WP category and tag taxonomies

Best SEO Practices for WordPress Category and Tag Taxonomies

Confused about blog categories and tags? Let’s see how you can sort your blog content better.

The term “taxonomy” is a fancy way to describe how you can group the content of your blog or your website. WordPress offers two options to sort your blog content and provide more visibility to new and old posts. This is done through categories and tags. Which is better for SEO of your blog? Read on and see what the difference between the two is and how to create an optimal way to organize categories and tags on your new or current WordPress-based blog. You can apply the below learnings to both blog content and product pages.

What’s the difference between categories and tags?

Categories represent broad groupings of your posts or products. They are equal to large topics. In other words, categories represent the table of contents of your blog. They are hierarchical, which means that they can have subcategories and sub-subcategories.

On the other hand, tags describe specific details or features of your blog content. They don’t have hierarchies. You should think of tags as properties and not topics.

Let’s talk about each of them separately.

What are categories?

A category is a topic or a group of topics that are connected to one another. You may have a post that can belong to several categories. For example, a post created for a video site was about how to shoot stock footage for photographers. This post was included into two categories: “Filmmaking Tips” and “Photography Tips”.

When you plan to create new categories or optimize the current categories on your blog, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is the topic general enough to serve as an umbrella for multiple pieces of content?
  2. Can this topic be split up into subtopics?

If the answer is Yes to both, this is a category.

Here is the example of the category structure on my video site.

Optimal WordPress category taxonomy

How many categories should I have?

Some of my clients ask what the optimal number of categories is for a blog. Different sources recommend between 5-10 blog categories.

My recommendation is not about the total number of categories, though. There is no such a thing as the best or optimal number of blog categories. The point with categories is that no category should be twice as large than any other category on your blog.

When you get to the point where a category grows so big that it overshadows any other category, you should divide this category into two categories. You can either replace the large category with two new categories at the same level. You can also keep the large category, but you may want to add two new subcategories to the large category. Here is how it looks like:

Option 1: Replace a large category with new categories.

Wordpress category setup - replacing large categories with smaller

Option 2: Keep the category, but add relevant sub-categories.

Wordpress category setup - adding new categories

How to name my categories?

We suggest naming your categories based on keyword research. Even if it’s a basic check about how people search related about the topic, it should provide more clarity about how to name categories. We will discuss the importance of this step when we talk about SEO optimizations on category and tag pages below.

What are tags?

Tags are those unique properties and individual features that cannot be split up easily into sub-tags. Let’s continue with our video site to understand how tags work in real life. Some content on our video blog targets advanced videographers and filmmakers. This content bears the tag “Pro Level”. Certain articles include free project files and documents, so they include the tag “Freebie”.

Like we already mentioned, tags don’t have hierarchies. Here is the URL structure of the tags on our video site. You can see that the structure is rather flat.

Optimal WordPress tag taxonomy

How many tags should I use?

The rule of thumb is to limit the number of tags used on your blog. We have worked on a number of corporate and personal blogs where new tags were added abundantly to every new blog post. In the end, tags were not useful for content structuring. They also contributed to the content duplication issue on those sites.

There is no best number of tags to use on your blog. But you can apply these simple rules to rein in the uncontrolled proliferation of tags:

  • Make sure tags are used more than once.
  • Make sure your tags group articles that are relevant to each other.

Should I show categories and tags in posts?

Yes, make sure that your WordPress theme has categories and tags shown. Categories and tags are actually active links that help your blog readers go to pages that sort your blog’s content by topic or property.

The categories and tags should be visible to your blog’s readers. I prefer to place these links at the top of our blog posts. Other SEO-focused sites recommend placing categories at the top and tags at the bottom of your articles or product pages. The choice is yours as long as they are visible to your reader and can serve as passages to the respective pages.

Long live 301 redirects!

If you got inspired by this piece and you’re rushing to optimize your categories and tags, here is another tip. When you change and/or remove you categories or tags, make sure that you have 301 redirects in place. Redirecting from the old URL to the new one is super important to preserve the authority that the old URL has earned.

Also, it’s just a good practice to give visitors who may click on a link to the old URL on external site the best user experience on your blog. You want those people to get to the right page without seeing any error pages on your site.

Should I use “categories” in my posts’ URLs?

Google recommends to keep URL length under 1,000 characters. That seems to be the only restriction about URLs these days. But it does not mean you should go over board by including categories and subcategories in your URL structure. Such URLs https://mysite.com/category/subcategory/my-super-detaled-blog-post may be too long.

I usually recommend against using category names in posts’ URLs when a new WordPress site is being setup. URLs like https://mysite.com/my-super-detaled-blog-post look cleaner.

If your site is several years long and its blog URLs include the main category in the URL, you may just leave it as is. Changing the URL structure on hundreds of old blog posts will result in hundreds of 301 redirects. Even if the major search engines say 301 redirects are fine to use, our experience with such redirects proves that sites lose a great amount of organic traffic immediately after such re-hauls.

Optimizing category and tag pages

Category and tag pages are also called Archive pages within the WordPress universe. By adding a new category or adding a new tag, you actually create a new Archive page. With tens of categories and hundreds of tags you may end up having tons of pages with duplicated content.

This is why you need to approach the amount of categories and tags carefully. You should also optimize these pages for SEO like any other page.

First, don’t hide category and tag archive pages from search engines in the settings of your SEO plugin like Yoast.

Second, adding a custom page title and meta description is not enough. Be more creative and add a detailed description to what your readers should expect on such an archive page (category or tag page). Remember that these pages are dynamically populated – every new relevant article in the category or with the respective tag gets to the top? A detailed description on such a page will be helpful to guide your reader through its contents.

I usually recommend to add 2-3 paragraphs to category and tag archive pages. Start with an clear heading, provide an intro and a short description. You can also customize archive pages if you are comfortable with code changes on your WordPress site.

Case Study: WordPress Categories and Tags

I can support the above recommendations with a case study about my own WordPress website where the recommendations were followed religiously. Spoiler alert: they did contribute to the success of the site in Organic search.

First, you may check your own WordPress site to see if you have too many categories and tags. Start by checking the XML sitemap on your WordPress site. With sites that use the Yoast SEO or Rank Math SEO plugins, the sitemap will be located at this path: {your-domain}/sitemap_index.xml.

Add the sitemap index in your Google Search Console, wait for 1-2 days for Google to read the sitemap index, then take a look at the counts of categories and tags as discovered URLs. For example, the below site has a good amount of categories, but the number of tags is 4 times the number of posts and pages combined. These tag archive pages surely create a lot of thin content pages on this site.

With my video site, I limited the number of categories and tags. This is how it looks like in August 2022.

Categories and tags are not added randomly – I am strict about adding any new ones. The archive pages have all been optimized: they have descriptive paragraphs, unique page titles, unique meta descriptions, unique image thumbnails. Plus, these archive pages are used as internal links when relevant.

As a result, the amount of organic clicks (which is a sign of these archive pages ranking better) is growing on my video site. Since I link to the categories more actively, these pages show better results than the tag archive pages. See below:



Final words

Categories and tags are crucial sorting elements on your WordPress site. They can help your site’s visitors navigate to the content that’s relevant to them. A well-organized system of categories and tags is highly helpful for search engine bots to crawl your site faster and more efficiently. Category and tag pages can also become rich landing pages that may rank well in organic search engine results.

Need an opinion about your blog’s taxonomies? Send us a note and we can review your blog.

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