Understanding Taxonomies in WordPress

in WordPress Tutorials

The dictionary definition of taxonomy says that taxonomy is the practice and science of classification. Likewise, in WordPress, taxonomies have to do with the way you use classifications in your blog or website. Another dictionary definition of taxonomy that fits a little better with how WordPress uses taxonomies says that taxonomy is the division of content into organized groups or categories. I often think that the reason people get a little confused by the concept of taxonomies in WordPress is simply because they didn’t know what the word meant to begin with. That is why I included this dictionary description in the head of the tutorial on taxonomies for WordPress users.

Types of Taxonomies in WordPress

By default, there are three basic taxonomies in WordPress. They are:

  • Categories – Categories are used like folders to keep a particular group of posts in and are used to easily categorize posts into several popular categories. Categories are often used as the highest level of organization for many WordPress sites.
  • Post Tags – Post tags are used to label individual posts which can then later be grouped by similar labels. Post tags could be used to further divide content after it has been divided into categories. Imagine a music site with categories such as Rock, Jazz and Country. What if you wanted to divide the music by year, era or another sub genre such as hard rock or classic rock? Well, if you added post tags to the music posts like “classic rock”, “70’s music”, etc. it would solve the problem, hence the existence of post tags.
  • Link Categories – Link Categories are used to label individual links and act similar to post tags but for links.

Creating and using Categories

Knowing about taxonomies in WordPress is useless if you don’t know how to create and use them. If you have a WordPress blog that doesn’t yet use categories, you can use this guide to add some. If you are starting a WordPress blog, use this guide to start out right, using categories from the start. Here is a quick exercise on how to create and use categories:

Whether you are adding a new post or editing an old one, categories work the same. You will find the “Category” admin panel in the right column of the admin area for adding or editing posts. At the bottom of the category box, you will find a link that reads “+ Add New Category”. If you click on that link, the box expands to allow you to enter your new categories. Here is a couple of images to help you see how categories are added:

wordpress category 1

wordpress category 2

Go ahead and click on the add new category link to expand the option and enter a new category if you don’t already have one to choose that fits your situation. If you have not entered any categories yet, the only option will be “Uncategorized” like in the above images. Adding a new category will cause that category to show up in the list with the existing “Uncategorized” category that is there by default. You can go ahead and add other categories that you will need for other posts as well while you are at it.

Once you have added your categories, if you already have some posts to add to them, go and add each relative post to a category by going to the post’s edit screen and checking the box for the category then clicking on the update button to save the change. Otherwise, just remember to check a category or add and check a category for each new post you add from now on and it will appear as a category on your site in the sidebar or footer(depending on your active theme). Here is an example of what the categories widget looks like on my site:

wordpress category 3

Each of the three categories under the header is clickable and will take you to a list of post excerpts that are listed under the category you clicked.

Default Category

Another feature available in the WordPress admin area is the ability to set the default category that new posts will get assigned in case you don’t set a specific category. If you do not change this, all of the posts you don’t set a category for will go into the uncategorized category. It is also very simple to do, so why not? Here is how:

Just go to your dashboard and in the left column under “settings”, choose the “Writing” option. Then in the third option down on the right side of the page you will find “Default Post Category” which has a drop-down menu where you can pick from any of the categories you have added. Select one and don’t forget to save changes by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking the button.

Why use Taxonomies?

You may be wondering why anyone would bother with taxonomies in WordPress. To the novice WordPress user, the word taxonomy alone can be intimidating, but there is at least one good reason to use them within your WordPress blog or website. Taxonomies allow you to classify data in several different ways. Doing this also allows for you to display your data in numerous ways. For example if you have a food site and have a whole list of recipes, you may want to display only recipes with chicken in them or only foods with a Mexican flavor. Taxonomies make this possible. So far, from what you have read in this tutorial, you should know that with the default taxonomy system in WordPress, you can use a combination of categories and post tags to form a rather rigid classification system for your site. For example if you had a recipe site, you could use the categories for types of recipes such as Dinners, Deserts, etc., then you could use post tags as a way to divide them up further by giving each recipe with chicken in it a post tag of chicken and also using post tags to note whether the recipe is spicy or not or whatever you want to use to classify your recipes. This allow for two basic levels of classifications. Many sites need more than two levels to be effective though, so there is where custom taxonomies come into play. Read on to learn more!

Custom Taxonomies

Often, for larger WordPress blogs and WordPress websites that have more complex content, the default taxonomies are not sufficient for organizing content. This is where custom taxonomies come into play. Imagine if in your recipes site, you wanted to have your main categories as Asian, American, Chinese and other types of cuisine. Then you wanted to use post tags for things like Desserts, Dinners, Lunch, etc. Then you also want to divide each category into recipes with chicken, pork, no-meat, etc, ultimately, you need a new taxonomy. Custom taxonomies were added just for this. Ever since WordPress version 2.3 I think, they have had the ability to do this through a special taxonomy API. It was used very little at first, but is gaining popularity today as users discover just how useful it can be when needed. Also, at first, people didn’t know how to use it and now, people are learning more and more about how to use custom taxonomies with WordPress. I was going to include something here on how to do custom taxonomies, but decided it was best left for another tutorial. It is beyond the scope of this tutorial and probably is a little more advanced of a topic than this general tutorial on understanding taxonomies warrants. Be sure to read my next tutorial on custom taxonomies for more information though!


Hopefully, after reading this introduction to taxonomies, you will have a good idea of what taxonomies are and how they can improve your WordPress blog or website. See my follow up tutorial on “How to use Custom Taxonomies in WordPress” They are great for displaying content in different ways which helps readers to view the content the way they want to. Taxonomies are a wonderful way to improve your website’s usability and enhance the user’s experience. Good luck with your WordPress project and be sure to use taxonomies in an intelligent manner to help divide up your site’s content and make it more user-friendly. If default taxonomies are not enough for your site, be sure to read my next tutorial on custom taxonomies for WordPress.

Comments (1)

  • Comment by BeltwayBoy

    Thanks for breaking this down into layman’s terms for people like me to understand! I’ve been using WordPress for a while now and really had no clue as to what taxonomies were about. I’ve recently decided that I need to really start digging into the inner workings a little deeper so that I can get my site put together exactly how I want it.