How to use WordPress categories

WordPress has a standard feature that supports “categories”. Essentially this tags a post so that you can group posts of a certain type together. This improves the user experience because someone can choose to JUST look at the posts in a specific category. It also improves your search engine optimization (how well a search engine catalogs and ranks your site) when set up properly.

How do I add WordPress categories from within a post?

There are several ways to add WordPress categories. One way is right within a post that you are writing. When inside the “Add New Post” screen (as I am right this moment while writing) you’ll see a number of options along the right-hand side of the page. Different themes might have different orders of options, but right now I see: Layout Options, Publish, Format, Categories, Tags, and Featured Image. Of course the Categories section is the one we’ll be looking at right now.

Right away that section shows you all of the categories that are already set up. A default installation will show “Uncategorized” and nothing else. Uncategorized is pretty lame though, so once you’ve set up some WordPress categories, and assigned each post to a category, I’d remove “Uncategorized” so it doesn’t get accidentally assigned in the future.

Setting up WordPress CategoriesClick the “+Add New Category” link and another box will appear just below the link. That blank box is where you can enter the name of the category. Now, before you pick a category name, understand this: There is the visitor friendly version of the category, which is what you will enter there. This will be seen on the site wherever you choose to have categories shown. There is also a URL (or “slug”) version of the category. That is going to be whatever you type but with special characters stripped out and spaces replaced with a dash.

So when I added “Starting A Blog” I see exactly that as the category name – as will you in different places on the site. Because I changed my permalink (URL) structure to include the category name (I recommend you do too), this name will get added by WordPress automatically. See my permalinks post for a better understanding. Anyway, a URL can’t have a space in it – that’s why WordPress has a separate special format for the category – called a “slug”. In the second method of adding WordPress categories explained below, I’ll show you how to see this slug and even edit it. It doesn’t have to exactly match the friendly name of the category if you don’t want it to. But, from this option it sets a default for you automatically.

Once you have added a new category just make sure the checkbox next to it is selected and that puts the current post into that category. You can have posts tagged in multiple categories if you want, but this can cause some search engine optimization (SEO) challenges down the road. There are good ways to deal with it though, so we’ll certainly cover that later in case you feel the need.

How do I add WordPress categories from the main admin pages?

The above way of adding categories is handy when you are already in a post. If you know in advance – prior to writing the post – what WordPress categories you want, it is very easy to add them directly through the WordPress admin pages. You can also look at categories already added – regardless of how they were added – and make changes to them if needed. You can rename them, remove them (like “Uncategorized” perhaps), or manage the category slug if you want.

WordPress Categories MenuFrom the main WordPress administration page select Posts on the left-hand side of the screen then the Categories option – as shown in the image to the right.

Once you are in the Categories administration interface you’ll see that you can add a new category using the fields on the left-hand side of the page. You’ll also see the existing categories shown on the right-hand side of the page.

Adding a new category in WordPress from this administration page is pretty straight-forward and WordPress provides some descriptions of each field to help guide you along. Here are the basic field options provided:

  • Name: “The name is how it appears on your site.”
  • Slug: “The “slug” is the URL-friendly version of the name. It is usually all lowercase and contains only letters, numbers, and hyphens.”
  • Parent (drop-down box): “Categories, unlike tags, can have a hierarchy. You might have a Jazz category, and under that have children categories for Bebop and Big Band. Totally optional.”
  • Description: “The description is not prominent by default; however, some themes may show it.”

Parent and Description are optional and I never use them personally. Fill in at least the top two fields, and optionally put entries in the bottom two fields, then click Add New Category and the category will be added for you.

Managing existing WordPress categories

What I mainly use this page for us to manage existing categories. Maybe I made a typo when originally creating the category. Maybe I didn’t think it through properly and the category is actually hurting SEO rather than helping it. Regardless of the reason this is where you can make changes.

If you hover your mouse above any of the existing categories show you will see a few edit options show up. These options are: Edit, Quick Edit, Delete and View. Edit will open that category and let you adjust any of the four field options shown above. A Quick Edit will just allow you to change the name and the slug. Delete is obvious, and View will open a page showing all your posts that are associated with that WordPress category.

The great thing about categories – especially for beginners who are just starting a blog – is that you can manage all of these things later. Go ahead and start writing content and you can take some time later to optimize some things. That’s essentially what I’m doing with this site. I’m writing content as I go along so readers can get a feel for the progression and steps to optimize.

So don’t stress over trying to figure out all your categories today, or the ideal category names, or SEO optimized slugs. After you’ve written some posts and have an idea what groupings are going to make sense with your content, you can come back in to make these changes.

Questions? Just let me know in the comments section and I’ll work to address anything I can.

Happy WordPress blogging!

Brad Kingsley

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