives. So, the URL for a category named Cars looks like this:

…and the URL for a tag named Florida looks like this:

You can change the category and tag bases, if you like. For example, you might change the word category to topic, or change tag to pin. Whatever works for your content structure is fine. Some SEO plugins actually remove the category and tag base; in that case, it doesn’t really matter what terms you use.

Category and Tag Archives

I’m betting that when you setup categories, you don’t usually add a description. Well, check this out: if you click to edit any tag or category, you can add a description of the taxonomy! You can even use basic formatting such as bold or italicized text and links. In some cases, (depending on the plugins you have installed,) you can even use the visual editor to add the formatting…and even images and video! The markup you enter there will appear at the top of the category (or tag) archive page when visitors search by that category (or tag.) It looks nice to your visitors and gives Google some context to snack on.

Redundant Categories and Tags

There is no need to have pluralized categories or tags. For example, it would be redundant to have a tag of cookie and a tag of cookies. There’s no rule on which version to use, so just pick one and stick with it. I like to go for singular over plural. And, one more thing to beware here: you don’t want to have a category and a tag with the same name. It will technically work, but it will be confusing to both visitors and search engines alike.

Lego People Representing Redundant Categories and Tags
Categories and tags must be unique. Also, don’t create a category and tag with the same name.

Categories, Tags, and SEO

According to Joost de Valk, creator of the most popular WordPress SEO plugin in history, “When used correctly, a good taxonomy system can boost your site’s SEO.” And he would know. He goes on to make 3 other key points – that your category pages are essential landing pages, that those pages keep your individual posts from competing against one another in the search engines, and that your category pages should be ranking above all others for your general keywords. Ok, that’s a whole lot to swallow, so let’s chew it up first.

Let’s say you’re selling 20 different mobile phones on your site. The urge might be to optimize every product post for keyword mobile phone. However, if you do that, then Google will never know which of your phones is most relevant to the person performing the search – it might as well just guess.

Lego People Heads Representing Poor Taxonomy Structure
Your posts will compete with one another in search engines if they are optimized for the same keywords.

The solution is to optimize each individual mobile phone’s post for the specific keywords related to each phone. Then simply group those posts under a category called mobile phones. That way, when someone searches generally for mobile phones, your category archive will rank for that keyword and give them your full list of phones – and when someone searches for your specific mobile phones, your individual pages will be ranking for those keywords. In other words, your visitor finds exactly what they wanted either way! Everyone wins!

Restructuring Categories and Tags

Lego People Representing Category and Tag Anxiety
You can change your category and tag structure if you exercise some care.

While reading through this article, perhaps you thought of better ways to structure your current categories and tags. Avoid the temptation to dive in and start making changes haphazardly! Maybe you realized your category terms were actually tag terms, or vice versa. There are plugins that can help you with that. However, if your site is already listed in search engines, you’ll likely need to setup 301 redirects to avoid losing ranking.

Wrapping Up

Now that you’ve got a thorough understanding of categories and tags, you will be able to structure your content much more logically right from the jump. Google will love you. Your visitors will love you. Babies everywhere will smile in unison. And I gotta tell ya, if you made it all the way down here – this article is 1700+ words, after all – then you deserve a treat! So, here’s a few additional tips! Questions and comments are welcome!

Extra Tips for Taxonomy Ninjas

  1. ClassicPress will prevent you from creating duplicate categories, even if you use different capitalization.
  2. ClassicPress will prevent you from creating duplicate tags, even if you use different capitalization.
  3. ClassicPress will not prevent you from creating a category and a tag with the same name, but don’t do it.
  4. Categories and tags can be more than one word.
  5. Categories are hierarchical, while tags are not. This is why you can create sub-categories, but not sub-tags.
  6. Using categories and tags properly will help your SEO.
  7. You can change the name of the Uncategorized category. No more uncategorized posts!
  8. You can set a default category for new posts. This is great if you write a lot in one category.

What do you think?

Are you feeling confident about mastering your site taxonomy?! Do you think this information will help next time a client dumps a pile of poorly-organized content in your lap? Spoiler: it probably will! Most sites can use either categories or tags just fine – do you have a need for both? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments!

5 comments on “ClassicPress Categories and Tags Demystified”

  1. A commenter said:

    if you click to edit any tag or category, you can use the visual editor to edit the description. So, yeah, you could even add formatting, links, images, or video! The markup you enter there will appear at the top of the category (or tag) archive page when visitors search by that category (or tag.)

    This is mostly false! You need a plugin to visually edit the description, and if you don’t have one, HTML like image and video will be stripped out.
    Some themes will show your description, but not all themes will, and those that do likely put it on all the archive pages instead of just the first one.

    • AUTHOR
      Code Potent replied:

      Hi Joy,

      I have an advanced editor plugin and it completely slipped my mind. I will do some testing shortly and update the article to reflect the point you’ve raised. Appreciate your time and effort, thanks!

      Update: After (re-)re-testing this morning, I find that my “vanilla” setup did have a plugin installed that affected this – namely a utility plugin with some custom functionality. I confirm that you are correct that the visual editor does not appear, by default. Thanks for the correction. However, while most HTML tags are stripped from the description, tags for general formatting and linking such as strong, em, a are preserved. I didn’t try every tag, but, did verify that the following are stripped: hr, img, embed, ul, ol. The p tag is also stripped, but, the autop functionality will force paragraphs on the frontend.

      You’re also right about the theme being responsible for showing taxonomy descriptions. However, it should be noted that if the theme isn’t showing the taxonomy description, that is a bug in the theme. After all, a theme should only ever determine where and how content is displayed (presentation); it should never ignore or discard actual textual content that is added to the post (logic).

      I’ve updated the post with the new findings. Thanks again for the follow-up.

  2. A commenter said:

    Nice post, quick question: Taxonomy is way of classification right! And the ones we have in ClassicPress are Categories and Tag, how do you classify custom taxonomies? Why would someone want to create a custom taxonomy, since Categories are more than enough to organize your content.

    Let me rephrase it, what is the limitations of using the default taxonomy in ClassicPress, and when should users go for a custom taxonomy?

    • AUTHOR
      Code Potent replied:

      Hey, thanks for reading … and good question! When you create categories and tags, they’re available globally to all of your posts and pages. In some cases, this may be completely fine. In sites that contain more robust or diverse content, a custom taxonomy is particularly useful when you want the taxonomy to apply only to specific post types.

  3. A commenter said:

    Okay, got that. Like a specific custom post types right! I think it is clear now, to my own limited understanding, if I create a custom taxonomy and a custom post type, e.g I created a post type about Books, then the custom taxonomy would only be available to the post type right?

    I think it is clear now. Thanks!

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