Categories are themes and tags are topics: WordPress users

Word cloud of terms used on this site, as of March 1, 2013, using Wordle.net.
Word cloud of terms used on this site, as of March 1, 2013, using Wordle.net.

WordPress, among the most popular web content management systems in the world, offers users an out-of-the-box solution to organize content in two ways: tags and categories. To better understand those words, I’ve taken to referring to tags as the topics of the site and calling categories the themes of the site.

Still having used WordPress for more than five years, having trained dozens of people on the platform, spoken and shared about it, I always found those two words and their distinctions confusing to many. Even I found myself duplcating terms as both tags and categories, which limited the effectiveness of them as organizing tools and bloated the number.

In going through a redesign at work and thinking more critically about the user experience of those terms, I’m happy with a better explanation for the two terms, which has helped me here and elsewhere since discussing them.

  • Categories are the broad themes of your site. For a site with a good focus (depending on size), there are probably just a handful of these. On Technical.ly, that means Access, Business, Civic, Creative and (web) Development. Here that means Process, Entrepreneurship, Media, Personal and Writing. This is an effective way to keep your publishing focused and give a way for users to find like-minded content on your site.
  • Tags are the narrower topics of your writing. This means the departments and types of content you schedule on your editorial calendar and the nouns that you’d want to group your content around. This is an effective way to organize and share specifically grouped content.