Ten tips for using categories and tags on your WordPress news site

March 25, 2014

#1: Multimedia should be a state of mind, not a category. 

Don’t fall into the habit of thinking of Multimedia as a category that’s separate from other categories on your site. For an online news staff, using multimedia should mean offering readers more than just text stories –– they should be adding video clips, photo slideshows, audio clips, embedded infographics, and more.   All of your categories should contain stories with multimedia, whether they’re News, Sports, Features, or Entertainment stories.  With each story your staff writes, they should be asking what multimedia elements they can add to that story rather than having multimedia be something that exists on the fringe of the site.

#2: Your print edition sections don’t necessarily make good categories.

Categories should be about grouping content, not about describing a physical location of your print publication. If you find that your website has categories for “Center Spread” or “Back Page,” you should consider placing those stories in categories that are more descriptive to the reader –– maybe the story would be better off in a Humor category or a Features category.  Even a category name like “In Depth” should be reconsidered.  Was the in-depth story News, was it Sports, or was it Features? 

#3: Understand how child categories work.

When you assign a story to a child category, it will automatically display on any page or category widget that’s displaying the parent category.  For example, if you have child categories Fall Sports, Winter Sports, and Spring Sports all as children of the Sports category, then any story assigned to Winter Sports will automatically show up when the Sports category is viewed.  You don’t need to assign the story to both the child and parent categories — doing so defeats the purpose of using child categories in the first place.

#4: Don’t go crazy with child categories.

If you’re only going to have one or two stories on the football team, then you don’t need a category for Football –– a single category for Sports is probably sufficient.  Categories should be part of the long-range plan for your site –– they are used to group content over time that will make it easier for readers to find that content.  For those schools that cover every single game for every sport, then it would make sense to create categories for those individual sports or even create child categories for general sports seasons.  My general rule of thumb is that if you don’t have at least ten stories in a category, it’s probably not worth having a category.

#5: Don’t double categorize.

Pick the single category that best fits the story you’re publishing. When you assign a story to multiple categories, you’ll end up with repeated homepage story placement, and your category pages will get repetitive.  If your readers are clicking through your category pages, they want to see unique content on each of those pages.  If they start seeing repeated stories, they’re less likely to pay attention. 

#6: Add a new category for an ongoing, developing story.

Categories are by far the easiest way to group stories in WordPress.  If you’ve got a developing news story that you’re going to be covering over time, create a category for it and add it to your navigation bar –– this signals to your reader that there are multiple stories on the topic, and it gives you an easy way to surface this content in a category widget on your homepage and in your navigation bars.  Most WordPress themes also offer easy ways to navigate between stories in the same category, so by using this technique, your story page will probably automatically provide paths to related stories for your readers.

#6: Keep your navigation bars current.

Over time, your site will accumulate more and more categories.  That doesn’t mean they all need to be active in your site’s navigation.  If you find that some categories you formerly used aren’t getting stories any more, then remove them from the navigation.  Readers expect the links you give in your navigation bar to go to current content, not stories from a year or two ago.

#7: Consider separating your shorter content into its own category.

My students do a lot of short briefs on sporting events, but we don’t want our readers to mistake this coverage for the longer, more in-depth sports stories being written.  By creating a Sports Updates/Briefs category, this shorter content that’s being added on a daily basis doesn’t cause the bigger, more important stories from being pushed off the home page too soon.

#8: Tags are different than categories.

Tags in WordPress don’t have a hierarchy, and they can’t be added to navigation bars –– think of them as a navigation structure that can be created on the fly to connect related content.  Most WordPress templates will display tags at the bottom of a post (story) –– a tag will link to all other stories that have the same tag.  This can be a useful way for grouping related stories — if your staff has three stories on the school budget, it probably isn’t worth creating a category for this, but a tag of “budget” would allow readers to navigate between these connected stories. 

#9: Create a tagging plan.

Tags are only useful when they are repeated on your site and used deliberately for in-site navigation purposes.  They’re not about increasing your SEO results, and randomly tagging phrases from your story won’t help in a Google search anyway.  If you want SEO help, add an SEO plugin — this will add keywords as meta tags that will be picked up and properly indexed by search engines.  One possibility for a tagging plan is to use tags for names of students mentioned or quoted in stories.  This provides you a great way to track who you’re covering and allows your readers to easily find content about individual people in your community.

#10: Pages and categories are not the same thing.

WordPress has two main types of content: pages and posts (stories).  Pages are designed for static content –– don’t create a category for something like Yearbook when what you really need is a page that describes your Yearbook submission deadlines.  Check out this overview of pages vs. categories

Bonus Tip

If you ever don’t see the category selection box or tag selection box when working on a post in WordPress, just click the screen options tab at the top of the screen and add a check next to Categories or Tags to get the selection boxes to show up in their usual places.