This is a question I get a lot lately. This feature of WordPress can be confusing, and throw in keywords for search engine optimization and people definitely get that glazed over look. And the more I read other good posts on the topic, the more I realize that there are a lot of opinions on what they are and how they are used. What I have come to realize is:
There is no one right answer to how you should use WordPress categories and tags for your blog, but there are some guidelines on using them effectively.
Things you need to consider:
- Should I use both?
- Should I assign posts to more than one category?
- Do either of these help with search engine optimization?
- Should I let search engines index your either or both of the archives?
Choosing which to use and how is really a matter of style. In fact, I’ve changed my opinion on how these should be used since starting this blog post and spent the day reorganizing my content on this site. So now it is time for me to put my spin on this topic.
First, let’s start with definitions:
- Categories – broadly defined terms that describe the type of content you contain in your blog, organizing your blog like a Table of Contents organizes the contents of a book.
- Tags – more specific terms that you want to associate with each post to specifically define what it is about, similar to how an index of a book enables you to find all instances of a particular topic.
For most blogs, categories are visibly listed in the sidebar, allowing visitors find your posts on a particular topic. If you plan them based on your ideal target market, you will:
- Define the topics your market wants;
- Help you focus your writing on relevant content;
- Ensure your content is organized, enabling easier searching and a better experience for your visitors.
Some best practices are:
- Keep the number of categories small and manageable;
- Use your keyword terms if possible to organize your posts for your readers who are searching for these topics;
- File posts into the categories that make sense. If you find that your posts fit into too many, maybe you need to break your post into more focused posts or rethink your categories.
Tags are less visible on a blog, with few blogs providing a tag cloud or list of tags in the sidebar these days. Since tags are more free form and will grow in number, listing them can detract from the visual appeal of your blog. If you do wish to tag your posts, do so with the following guidelines:
- Avoid having too many tags for each post – 2 or 3 tags is sufficient (focus your post around one keyword!) Too many tags and you start to look like you are spamming the search engines.
- Reserve your tags for more specific categorization, keeping them unique from your category list.
- Define tags for what is important in the post that deserves more attention.
Which One is Better for SEO?
It is important to understand how categories and tags are used for search engine optimization. However, remember you want your visitors to easily find what they are looking for once you get them to your blog.
Tags, on the other hand, have little to no effect on SEO.
Matt Cutts, CTO of Google, explains how they view tag clouds in the following video on whether tag clouds help or hinder SEO or whether they have no effect:
If you haven’t used tags, you probably won’t spend a lot of time on them in the future. If you have used them, it’s fine to use them sparingly. However, if you choose to use both categories and tags, make sure you only index one of them with search engines to avoid duplicate content and the potential for penalties. Use a plugin like WordPress SEO to help you fine tune what you allow the search engines to index.
If you need to reorganize your tags and categories, install the Categories to Tags Converter plugin to organize your content better. Review your content every 3 months and move frequently used tags to a category and not used categories to tags.
What tips and best practices do you have for using categories and tags on your WordPress blog?