How to display categories in WordPress

When you first start using WordPress as your websites one of the big questions is how do I display categories?  It’s important that you display your categories correctly because it’s such an important part of your website structure. It’s how your website visitors are going to navigate around your website. If they can’t find what they’re looking for they will soon move away. 

There are three main ways in which you can display your categories in WordPress by default.

  1. using the categories widgets in the sidebar.
  2. make a custom menu to display in a menu area.
  3. put together individual category lists and link these manually. This is normally done when you use an image as the link. However, this last method can be quite time-consuming to do.

But without having clear and concise navigation around your site, your visitors are not going to stay very long. And attractive navigation is a great user experience and great user experiences bring more traffic. That experience can help build up regular repeat custom and readers which is what all websites need.

Category list in widget area

Let’s take a closer look at this first option, using the category list that you will find in the widgets area. This category list widget allows you to display your categories in a number of ways. You can display using the default way which normally by the ID, or you can display using alphabetical sorting. 

In addition to this, you can normally display so the hierarchy of categories is slightly indented to the parent category. Plus it also gives you the option to hide empty categories.

This is probably the easiest way to display your category list. All you need to do is to drag it into your preferred widget area, and that can be either your sidebar or maybe a footer. Many themes will now also have widget areas in header sections and other parts of a web page.

Drag your category list box into the widget area. You then open it up and set up how you want it to display. You are able to customise it if you can track down the relevant CSS to make the font different or colour etc.

But the default category widget is very basic in the way it displays your category or tag list.

Category list using custom menu

So let’s take a look at the second method which is to build a custom menu. This is much more flexible than the default category list widget. Not only can you display your categories you can also include within the menu pages or individual posts or tags.

You can build this custom menu under the menu section in your settings. Just start a new menu, and take a look over to the side and you can then pull in categories or tags, individual pages and also custom links.

You can set this menu to a menu area. So if you want, you could display it in your header section as your main menu or a lot of themes will also have submenus as well.

If you go to your widget area you will also discover a navigation widget. This is a widget that you use to display your custom menus. So you can pull this into a widget area; whether that is your sidebar or whether it’s your footer. You then set which custom menu you want to be displayed.

Again you can use CSS to set the size of the font of the custom menu and the font type and other design attributes.

While custom menus are still fairly simple text displays they are a lot more flexible than the standard category list widget.

Manually making image-based category list displays

The final way of displaying the category list without a plug-in is probably the most attractive but also the hardest work. With this method, you produce images to represent each category and then manually attach a link to that image to the category itself.

If you only have a few categories then this can be quite simple and reasonably quick to do. But if you have a lot of categories this can take quite some time. And while you can produce a template to cut and paste into different areas of your website’s he does call for some manual work it’s time you want to display.

 But graphical menus are really popular with website visitors.  The web is increasingly becoming a visual communication device. People decide on where they going to visit not by what they read but by what they see. If that visitors come to your site and the sea great category images they will naturally want to click through to find out more.

If you have the time to produce is graphical menus manually the next idea. But if you don’t is there a quicker and easier way to do this type of graphical display for category this.

Yes, there is and it’s a plug-in which is called Category Editor. It has a new feature that allows you to quickly and easily build up Tesco and tag menus using images.

Category Tinymce plugin

Buy Category Tinymce

Category Editor new image menu option

One of the latest features of this plug-in allows you to assign an image to a category or a tag archive. You can then use a shortcode to display a list of categories or tags in a graphical or image-based menu.

It is a highly effective way of keeping your web visitors on your site, exploring more blog posts or even products if you are trying to sell. The longer you can keep your web visitors on your site the better it is for so many things such as conversions and search placements.


It is much quicker and easier to do than try to build a graphical or an image-based menu using individual images and putting links on to each individual image or picture itself to the category. It can really help boost your productivity in maintaining your web pages.

So if you are new to WordPress you are probably happy with just having a category menu in the sidebar. you may be happy including selected categories or parent categories into your main menu with a custom menu.

But if you need an image-based or a graphical menu then Category Editor plug-ins really is the quickest and easiest way to produce this type of category list.

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Blog postings from the developer of Y Praise Digital. some thoughts and wonderings of a web developer of over 25 years experience.

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