Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Published June 28, 2022 by with 0 comment

Categories vs Tags – SEO Practices for Sorting your Content

When people email me asking questions about setting up their website or developing their content, one of the most popular questions is what is better for SEO: categories or tags. There is a difference between categories and tags and how they are used. Here I will explain how to use them correctly. 

The Difference Between Categories and Tags

Categories: Categories are used to create a broad grouping of posts. They are generalized topics that you can consider the overall table of contents. You can use this table of contents to create a hierarchy with subcategories that you will use frequently.

Tags: Tags are more specific than categories. They help describe important details of your posts. You can think of these more like an index and allow micro-categorizing of content. Tags do not have a hierarchy.

For example, if I wasn’t proving a point to other writers that you don’t have to recommend only expensive methods of building a website and chose WordPress, the category of this post would be Blog >>Beginners Guide in the navigation. The tags would be categories, categories vs tags, custom taxonomy, seo, seo best practices, sorting your content and tags. These tags won’t display on your article, but they do assist in landing your post in relevant searches on your blog or website.

One of the primary differences between categories and tags is that you must file every post in WordPress under a category, but you are not required to use tags. Failing to give your post a category will cause WordPress to automatically assign it under the “Uncategorized” category by default. Because of this, I tend to rename the uncategorized category to “Miscellaneous” or “Other”.

It is important to note that only blog posts have categories and tags, but you can use a plugin to add categories to your WordPress pages.

How to Add Categories and Tags in WordPress

When you are creating a post in WordPress, you can add categories and tags. You will find them on the right-hand side under the ‘Document” settings.

You can also go to Posts >> Categories and Posts >> Tags. Here you can add new categories and tags to your website and blog.

For more information about the process of adding categories and tags, check out What is a Category? and What is a tag? for guidance.

How Many Categories Should You Have in WordPress?

There is no given number of categories that you should have. In my experience, you will want between 5 and 10 to properly categorize your posts and make your website and blog easy to navigate.

Categories are meant to be a broad topic. Below these, you will need subcategories and tags which will split your topics into smaller groups. 

If you are just starting your blog then don’t worry about making your category list perfect. Just start out with 5 broad categories and you can expand from there as time goes on and you get a better grasp on what direction you are going.

Do you have to use subcategories?

The truth is you don’t have to use subcategories and many large blogs don’t. However, as you build larger you may want to break up large categories into smaller sections. This could prove to be quite a task if you wait too long to take care of it. 

A great example of this is a close friend who started a blog and had a recipe section. She took great interest in gluten-free recipes and soon she had a lot, but they were mixed in with all of her other recipes. She noticed that most of her readers were struggling to find gluten-free, but her analytics said it was something people were searching for heavily. She spent quite a while sorting through a massive stack of recipes to add a subcategory because she ignored a gut feeling when she was building the blog. Psst...I even stole this picture from her. Don't worry she knows but made a funny face when I said I was going to use her as an example of following your gut.

Instead of just using a broad category, you can make more specific categories to make searching easier for your readers.

Using Categories in Your Post’s URLs

Some websites use the category name in the permalinks (the post URLs). If this is something you would like to do, you can set this up under Settings>>Permalinks.

Let’s use my friend’s website with recipes as an example. If she added the category to her URL, her links would look like …/recipes/gluten-free-pancakes/ 

After you move the post to a child category, or subcategory she will have a new URL that looks like …/recipes/gluten-free/gluten-free-pancakes/

Even though WordPress is programmed to automatically redirect the old URL to the new one, it is important to check that your links are still working. If necessary, you can create a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one to prevent losing statistics on an existing post.

Another option you have is to keep the post in the parent category and assign it to a child category, but this can have a negative impact. Even though I am giving you directions on how to add the category to your permalink I do not advocate for people to do this, and I always give a strict warning that you may be penalized for doing so. 

I always recommend using a shorter URL that only contains the post name because you have more flexibility with this type of link than you would a long one. It also allows you to recategorize and reorganize content without having to worry about setting up redirects.

It is also not recommended to change URL structure once your website I operational so make sure to find a style that makes you happy and make sure to do the research about the repercussions of choosing an unorthodox URL style.

Can I Assign a Post to Multiple Categories? 

WordPress will let you put a post into multiple categories. This could be several parent categories, or a parent category plus a subcategory or subcategories.

Having multiple categories won’t benefit your SEO though. You should only assign posts to multiple categories if it makes the most sense for your readers because it won’t get you bonus points with the search engines and you may actually be penalized for it.

It’s also possible that having your post in multiple categories could cause some SEO issues due to duplicate content.

If you do use multiple categories, then try to avoid putting one post into two or more main (parent) categories. Each post should fit within one main category, and you should choose more than one child category instead. This should reduce your chances of getting hit with duplicate content warnings.

Is There a Limit to How Many Tags a Post Can Have?

WordPress itself doesn’t have any limit on the number of tags you can have on each post. You could potentially assign 1,000 or more tags to a post but I definitely don’t recommend that. I’m not even sure what would happen if you tried but things might get interesting when it comes to certain plugin operations.

The purpose of tags is to help link related posts together. Think of them as an index section in a book. Each tag is like a keyword in the index.

Tags can be extremely helpful for users who are searching your site to find content. Some plugins that display related posts utilize tags to help them navigate which posts’ topics are related in order to make navigating your site easier for readers. 

I typically recommend that people use a maximum of 10 tags per post to ensure that plugins that utilize them aren’t confused by what you are doing.

Categories vs Tags: What’s Better for SEO?

Are there any WordPres SEO advantages of using categories over tags or tags over categories? 

The answer is not really because they are meant to be used together. Categories and tags have their own purpose and can make navigating your site a lot easier. WordPress requires you to use categories but if you want to go against the grain you don’t have to use tags. 

While it's possible to skate by not using tags it’s not something I recommend trying. Not only will your website be messy for your readers, but it might also start tipping your sanity after a while. This is one of the mistakes I made early on and it’s one reason this website earned its name. The name was earned after things got a little crazy, the name was not developed from thin air.

Every aspect of your website should be chosen with users and operations in mind. Search engines want to provide users with content that is most useful for their search and combining categories and tags will make it a lot easier for them to do so.

This means that organizing your content for best usability will also help you get better SEO rankings.



Post a Comment