People have been blogging for many years now. Blogging skills have evolved as the technology has evolved. People have become more savvy with how they format posts for easy reading, where to share and how to optimized them for greater visibility. But, when it comes to WordPress blog posts, one area that still gets misused is categories and tags.
This feature of WordPress can be confusing. Now 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:
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 both category and tag archives?
Choosing which to use and how is really a matter of style.
What are WordPress Categories and Tags?
First, let’s start with definitions:
- Categories – Strategically defined terms that describe the type of content you contain in your blog. Categories organize 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. This is 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.
WordPress Category and Tag Best Practices
- Keep the number of categories small and manageable. As I mentioned previously, categories should align strategically with how you want to be found in search.
- 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 Yoast SEO to help you fine tune what you allow the search engines to index.
If you need to reorganize your tags and categories, first conduct a content audit to see what content needs to be updated or removed. Then review your tags and determine which ones to remove as well. A good guideline is if a tag only has one post, it probably isn’t relevant to your blog. If there are a lot of posts in a single tag, maybe that tag should be a category. 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?