How to Work with Categories in WordPress

DISCLOSURE: This article may contain affiliate links. Which means we make a commission, at no cost to you, on products and services we recommend that you decide to buy. Read our full disclosure here.

In this article, we’re looking at how Categories work within a WordPress website or blog. And how you work with them to organise content.

If you build a website that only consists of Pages, you don’t need to worry about categories as they are only associated with Posts.

If you don’t know the difference between posts and pages, read this: In WordPress, What’s the Difference Between Posts and Pages?

What you need to know about WordPress Categories

Categories cover broad topics and exist so you can group content together, making it easier for your visitors to find the content that interests them.

Using this site as an example, there are four different categories at the time of writing. They are WordPress, WordPress Tutorials, WordPress Themes and WordPress Plugins. It’s clear what kind of content you can expect to see when you visit each category.

A list of our WordPress Categories as of Nov 2022

Let’s look at another example. This time an imagined photography website.

Here are a few examples of categories you would expect to see on a photography website.

  • Travel photography
  • Portrait photography
  • Landscape photography
  • eBay photography (yes, that’s a thing!)
  • Photography equipment
  • Smartphone photography

In WordPress, you can create subcategories too.

Subcategories of the travel photography category could look something like this:

  • Travel photography
    • Travelling light
    • Photography bags
    • Local customs
    • Planning a trip

WordPress calls top-level categories ‘Parent(s)’ and the subcategories ‘Child(ren)’

How many categories should you use?

While you can use as many as you like, it makes for a better user experience to limit the number of categories to a reasonable amount.

One way to approach this is to create around 10-20 pieces of content around one category before moving on to working on a second category.

How to create WordPress Categories

There are two ways to create categories. The first one is through a standalone process and the second is at Post level.

Let’s look at the standalone process first.

Using the menu on the left-hand side of the window, navigate to Posts > Categories.

When you get there, you’ll see a section like this.

There are three sections to fill in, and if you’re creating a subcategory, a Parent Category to choose from.

The three sections you need to complete are:

Name – The name of your category
Slug – The part that appears in the URL (permalink)
Description – Some themes show the Description to visitors who land on the category page. If the theme you’re using does this, and you want the description to appear on the page for visitors to read, complete this section.

The fourth option here is the Parent Category. You only use this if you’re creating subcategories. Just select the Parent Category from the drop-down menu to add the new category.

How do categories affect permalinks?

If you use the Category name as part of your permalink structure, adding more subcategories increases the length of the URL. For example, on this site, we don’t use the Category name in the permalink. This keeps the URL short.

Here’s the format for our permalinks:

If we did use the Category name in the permalink and we published a post in the top-level category, the URL would look like this:

If we used a subcategory and published a post in that subcategory, the URL would look like this:

How to create a category at Post level

The second way to create a new category in WordPress is at Post level.

To do this, create a new post. Now move over to the sidebar on the right side of the screen. If you don’t see one, click on the cog to make it visible.

The sidebar contains lots of controls for your post and the blocks that make up the post.

At this time, we’re concentrating on adding a new category so make sure you have the Post tab active, not the Block tab.

From here, you need to open the Categories section. You do this by clicking on the link in the menu. When you do that, you’ll see this.

Now click on the blue Add New Category link to open up the sub-section as you see below.

Enter the name of your category into the New Category Name box and click the Add New Category button. The result will look like this.

At this stage, you’ve created a new category and the post you’re working on has assigned itself to that category. If you wanted to add the post to a second category, follow the same process to create that second category.

The post will again assign itself to that category.

NOTE – Kind of obvious, but your first category can’t be assigned to a Parent Category. You can only assign a subcategory (Child) to a top-level category (Parent) when you have at least two categories.

How to delete a Category

There are two ways to delete a category.

  1. Navigate to Posts > Categories then move your mouse under the list of categories until the options show up. When they do, click on the Delete link (see screenshot above). You’ll be asked to confirm the action. If there are any posts in the category you’re deleting, they’ll be moved to the default category.
  2. Navigate to Posts > Categories then tick the checkboxes of the category you want to delete (you can choose more than one). Choose Delete from the Bulk Actions drop-down menu, then click on Apply.

You can’t delete the default category, which is Uncategorized unless you change it, as I’ve done on this site. The default category here is WordPress, so I was able to delete Uncategorized.

How to change the default Post Category

You can change the default Category by navigating to Settings in the left-hand menu, then Writing. Once there, choose the new default category from the drop-down menu and click the Save Changes button.

WordPress writing settings

After you’ve made this change, all future posts will be assigned to the new default category upon publication.

How to assign a Category to a published Post

As mentioned earlier on, every Post needs to be assigned to at least one category. You typically do this during the process of creating content. But you can do it after a post is published as well.

One way is to log into the post and add the category using the sidebar method described above, but you can also do it using the Quick Edit function.

Navigate to Posts > All Posts and move your mouse down until the Quick Edit link appears under the post title. When you see the link, click it.

From here, you can make amendments to your post. For now, we want to add it to another category. So, tick the checkbox (or checkboxes) next to your chosen category (or categories) and hit the Update button.

Quick tips for WordPress Categories

  • Every Post must be assigned to at least one Category
  • The default Category is called Uncategorised. This is created automatically with each WordPress install.
  • You’ll need to create Categories as you go, or in advance of creating content
  • If you forget to assign a Post to a Category and hit Publish, the Post is assigned to the default Category.
  • Posts can be assigned to more than one category
  • When you delete a Category, all the Posts from that Category get assigned to the default Category
  • You can (probably) create as many categories as you like but experts suggested keeping the number down to a reasonable and sensible amount