Organizing might feel like a chore, but it’s worth your time.

How do I organize my blog posts?

What categories and tags should I use?

What’s the difference between the two?

HELP, my tags and categories are a giant mess!!!

These are some of the most common questions and comments I hear from bloggers and they usually feel really confused and overwhelmed as to what they should do.

So, if you’re about to start a blog, it’s worth investing some time to plan out how you will organize your blog posts before you get going. Most new bloggers haven’t considered this at all, and more seasoned bloggers are often confused about what the correct or best approach is.

If you’ve been blogging for a while, it might feel a chore to do this work, but it’s well worth the time to work on them and once you’re done, you’ll feel more focused when you’re writing future content.

And… it’s ok: your ideas on this may change over time as your blog evolves but having an organization system from the start is better than having to go through and reorganize a large number of old blog posts from scratch later on down the track. I recently went through and reorganized the categories here on our site so that they were more action-oriented, more specific and useful to our readers and clients.

How to organize your blog posts: the definitive guide to categories, tags, custom taxonomies. Pin this for later!

What’s the correct way to organize blog posts?

Just as there is no one correct way to organize and store your clothing, there is no one correct way to organize and store your blog posts. However, there are organization systems which are better than others and understanding their differences and how they can be used and shouldn’t be used will help you learn how to best organize your content.

Organizing your blog posts is primarily about helping your readers find the content which interests them by grouping related content together. These organization options usually form a vital part of the navigation structure for your site – and should be as clear and concise as possible.

There are also arguable search engine benefits but adding in large numbers of categories or tags for this purpose can make it harder for those who are already on your site to find what they’re looking for and be detrimental. Tread carefully!

What’s the difference between categories and tags?

In essence, there are two ways of organizing blog posts into groups: using hierarchical terms (e.g. categories which can have sub-categories and sub-sub-categories etc) and nonhierarchical terms (e.g. tags which don’t have “subtags”).

There’s one other important difference to be aware of: the WordPress backend interface is also different. Categories are chosen from a list of checkboxes while tags are typed into an autocomplete box.

When deciding on how to organize your blog posts, first consider what different ‘groups’ of topics you’d like to be able to distinguish between.

For each ‘group’, decide between the following two options:

  • Do you want the ability to have hierarchy and/or have a list of checkboxes in the backend? You need categories.
  • Do you want no hierarchy and an autocomplete box in the backend? You need tags.

Look at your groups. If you want at most one of each option (categories and tags), then WordPress’ standard categories and tags provide everything you need to organize your content. If you need more than one of either of these, then you will also need custom taxonomies to handle the organization of your groups.

What are categories?

Categories are a reasonably small number of broad groupings of content. There can be subcategories within each category. They help visitors explore your common content.

Categories can be thought of as broad groups that you will have many blog posts on over time. Lorelle VanFossen compares categories to a book’s table of contents which help a reader see what your site is about. Category names should be self-explanatory and clear to new visitors. As a rough guide, if you don’t have (or plan to have) ten posts in a category, it’s not worth having as a category.

In general, sites should start off with a simple set of categories which expand as required over time. If a particular category starts getting a large number of posts in them, it can be helpful to break it down into smaller groups of related content by using subcategories.

Categories are a common way for visitors to navigate through your blog. The more main categories you have, the more likely a visitor can be become overwhelmed by choices.

Main categories are often listed in the main menu horizontally across the top of the site which also limits the number which can fit in so carefully consider what should be main categories. Subcategories are often listed in drop-down menus or a second horizontal menu beneath the first.

Example: On Road Media

Non-profit organization On Road Media’s website includes a blog to update its supporters. Their categorization system is straightforward. It has the following broad categories: Events, Internships, News, Press and Workshops. There are no subcategories. Visitors can easily filter by the type of blog post they’re interested in – for example, a journalist may want to just read their press releases.

Organizing categories on a blog

Example: Chocolate & Zucchini

French food writer Clotilde Dusoulier’s blog Chocolate & Zucchini was redesigned after ten years and contains over one thousand blog posts. Her site primarily focuses on recipes but also includes broader food-related content.

The main categories include: Books & Cookbooks, Essays, Giveaways, Interviews, Paris, Recipes, Tips & Tricks, Tools & Utensils and Travels.

For any food blogger, carefully organizing past recipes for visitors to explore is incredibly important. Old recipes generally don’t have expiry dates! Chocolate & Zucchini has a large collection of over 480 recipes divided into twenty-four subcategories such as Appetizers, Dips & Spreads, Starters and Soups. No sub-subcategories have been used as the subcategories are specific enough.

