Today I imported a client’s existing WordPress.com blog content into their new self-hosted WordPress site and I found a mess of categories and tags. I’ve noticed that understanding how to use tags and categories is a challenge for the average blogger.
The biggest reason to use categories and tags is to give your users another way to sort through your content and find what they’re looking for. But, taxonomy tools like categories and tags can also help your blog do better in search results. So, if you aren’t using tags and categories well, you may be missing out on a great SEO opportunity.
Categories or Tags??
It isn’t a question of should you use categories or tags it is a question of which to use when. I use both, one for general “categorization” and one for more refined “tagging”.
A good way to understand the difference between categories and tags is to think of a recipe book. The table of Contents of a recipe book divides recipes into categories: Soups, Salads, Grains, Vegetables etc. The Index at the back of the book will further break down the ingredients. Mushrooms, Potatoes, Spinach, Squash…
Categories are your blog’s table of contents. Tags are the words listed in your blog’s index.
Use categories for broad topics and put a post in only one category. Use tags as descriptive tools to further break down a topic to let spiders and readers know precisely what’s in each post. Tags and categories shouldn’t overlap.
Tags are a great way to link together like content across different categories.
Using Categories and Tags — Interlinking
Most blogs display categories in the sidebar but the once popular tag cloud has gone out of favour. Don’t let that fool you, just because a blog doesn’t have a tag cloud doesn’t mean it isn’t using tags.
A tag in and of itself does not improve SEO. The only way it helps optimize your site is by relating one piece of content to another, and more specifically a group of posts to each other.
Interlinking is an effective way that you can use Categories and Tags within your blog. It is a valuable practice that can
- direct readers to related content on my blog and
- increase the time they spend on my blog and
- increase the number of pages they view (lower bounce rate) and
- increase the possibility that my blog content will ranking in search
You’re probably already linking to other posts on your site but have you considered linking to a tag or category?
Here’s an example. If I write a blog post about Pinterest. I could put the post in a broad category “Social Media” and tag it “Pinterest“. Then when I write a new post I could link directly from the word Pinterest to that previous post or better still, to my Pinterest tag. This way all posts I’ve published and tagged Pinterest will be displayed from the link. In the same way, when I use the term “Social Media” I can link to the Social Media category page.
Optimizing Category and Tag pages with Yoast
Linking to tag and category archive pages increases the chance that they will rank with search engines.
Using the SEO by Yoast WordPress plugin you can optimize your taxonomy and archive pages. Click to Edit a Tag or Category a “Yoast WordPress SEO Settings” section appears at the bottom of the page. Any tag or category page that you are linking to from your blog content should be optimized with a custom SEO title and meta description.
Cleaning up Tags & Categories
A common problem is overusing tags and categories. If you’re guilty of this (and few of us aren’t) you’ll want to delete, redirect and merge tags. You’ll need to create a list of all tags and categories that you plan to delete so that you can create 301 redirects.
Over to you…
If you take the time to create and maintain a limited set of highly relevant categories and tags, you’ll start to see your tag and category pages in search results drawing traffic to your blog.
Have you used tags and categories well on your blog? Are you linking from your blog content to your category and tag pages? Please add your comments below.
More tips in our WordPress for Beginners series
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