About WordPress Tags and How to Use Them

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Organizing Your Blog with Tags

Last time, we talked about organizing your WordPress site with categories. Well, there’s a second option for organizing your content in WordPress: tags. Both offer ways to group content by topic, but they vary slightly in their specific jobs. So, what are WordPress tags, and how do we use them?

What Are WordPress Tags

If you compare your site to a book, Categories on WordPress are like your main table of contents for your site. Tags, on the other hand, are like the index at the back of the book. The first covers your main concepts, or brand pillars, and the latter helps to point to more detailed information on your site.

Every post on your site can include multiple tags, whereas categories should be limited to one, two at the most, to avoid confusion. Visitors who are interested in finding similar posts can click on a tag.  WordPress will then direct them to similar content on that topic.

Differences Between Tags and Categories

Although both group your content to help users find what they need, they have different roles to play on your site.  Here are a couple of key differences.

Tags are optional: WordPress automatically assigns a category to every post. (If you recall, if you don’t assign a category, WordPress uses the default category, which is set to “Uncategorized,” unless you change the default category name from within your WordPress dashboard.) That is, categories are not optional.  However, tags are an optional tool you can decide to use.

Tags are not hierarchical: Categories can have subcategories. The main category is called the “parent,” and a subcategory is the “child.” But tags don’t have these hierarchical relationships. Tags stand alone.

Multiple tags can be used with posts: As mentioned, posts are typically limited to one category, but they can have several tags. The reason is the category is the high-level grouping, but the tags point to specific or unique types of information contained in the post.

An example may help.

Example Category and Tags for a Post

Let’s use this blog post right here as an example. Our categories and tags might look like this:

Category: WordPress Wednesday (high-level)
Tags: DIY WordPress, Tags, Categories, How-To, Content management (detailed; specific to this post)

Adding Tags in WordPress

If you’ve been following along with our WordPress Wednesday posts, it won’t surprise you to learn there’s more than one way to add tags.

One way is to quickly add or create new tags when you’re creating a new post, using the Tags box on the editor screen.  You’ll see it in the tools on the right-hand side of the screen. (The tool for Tags is just under the tools for Category.)

The second option is to add tags from the dashboard by selecting Posts>Tags on the left-hand navigation menu. With this option, you are able to not only add new tags, but you can also manage tags you’ve already incorporated into your content.

Add Tag from Dashboard


Displaying Tags on Your WordPress Site

Many WordPress themes automatically array the tags at the beginning or the end of each post. When a visitor is reading one post and clicks on a tag, WordPress will serve up other posts that include that same tag. However, with this option, visitors will only see tags associated with the specific post they are reading.

If you want to make site visitors aware of all your tags, you can add a tag cloud. A WordPress widget is needed to create a tag cloud, which is simply a list of every tag you’ve so far added to your site. Depending upon the theme you’re using, the tag cloud may indicate to users which tags are used more or less frequently by the size of the text in the tag cloud.

Tags used more often will display in larger text, while tags used less frequently will show up in a smaller font size. Neat, huh?

Adding a Tag Cloud

Including a tag cloud on your WordPress site is super-easy. From the main dashboard navigation on the left-hand side, select Appearance>Widgets. Now you can do one of two things:

  • Scroll down through the list of ‘available widgets’ and click on the arrow to pull up the placement options. WordPress will ask you to specify where you want the tag cloud to appear. (Note: Your options may differ that the ones pictured below, depending upon the options in your theme.)
  • Click on the Tag Cloud widget box and drag it to the location where you want the tag cloud to show up on your site.

Tag widget drop down menu

Next, WordPress gives you the option to add a title to the tag cloud. Although it’s an option, you may want to name it “Topics” or simply “Tags,” as most people understand how tagging works.

Click the checkbox at the bottom of the widget controls if you want WordPress to also display the number of tags used on the site.

tags show count

At the End of the Day

Using tags on your WordPress site and adding a tag cloud are great ways to enhance your site visitors’ experience. Tags indicate detail about what a post will cover and help users find additional content on the same topic. The addition of a tag cloud can direct visitors to other topics that they didn’t come searching for but may also be interested in. Do you use tags to index the content on your site?

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