Even though categories and tags have been in existence with the WordPress core for decades, there are still many questions that people have about the best way to use them. Since Google began its journey to change the world back in 1998 the question has not just been how to use categories and tags but how can their use affects SEO.
Overall, using categories or tags in your WordPress website can certainly help with your SEO efforts as they provide an easy way for users to explore the content of a website. However, using them incorrectly can actually have a negative effect on your Google rankings.
This article explains what categories and tags are, the differences between the two and how they can be used for SEO to boost your search ranking position.
The difference between categories and tags
WordPress themselves says that categories are designed to be used for “broad groupings of topics” whereas tags are used for “much more specific topics” used to associate related content.
It is also worth noting that categories are hierarchical, which means that one category can have lots of sub-categories associated with it.
Let’s take a look at an example of a blog about Tennis. Within your blog you might have several posts about different racquets, so you would then include a category called “Tennis Racquets”.
You may decide that you also want to further categorize your post by the racquet manufacturer and add cateorgies such as “Dunlop” or “Yonex” with the parent category of “Tennis Racquets”.
For tags you might want to go into more specific topics related to tennis racquets such as material, grip size or other specific aspects related to the content.
What you use as categories or tags is also dependant on what the purpose of the blog content. For example, if your content is focused on tennis techniques then the racquet manufacturer is not really that important, but it might be something you want to add as a tag if the content is related to techniques using a specific brand of racquet.
Overall categories should be used to structure your content and tags should be used to group random bits of content together that don’t necessarily belong in the same category.
What’s more important?
It is widely accepted that categories are more important than tags as they help creature a content structure to your website. Tags can also be very beneficial, but it depends on the size of your site and topics that you are writing about. In many cases it may not even make sense to include tags at all.
SEO benefits of using categories and tags
Google have stated for years now that there goal is to provide the best experience for the user. Websites that they believe do this will naturally rank higher.
Using categories and tags effectively can create a really good user experience, especially for large sites. By grouping your content a user can nagivate your website or blog and find they content they are looking for much more easily. Google loves this!
As categories are hierarchical this also means that you can create an SEO optimized URL structure, e.g. tennisblog.com/racquets/dunlop/
Categories and tags also allow you to create more SEO optimized content.
Let’s say you have ten different blog posts review different tennis racquets. Each post should be optimized to rank for search queries relating to a specific tennis racquet which is great, but what if someone is just search for tennis raquet reviews? This is where you can use the category page of “raquets” to target these typ of search queries.
Adverse SEO effects of using categories and tags
When used correctly there are no negative effects categories and tags can have your website in terms of SEO. However, in many cases when they are not used correctly it can cause a couple of issues that can impact on your search ranking positon.
Google loves great content that fulfils the users requirements. Thin content of just a few hundred words generally doesn’t do that.
Every time you create a category or tag it generates a new page to contain all the associated posts. If you have categories or tags which just one or two posts in then this will create lots of thin content your website.
Thin content is provides a bad user experience and also wastes time for Google as they have to crawl all the different category or tag pages that you have created.
Sometimes website or blog owners choose to create as many different categories or tags as possible with the idea that the more they have the more search terms they can rank for. In reality what they often end up with is very similar categories containing the same posts. This can result in duplicate content which is definitely something to avoid if you want to rank high in Google.
Duplicate content is also created when website owners create the same category and tag. If you have a category called “Tennis Racquets” than you should not have a tag with this name as well.
Should I use categories or tags on my website?
Generally the answer is, yes! Categories and tags can really help with the user experience on your website or blog. However, start off slow with just a few categories and try to build then up so that the category page itself is a page that gives a great user experience.
As your content grows you may need to add more categories or even tags to allow people to find different content more easily.
In order to really get the most from categories and tags, consider optimizing the archive pages and adding some unique and interesting content relating to the category itself in addition to the associated posts, such as a category description.
What should I do if I have too many categories or tags?
If you already have a website with too many categories or tags then you need to remove some or merge them together.
Before going on a crazy deleting spree, take time to decide exactly which categories or tags should be included in your website. Think about your typical user and what groupings would be beneficial to them.
Whenever you remove a category or tag page, be sure to also redirect. This will prevent 404 errors on your website and once again it will provide a good user experience.