For those new to WordPress, understanding the roles of categories, tags, and authors pages – and how they should be structured for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – can seem a bit confusing.
Both categories and tags can seem similar and it is easy to get their roles confused. However, they are both critical for the organization and categorization (in a broad sense) of your content.
In this article, we’ll look at three primary components of keeping a well-organized WordPress website: categories, tags and authors pages. We’ll explore their different roles, how they should be structured, and how to further optimize them for added-value.
QUICK TIP: Before we get started, if you haven’t done so already, you will want to install a good SEO plugin on your site. I recommend either All-In-One SEO or Yoast SEO. Both of these plugins have all sorts of great features and are essential for optimizing your site for search engines.
Understanding Categories & Tags
The first step is to understand the roles categories and tags are meant to play. On the surface, the similarities of categories and tags stand out more than their differences. Don’t get me wrong, they do serve two individual purposes, but let’s take a look at the commonalities of them first, then we’ll explore what sets them apart.
For starters, they are so closely related that WordPress actually groups the two of them next to each other!
Jokes aside, categories and tags are both 100% for organization of your website and content. They make it easier for both search engine crawlers and people to navigate your site. Both fall into web taxonomies, or classification of content.
The easiest way to grasp the difference of the two is to visualize an upside down funnel, with category being the broader, top end and tags being the narrower, bottom end.
QUICK TIP: Tags, when applied in combination to a category, further narrows organization. Categories on the other hand can narrow organization on standalone, without the use of tags (through categories and subcategories).
Let’s start with the broader classification – categories.
WordPress category pages are pretty much what you might think they are, groupings that you create which help you organize your content. These are typically pre-determined, before content is sorted.
A good example might be on a recipe site. You might have recipes that are entrees, appetizers, soups, etc. You know when you create a page or blog post exactly what it is, before you start.
If you take classification a step further, categories also provide the webmaster with the ability to setup hierarchies as well as differences.
Considering a food blog that had dieting suggestions, coupon tips, reviews AND recipes, you could set up a category for each one, then create subordinate classifications for each item that falls under those. For example, you could then place the Entrees, Appetizers, Soups, etc., under the Recipe category, while having sub-categories for:
The best way to look at a WordPress category is the classification of what this content falls under.
Categories narrows down classification and helps users get to where they want to be faster.
Let’s get narrower – tags.
WordPress tags are a way of using post-indexing as a way of organizing your content. They simply relate to keywords or key themes that you assign to content after it has been written to help people browse other related pages. Typically, when you create a post, and decide to set up tags, these are essentially helpful to users who wish to navigate around your site.
For instance, if decide to tag an Italian food recipe with garlic. This will enable users to find every page with garlic (of course, this could be a very heavily used tag for much Italian food, but that’s beside the point).
If you consider our Category example above, then this allows us to find items related across different categories. Supposing there was a diet that you had outlined that was tagged “Vegan”, plus several recipes tagged “Vegan” as well, you’ve not only narrowed these options more but you’ve built bridges between categories as well.
The best way to look at tags is to ask yourself “What are the key points of the content, rather than what does it fall under?”.
QUICK NOTE: Categories, unlike tags, can have a hierarchy. You might have a Jazz category, and under that have children categories for Bebop and Big Band.
These, are completely optional, however having these may help both with navigation, and with giving search engines some guidelines. You may never know completely how someone may be searching.
Structuring Categories & Optimizing for SEO
Developing a strategic URL structure is not for the faint of heart. It’s 25% this-has-to-be-done, 25% this-is-what-you’ve-got, 25% creativity, and 25% architecture – we’re going to be architects.
Search engines do look at words in a URL for keyword indexing.
Google does not inherently use the keywords from the domain name anymore for indexing, but if your brand name is your domain, then that should be one of the most used keywords in your site content and will benefit you that way.
So, if you brand is Pittsburgh Pest Control, then using that for your domain name is good, but if your name is actually Court Pest Control, operating in Pittsburgh you would not want to use that – instead you’d want to use your brand name CourtPestControl.com.
The SEO value for the location would come from the categories: Pittsburgh and Pest Control and maybe something like Bee Removal – making your domain look like this: CourtPestControl.com/Pittsburgh/Pest-Control/Bee-Removal.
Let’s take a thousand-foot overview of what a URL is:
Imagine search engines as consumers. For instance, say you are looking for men’s blue socks in a brick and mortar store. You would go to a clothing store, you’d go to the men’s section, and then find the socks, and then look for blue ones (these would be the tags), and then look at the varieties there. You finally decide to go with the blue cotton Nike ankle socks.
