Are you creating categories on the go while you’re publishing posts? Do you have more than 15 categories on your blog? Are you using tags to bring some order back to your site? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you may be among many WordPress users that are confused about how to use categories and tags effectively, particularly to benefit SEO.
Categories and tags are the two main methods to organize posts in WordPress, but they also serve different purposes. Using them in the correct way will not only help you improve your SEO, but ultimately provide a much better user experience for your readers.
This article will explain the difference between the two and show you how to get the most out of each of them in the hopes of bringing some order back to your site.
What about SEO?
Categories and tags, when used correctly, could improve your SEO in three ways:
- The internal links will help search engine crawlers find all your site’s content by following those links. In short, it allows search engines such as Google and Bing to access and index all of your posts and include them in search results.
- Your category and tag names, which are the anchor text of the internal links, will give search engines a clue as to what your site is about. This helps you rank your content for those valuable keywords.
- Popular posts that generate inbound links will use categories and tags to link to other related posts on your site, effectively boosting your website’s ranking on search engines and getting you that extra link juice.
What are Categories?
Before WordPress version 2.3, categories were the only way to organize your blog posts in WordPress, so you probably used or at least heard of them before. In fact, you can’t even publish a post without assigning a category to it. So what exactly is their purpose again?
Categories are used to group similar topics together – kind of like book chapters. The chapter titles of a book usually give you a pretty solid grasp of what the book is about and how it is structured. If the author or editor of that book were to reorganize or remove chapters, it would change the whole structure, and perhaps the whole story.
Let’s take an example of a health blog. If you’re running a comprehensive blog, you could select and create your categories based on the main components of health: Exercise, Nutrition, Motivation, etc. You can add sub-categories to each of those if needed (ex. Recipes under Nutrition). But there are a few rules you need to keep in mind:
- Categories can only be used for posts, not pages
- Every blog post should fit into one category (sometimes a post fits into two categories, but this shouldn’t occur often)
- It is best to work with a single category limit for most of your posts
- Categories shouldn’t be created for topics that you’re not going to discuss any further in the near future
- You should place your categories into hierarchies and add subsequent subcategories as your site develops
You can create categories from the category interface (Posts > Categories). Let’s look at the Add New Category screen:
Speaks for itself. Give your categories easily identified, short names that visitors will instantly recognize. The category name should include a relevant keyword.
This is the URL of your category name. It is found in category archives and your post URLs if you’re using custom permalinks. Use dashes to separate words and don’t stuff it with keywords.
You can create a subcategory by assigning a parent to it. Leave it at “None” if it is a top-level category.
This is where the category description goes. It is not shown by default, but some WordPress themes may display it.
Although you are able to create as many categories as you like, the less you have the better. Typically, if you have more than a dozen blog categories, your content may not be as focused as you might think.
Google may translate a large number of blog categories to a lack of focus. This will make it much harder for your content to get the ranking which it deserves. That’s why it’s important to think very carefully about each category that you’re adding to your site.
Another reason why you should think carefully about each category you add or assign is that it can be quite challenging to change a post’s category later on, especially when it is part of a post’s URL slug. So to avoid redirecting 404 pages, choose categories wisely to save yourself some trouble in the future.
What are Tags?
Tags are used to provide specific details about your posts and also link related posts on your blog. This is why posts typically have quite a few tags to them (in comparison to categories). Think of tags like a book’s index – an extended list of more specific topics which the book covers. If a topic is in the index, it is mentioned in more than one part of the book; and adding or removing a topic from the index does not change the structure of a book.
So let’s go back to the example of a health blog. Possible tags to feature are fitness, body composition, nutrients, etc. You want to keep the names short and easily identifiable as well.
Remember that tags whilst helpful, are entirely optional. You should only include them if you are certain that they will add value to your site. Here are a few rules to keep in mind:
- Try not to use more than five tags in each post. Remember: you want to make it clear and easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for
- Don’t create a tag that can only be applied to one post
- You shouldn’t repeat tags too often for different categories, as this may make things more complicated
- Try not to capitalize your tags, as it is better to use lowercase
- Tags are flat, which means that you can’t create a hierarchical structure with sub-tags
Categories and tags are quite straightforward to use once you understand the difference between them and their individual value. They are there to improve your site’s usability (categories more so than tags) and are thus a vital component of SEO. So choose your categories wisely and always link your decision back to your end user.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of categories, tags and how to use them. For those that want to know even more about the usage of categories and tags: there’s an advanced user guide available at WordPress.org.
Please share your thoughts on the subject. How do you organize your content? Do you have any tips you’d like to share with your fellow WordPress users?
Did you know that with All in One SEO Pack Pro, you can control SEO for categories and tags?