Categories Or Tags? How to Use them for Best SEO Results

Do you think your categories or tags are not optimized for best SEO results? Here is everything you need to know.

Whenever a new blogger enters the world of blogosphere and uses “WordPress” as his first software to present his writings, videos, podcasts, articles etc, he is trapped into a situation where he can’t decide how to use this software to get the high rankings in google in order to bring more and more visitors to his site.

One key area where he looks confused is the use of categories or tags. Many questions come into his mind like:

  1. How many categories should I use on my blog?
  2. How many tags can I use on my site?
  3. How many categories and tags can I assign to one post / article?
  4. Which is better for SEO, category or tag?
  5. Should I let Google index my archives pages esp categories and tags?
  6. How to optimize the categories and tags for search engines and for visitors?

We will try to answer all the questions below.

Every content management system and publishing tool provide the authors and writers a set of tools to assign their work in different folders which are called “archives” in the terms of blogging.

Types of Archives:

There are different types of archives like:

1. Author’s archives
2. Category archives
3. Tag archives
4. Date archives
5. Post format archives (if your theme supports it)
6. Search archives

The purpose of all these archives is to provide the visitors and search engine bots different ways to find the related content easily, without going deep into the site.

If your content is accessible through few mouse clicks, it is not only helpful to the visitors but also to the crawling bots.

When the content gets buried deep into the archives, it is not visited by Google so often, unless it is very popular and has got a lot of backlinks. Less crawling means the page is not refreshed in the Google cached database and after some time it starts losing its ranking.

Categories and Tags Archives:

Categories and Tags are also called as Taxonomies in WordPress terminology. They offer up the opportunities for increased engagement and to sort the content for easy searching.

Categories are like “Table of Contents” of a book, whereas tags are like “Index”.

Should I use Both Categories and Tags on My Blog?

This question is very tricky. In fact, it all depends on your site.

If the posts you publish revolve around 3-5 topics only, you can rely on only categories. But if it is a multi-niched blog, then you should definitely use the tags too to provide another option to users to reach the desired information quickly and precisely.

Bonus Tip: Even if you don’t want to use the Tags on your site, don’t forget to create the relevant tags at the editor’s section. You may change your mind in future and then you won’t need to re-write the tags on all the previously published posts. Moreover, tags are also used by many plugins which show the related articles on the post.

How Many Categories or Tags Should I Use?

There are different views by different experts on this topic.

Those who prefer users over search engine say that the post should contain multiple categories and tags for better engagement.

The other group of experts say that we shouldn’t ignore the search engine totally. We should not assign the post to more than two categories and 3-4 tags.

There is no doubt that every archives, whether it is category archives, tag archives or any other type of archives, it is mere the duplication of the original content until you take some necessary steps to minimize the effects of duplication.

If you assign one post to many categories and tags, you are duplicating your content. Though Google doesn’t penalize the site due to in-house duplication, but it has got many other disadvantages.

How Categories and Tags Are Against SEO Best Practices?

If a so-called SEO expert tells you that Categories and Tags don’t create duplicate content, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know how Google bot works and how the content ranks in the search engine.

Google is very efficient in grouping the on-site duplication and it never penalizes any site due to such type of duplication. But it doesn’t mean you don’t lose anything by creating so many similar types of page in the form of categories and tags.

Here are some ways these archives may hurt your SEO rankings.

  • Un-related Page for a Keyword: Suppose you want the visitors to land on the post “How to Write a Viral Blog Post” for the keyword “viral blog post”. But you have attached this post to “Blogging” category and tagged with “Viral Posts, Writings, How-To” etc. Now Google may find that “Viral Posts” tag page is more relevant to the user’s query and it will send the user to this tag page instead of the actual page.
  • Confusion for Google Bot: If you are showing the full-length article on the category and tag pages too, instead of the excerpt, it will be very difficult for Google bot to compute the most suited article out of these.
  • Bad for Site’s Bandwidth: When Googlebot finds such pages, he crawls them to find more and more unique content. This crawling eats the bandwidth of your site. If your site is big, busy and not properly optimized, Googlebot may slow down the whole site due to frequent visits in order to find more and more content.
  • Inefficient Crawling: According to an old blog post published on “Google blog“,

when Googlebot discovers ten URLs on your site, it has to crawl each of those URLs before it knows whether they contain the same content. The more time and resources that Googlebot spends crawling duplicate content across multiple URLs, the less time it has to get to the rest of your content.

  • Dancing Keyword: On category and tag pages, the group of keywords and keywords’ density fluctuate every time you publish a new post under that category / tag. It also confuses the Google. The category which was ranking high for a specific keyword may lose its ranking on next blog post due to this problem.

How Make them SEO (Search Engine) Friendly?

Above mentioned points don’t conclude that we should not use the taxonomies on our site. Taxonomies are very helpful in many ways.

1) They help Googlebot find new content faster. Often it happens that one category is updated more frequently than others. Google notices it and gives priority to that category page over others. So, whenever you’ll publish a post in that category, you’ll be amazed to see that it is indexed within minutes. While those posts which are published under less-updated categories are not indexed so quickly.

2) Categories and Tags help users find the related content easily. Reading new content means that user is spending more time on the site. This is a good signal when website ranking comes into the play. More a user visits the internal pages and spends time on them, the more value and authority of the site increases in the eye of Google.

So our main purpose should be not only to give the visitors an easy access to every article but also to make the categories and tags SEO friendly.

Here are few steps you can follow to create a balance between user-friendly and search engine friendly taxonomies.

1). If your site covers a single niche, you don’t need to add tags to the posts. Only 8-10 categories are enough.

2) Avoid assigning more than 2 categories to a post.

3) Subcategories are highly discouraged. It is better to create a new parent category instead of subcategory.

4) If your blog is covering different types of topics, you can ditch the categories and start using tags only. One popular blog which is using this strategy is “LifeHacker“.

5) It is better to add “noindex” meta tag to all the categories’ and tags’ pages. For this purpose, Yoast WordPress SEO plugin is the best option.

taxonomies-ranking

6) However, if you want to keep the categories in google index, then it is highly recommended that you add “noindex” to all the subpages of all the archives.

noindex-subpages-categories

7) Using “Yoast’s SEO plugin” add a unique title to every category. After that add a unique description to every category. The description should be long enough so that the keyword doesn’t fluctuate much every time you publish a new post as I mentioned above.

category-title-description

8) Never show full content on archives pages. Always show only the excerpt.

Conclusion:

The bottom line of this post is that we should keep our site structure esp categories and tags, simple and clean. The archives pages should be primarily for visitors only and not for Google. For google crawling, other steps should be taken like better pagination, better navigation menu, and better inter-linking approach. We will discuss these techniques later in a separate post.

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