Organizing recipes by category

What are tags?

Tags are a reasonably large number of narrow grouping of content. Tags cannot have “subtags” within them. They help visitors explore your related content on a niche topic.

While categories are for broad groupings of content which can have levels of subcategories within them, tags are usually for tiny little groupings of content. Lorelle VanFossen compares tags to the index found in the back of books. A site with tags will have a great deal more tags than categories. Unlike categories, there’s no such thing as “subtags” so tags are a big set of words from which visitors can explore similar content in a separate way from browsing through categories or using a search box.

Tags used to be commonly seen in blog sidebars in the form of a tag cloud – an alphabetical listing of tags in paragraph form with the tag’s font size determined by how frequently the tag was used on the blog. Tag clouds have largely fallen out of favor as they cluttered up sites. Complete listings of all tags are often not presented anywhere on a site unless on a special alphabetically ordered index page where appropriate. This works well when people know what they’re looking for and can scan through a long list. Examples include ingredients, brands and places.

In general, a list of the tags for an individual post are shown just on the post’s page, rather than on the homepage of the blog or anywhere else.

Example: The Verge

Technology, science, art, and culture news site The Verge shows tags below individual stories and calls these “related items”. For example, on a story entitled “Former Apple designers say the company has lost ‘the fundamental principles of good design”, the tags are: design, iPhone, apple, iPad.

Related items - tags

Example: Chocolate & Zucchini

As an alternative way to explore her vast collection of recipes, Clotilde Dusolier uses tags exclusively for recipe ingredients. Posts which are not about recipes are not tagged at all. This creates a large alphabetical index for discovering recipes containing a particular ingredient, and as these tags are listed below each post, it’s a way for a reader to find other recipes with the same ingredients in them.


What are Custom Taxonomies?

Custom taxonomies are used when you need more than categories and tags. Whenever there is a group of related tags or a “container” category, a custom taxonomy may be more appropriate. Always keep custom taxonomies as an option in the back of your mind – they can be incredibly useful.

While the name sounds daunting and may conjure up memories from high school biology classes, custom taxonomies are just used to group your blog posts. When you need more than one group of categories or more than one group of tags to help visitors better explore your content, consider using custom taxonomies.

Custom taxonomies are often found in the sidebars of blogs as dropdown menus or checkboxes as a way to filter content. They may also be seen as part of the post itself on the individual post’s page.

One important note is that there’s currently no way of setting up custom taxonomies in the default WordPress interface: coding knowledge is required. However, there are plugins which help provide more user-friendly ways to set these up.

Custom taxonomies are best described in examples.

Example: Bois de Jasmin

Victoria Frolova’s site Bois de Jasmin, has been covering fragrance, flavor and other sensory pleasures since 2005. The site includes extensive perfume reviews which are organized using categories, tags and custom taxonomies.

For example, a review of “Lalique Encre Noire” is categorized as a perfume review and tagged with a number of terms. In addition, there are custom taxonomies for rating, house, creator(s), mood(s) and note(s). For this review, she has given the perfume a rating of 5 stars, notes that it is from the Lalique house, created by Christine Nagel and Nathalie Lorson. She describes the perfume as casual and elegant and has the note Vetiver. Note that a “note” here has a special meaning: it is a perfumer’s descriptor!

Custom taxonomies to organize blog content

When exploring the site, one can filter perfume reviews by any of these custom taxonomies. The sidebar includes dropdowns for each of the custom taxonomies. For example, I could just read reviews of perfumes rated with 5 stars, or made by Christian Dior, or find a perfume which is for a seductive mood.

Using custom taxonomies to explore content on blogs

Before custom taxonomies were provided in WordPress, people created very large and complex categories with many levels of subcategories and it worked – by and large. There are three disadvantages to this method.

Firstly, when adding a new blog post, the blogger had to scroll through one very long and unwieldy list of categories which kept growing over time in order to find the correct boxes to tick. In Bois de Jasmin’s example, it would be a long list of over 500 items! Using custom taxonomies means that there are separate boxes to complete for each one (rating, house, creator etc) making it a far more user-friendly system for bloggers.

Secondly, “container” categories are redundant and confusing to visitors. For Bois de Jasmin, each perfume review would have a rating, house, creator(s), mood(s) and note(s). Using categories for rating, house, creator, mood and notes instead of custom taxonomies would require there to be a container category called rating with subcategories 5 stars, 4 stars, 3 stars etc inside it. Visitors going to the “rating” category would end up seeing every single perfume review rather than anything useful!

