I frequently get asked if categories or tags are better for search engine optimization. Clients often think that putting more tags on their WordPress posts and product pages results in better SEO. Keeping SEO in mind when thinking about categories and tags is good however the focus should be on usability.
In this short post, I will explain what categories and tags are, how to use them, and why.
What exactly are categories and tags
Categories are used to create broad groupings of content. Think of categories as your website’s table of contents or general topics. Categories can have subcategories that creates a hierarchy.
Let’s say you have a website to review books. Your categories would be genres like nonfiction, mystery, and romance. If needed, these categories could be further refined using subcategories. Using the nonfiction category example, you could have subcategories classed as biographies, history, and philosophy.
Tags are more specific content groupings. Think of them as micro-categories of related content.
Users on your book review website probably want to see all the books written by an author. This can be done using tags. Following the above example, you would want to use authors as tags.
Let’s say a user is looking at a review of IT by Stephen King. That would be in the horror category. What if they want to see more reviews of his books, maybe The Dark Tower series? Without an author tag, they would have to go searching in other categories to find it.
How to use them and why
There is more than one way to use categories and tags on your website. The solution lies in understanding the most intuitive way for your audience to find what they are looking for.
The way to do this is by developing your information/website architecture. Website architecture is the way your website is structured and how that structure helps users easily find information. To do this you need to take into account your goals, your audience, user experience, and content.
- Do keyword research
- Use clear descriptive names
- Use content silos
- Create meaningful category and tag pages
I don’t know about you but when I land on a site and can’t find the information I need, I move on to a competitor. No one enjoys being lost in a confusing website. And this simple fact has huge SEO and ranking impacts.
Search engines show websites that people want to see. What do you think Google would serve? A site that has a high bounce rate because content and navigation is a mess or a site where users spend more time because the experience is enjoyable.
What not to do
Never use the same word or phrase as both a tag and a category. There’s absolutely no point in doing that, plus you’ll probably run into technical problems if you do. Also, don’t use a bunch of tags on each post. Don’t make blog author categories or tags.
A few years back, I worked with a client that had hundreds of indexed tag pages on a relatively small site. They had inserted several tags on each post, oftentimes with very similar spellings like: book and books.
Doing that creates two tag pages: book and books. Now imagine using twenty-plus tags on each post, sometimes the same sometimes different. Indexed or not, having a bunch of useless tag pages with duplicate content is not good for user experience.
To wrap up, use categories and tags smartly. Figure out your website’s information architecture, do some keyword and competitor research, and create easy-to-navigate content.