Guide to Categories and Tags in WordPress
If you’ve been in SEO for any length of time, you know that search engines use keywords to identify the purpose of a webpage. Those little keywords help the engine organize its listings. They’re at the heart of SEO.
That’s why CRM systems like WordPress have category and tag systems. They help both search engines and human readers understand the layout and purpose of a page. But there are tricks to using them effectively. Done incorrectly, your categories and tags can drag down your SEO more than you think, and it can make your site difficult to navigate for your visitors.
Here’s a brief guide on how to use categories and tags correctly for SEO purposes in WordPress.
Categories in WordPress
A category is a broad descriptor of a class of posts and pages on your site. When you add a page to a category, it’s more than just a little label. WordPress also adds it to a special category page that’s web accessible. Visitors to category pages can see an archive of past posts on the same topic. Think of categories as an internal directory of listings for your site.
Category pages are great for broad keywords and to prevent internal page competition. If all of your product pages are optimizing for the same keyword then they’ll fight with each other for ranking. The better route is to have your core category page have the broadest keyword and then optimize for more specific or long-tail keywords on the individual product pages.
Thus, for instance, if you sold comics online you don’t want to optimize every page for comics. Your home page might have that, and then your main category keywords might be “Marvel”, “DC”, “Image”, and “Independent Comics”. Each page under those would be focused on the series name, and then perhaps individual issue numbers as the final page.
Think of how Wikipedia or Amazon are designed. These are prime examples of how to use categories properly. You can learn a lot by studying their site structures. Chances are your site isn’t nearly as complex as these, but take the broad principles and you can’t go too wrong.
If you use categories and subcategories correctly, your site will also be optimized for breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are a tiny internal link listing of the hierarchy of the current page. Search engines, people, SEO and PPC management agencies can use these to quickly navigate back to your category pages. If you don’t have breadcrumbs as part of your theme, consider installing Yoast to add them in.
Make Your Category Pages Unique
If you go to visit your category pages, you might find they’re a bit bare. They might be just a listing of past posts and that’s it. That’s a bad strategy. Every category you have needs to have a little custom text on the category page to let users know what the purpose of the page is. That turns the category page from something utilitarian into something interesting.
More importantly, from an SEO perspective, category pages without any unique content are built entirely of duplicate content from the rest of your site. Consider using a category template or a plugin for category page alterations to avoid the defaults.
While you’re in there, you should endeavor to clean out any duplication between your categories or your categories and tags. Duplication will cause your pages to fight with one another for SEO placement. It doesn’t have to be exact either. Google is smart enough to read past capitalization or grammatical number differences (e.g. book vs books). These are also confusing for the reader. Pick a scheme and stick with it.
Another subtle thing to avoid is including the category in the title of your individual pages. This will confuse search engines. Let the breadcrumbs show which pages relate to which ones and make your titles as unique as possible from your other pages.
E-commerce sites have the most to gain from proper category pages. Done right, they become landing pages rather than an SEO drag. However, it can take a lot of work to comb through your site for duplications and make your categories unique enough to start ranking.
Tags in WordPress
Tags are much like category pages you can create on the fly. They’re great for human eyes, but they’re terrible for SEO. Most posts have more than one tag associated with them and each one of those tags creates an archive page. If you have a tag-heavy site, those tag pages are dragging down your SEO.
The golden rule in internal linking is that you don’t want your pages competing against one another for SEO value. Thus, if you want to use tags you should exclude all tag pages from your listings. This will give maximum value to the individual pages and to your categories.
The process for excluding your tag pages from WordPress depends on your theme and plugins. Three things need to be done:
- Set all tag pages to be ‘noindex’ and ‘nofollow’
- Tell your sitemap to exclude these pages from your site
Again, we’d like to recommend Yoast as a tool for making this simple. Here are instructions on how to set pages to be ‘noindex’ and ‘nofollow’ using Yoast. These tags will tell search engines not to index the pages and prevent link attribution from following back to pages you don’t want to index.
However, some sites do get an SEO boost from tag clouds. While it is possible, it requires very careful tagging to avoid too much duplication. In addition, your tag pages will also have to be expanded with additional content like a category page to make it different enough for the search engines to rank it. If you have a strong category structure, you shouldn’t need tags for your SEO. Use them for humans instead and exclude the pages from the search spiders.
Categories are powerful, but they have to be done right or your site could end up in a tangle. Tags, by their nature, tangle links between pages and create clouds of navigation that are confusing for SEO. Follow these tips and you’ll be on the right track.
Chris Hickman is the Founder and CEO at Adficient with 15 years of experience in search marketing and conversion optimization. Since 2006, he founded GetBackonGoogle, helping businesses and websites suspended in Adwords to Get Back on Google.