There is often confusion around when and how to use categories and tags in WordPress and other website CMS for the best SEO and UX results. They are frequently used interchangeably and in an overlapping manner.
Used well, Categories and Tags can enhance user experience by:
- guiding them to related content of interest
- generating additional traffic, as the Category and Tag pages can become useful destinations in their own right
- supporting SEO of posts and the website as a whole by creating hubs of related content in line with our overall targets.
Used poorly, the opposite can happen and the most common problem is that large amounts of unnecessary Tags or Categories create multiple pages with only one post.
This does not help the visitor as you are only signposting the same post again, and is bad for SEO as you are creating duplicate content.
In large amounts this can hurt the whole site in terms of rankings.
To avoid duplication of content and missing out on potential user and SEO benefits, below are some principles worth noting when creating posts:
These should be broad topics that will always relate to the kind of posts you will write on your blog.
There is no wrong or right number of categories to have on a blog or website. However, 6 to 8 permanent categories tends to work well for small to medium sized business websites and blogs, and will usually guide users sufficiently. These should be agreed and fixed, perhaps even before a blog or website goes live and should not generally be changed or added to other than following a periodic review.
Any post you are likely to write should sit within 1, 2, maybe 3 of these categories. If you find posts seem to fit into many or all categories frequently, then the categories you have defined are probably too vague.
If posts don’t seem to fit naturally into any categories you have in place, then you have probably misdefined them – perhaps making them too specific and / or not covered all your likely content.
These should be more specific than categories.
Ideally, a tag will be part of a key phrase or a complete key phrase.
You should be able to imagine someone searching Google for the name of most or all of your tags on its own or alongside the core topic of your blog.
You should never have a tag with the same name as a category.
There is no limit to how many tags you can have and benefit from. However, when tagging a post, you should either use an existing tag or think it likely that you will write future posts that use the same tag. If you can’t, don’t use it.
Important point – all posts should go in at least one category, but you don’t always need to tag a post.
User and SEO enhancements
When our blogs get very large, it can be useful to have sub-categories to help users navigate to relevant posts from main categories. You may choose to do this in advance, but it can be good to see which categories get busiest and what the common themes are, and sub-categories to break up these themes, ideally with a relevant search phrase as the name. This is a job to be done in line with your overall goals and in a structured manner, rather than ‘as you go along’.
If one or more tags contain many posts, then they may justify being changed to a category at some point in the future.
You should periodically review your categories and tags. If you end up with some similar tags with 1 or few posts in each, it may be a good idea to combine them into a single tag that is a popular search phrase and delete the other unwanted tags.