Thirdly, using categories and subcategories over custom taxonomies – where appropriate – can mean less user-friendly URLs. For Bois de Jasmin, it would mean a link such as /perfume-reviews/mood/elegant rather than /mood/elegant. Custom taxonomies also enable you to be nicely use plurals: you can have a custom taxonomy called “people” and the URL say “/person/rachel-cunliffe”.

Starter ideas for food blogs

  • You could use categories for types of recipes, tags for the ingredients and a custom taxonomy for the dietary considerations (dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, vegetarian etc).
  • Your site could include archives for recipes by category as a grid of images, an alphabetical list of recipes by ingredient and an archive of recipes by dietary consideration as a grid of images.
  • Clicking into each category, ingredient or dietary consideration could bring up a grid of images for all matching recipes. From there, a visitor could select a recipe which interests them to view the recipe in full.

Starter ideas for beauty blogs

  • You could use categories for the types of posts you run (news, reviews, giveaways, personal) and tags for the brands.
  • Your site could include a horizontal top menu with each of the categories in it for visitors to quickly click through to the type of post which interests them.
  • If personal (“off-topic”) posts are not so important to highlight, this could be left off the main menu. A drop-down menu of all brands could also be in this main menu, allowing visitors to quickly see all posts which interest them.

Starter ideas for lifestyle blogs

  • You could use categories such as make, grow, do and inspiration. You could use subcategories for each. For example, in “make” you could have crafts, clothing and cooking.
  • Your site could include a horizontal top menu with each of the categories in it for visitors to quickly click through to the type of post which interests them.
  • Subcategories could be in dropdown menus from each of the main menu categories for even quicker filtering down of content.
  • Later on, if your various “make” projects become a popular feature of your site, you may wish to include a custom taxonomy which grades each project as beginner, intermediate or advanced; and possible other custom taxonomies to grade each project by cost and time involved. By adding these extra ways of grouping posts, it makes it easier for visitors to explore your growing archives of content and find content which best matches their interests.

What should you do if your blog posts are sitting in a messy pile?

It’s never too late to start organizing your content and it’s advantageous to be done before considering a site redesign. Thinking through how you’d like your content to be better organized is also excellent preparation for a redesign.


Work through the following:

  • How many do you have?
  • Do they reflect your blog’s current focus and purpose?
  • Do they make sense to new visitors?
  • How many posts do you have in each category?
  • Could some be combined, split, removed, divided into subcategories or reworded?
  • Should some be converted to tags?

Use Google Analytics to see which category links are being most clicked on and which category links are rarely or never clicked on. Use this to help objectively evaluate whether each category is necessary.

If you discover “container” categories which have almost all the posts categorized by one of their subcategories, you may need to move these to custom taxonomies. If you discover categories without many posts in them, you may need to delete the category or make it a tag.

WordPress has a default category called “uncategorized” which cannot be deleted. If you still have this category, rename it to either be the most common category you will post about, combine it with a category you post most regularly in, or give it a more user-friendly and professional name such as “Other”.


Now work through this list:

  • Do they reflect your blog’s current focus and purpose?
  • Are you using them in a consistent way?
  • Do they make sense to new visitors?

If you discover groups of related tags, you may need to move these to categories or custom taxonomies.

Use Google Analytics to see which tag links are being most clicked on and which tag links are rarely or never clicked on. Use this to help objectively evaluate whether each tag is necessary. For long lists of tags, consider highlighting a smaller set of popular tags (as determined by numbers of visitors).

TIP: Be sure to take advantage of the variety of bulk editing plugins for WordPress to help reduce the manual labor when working with categories, tags and custom taxonomies.

Displaying categories and tags

Categories and tags can be displayed in lots of different ways such as:

  • Filters
  • Grids
  • Alphabetical with headings
  • Lists in columns
  • Tabs
  • Related content
  • Menus
  • A simple paragraph of links

Wrapping it up

Just as the content you write on your blog is unique, the way you group your blog posts will also be unique. There is no one single correct way to organize content. Do not feel that you need to use categories, tags and custom taxonomies to organize content. Find a way to organize your content which best suits your visitors, your content and your blog’s aims.

Grouping related blog posts can greatly improve the experience visitors have when visiting a site and increase the time spent on site as they can easily find more content of interest to them.

Like any organization system, there’s a tension between making something overly complex, overwhelming and confusing to use versus making something too simple and inefficient to use. Use Google Analytics to learn how people are exploring your site.

Now that you’re up to speed with categories, tags and taxonomies, I encourage you to go work on yours! Please do let me know how you get on and if you have any questions.

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