A well-structured WordPress site should have categories, looking something like this:
Clothing would be the main category, with Mens being the sub-category and socks being a sub-category of mens (or a sub-sub-category).
Within this page, you’d then have a variety of socks listed. You could begin filtering socks through their similar attributes (tags). Blue, Cotton, and Nike are all types and could easily be made as the tags.
You’d choose to use tags in this situation because these tags work between categories and you are not necessarily looking to whittle these particular categories down anymore. You could easily use these same tags on the T-Shirt category of your clothing store.
QUICK TIP: You should not use the same name for tags and categories. Tags and categories are to work independently to give classification but also together to provide organization. If you create a category for “SEO” and a tag for “SEO”, this does not help anyone narrow their search down and should be avoided.
Start Organizing Your Category and Tag Structure:
Organize your blog posts into categories, and map it out on paper first (you can use index cards if it helps you). Let’s use a recipe site for an example (this is only an example; you may choose to arrange these differently)
After you do this, setting up your category structures is easy. Simply create each category, and if a category is a second or third level, simply choose it’s parent.
Category Setup Example:
There’s a big caveat here. You need to be aware that too many pages within a category can end up looking like duplicate content and Google can penalize your page. To get around this you should be careful about your naming conventions.
Make sure you have unique titles and descriptions for each of your categories, so they do not look like duplicates. Do NOT over-use keywords into the categories overlap too much with the categories and post names – this is keyword stuffing and is to be avoided.
Each of these will create a “slug” or the word that appears in the url (e.g. /desserts/sugar-free/), as described in the image above.
Make sure that they make sense and make sure they reflect both your service offerings and people’s search behavior. Some good suggestions for categories and sub-categories are as follows:
- Products: See the examples above.
- Services: Depending on the depth of your service offerings – i.e. /Professional_Services/Home_Services/Cleaning
- Location: Depending on how large your company is – i.e. /State/Region/City/Location
- Writing/Content: Pending on your topics, they could be as follows – i.e. /Blog/Digital_Marketing/Search/SEO
Structuring Tags & Optimizing for SEO
As discussed earlier WordPress tags are a way of post-indexing as a way of organizing your content. They are simply keywords that you assign to an article or page after it has been written to help people browse to other related pages.
Typically, when you write a post, and decide to set up tags, these are essentially helpful to users who wish to navigate around your site. For instance, if decide to tag an Italian food recipe with “garlic.” This will enable users to find every page with garlic (of course, this could be a very heavily used tag for much Italian food, but that’s beside the point).
Unfortunately, Tags don’t work as well for SEO. They are great for organizing content for users to search and navigate their way around your site, but they can too easily spin out of control with search engine crawlers. Allowing tags to be searched and indexed may make your site appear spammy and could be cause for downgrading.
Rather than attempting to get direct SEO benefit out of tags, instead focus on tags for user experience which will then enhance your sites search engine value.
You have a couple of options.
- You can build out your tag pages and category pages, or you can de-index them.
- You may want to use noindex and nofollow directives in your site, and also choose to leave them out of your sitemap. This is similar to the indexing options as mentioned above in the categories.
- However, even better, it’s a good idea to use canonical links (as described above under categories) for all tag links; this will prevent this from occurring.
If you are still confused on which approach to take, I find it’s easier to think of your website like a book. Books typically have a table of contents and an index. If you’re using a table of contents, you’re not going to list different chapters more than once; this is a pre-organized list of what is in the book I think of categories like a table of contents. List items in one category at a time; this serves a simple navigation too for those who want to comprehensively read your site.
Tags, on the other hand, are more like an index at the back of a book. As mentioned these are added after the book (or in this case, your website) has been written. These are helpful for some who like to find articles using common keywords.
However, as mentioned above they seriously confuse a search engine, and can possibly lead to your site being penalized. Because of this, it’s good to include an index, but specifically instruct the search engines NOT to use these as a method for managing the site. Just leave the tag pages out of the site map.
QUICK TIP: Do not overuse tags on your content. Overusing tags could signal keyword stuffing to search engines and is confusing to readers. Try to keep tags at 2-3 per post
Author pages are somewhat like category pages, as they list all of the articles by a specific author. Organization of authors is a significant task that large companies and blogs benefit from, but even small sites with one primary contributor benefit from having others blog on their site.
If you’re not sure why you would have more than one author for your small business site, you might want to read why you should consider outsourcing your content. The structure of author pages typically appear like so:
You’ll notice that these look a lot like category pages – instead of categorizing based on service offering or any other category-worthy indicators, you instead categorize based on author. This is true, but author categorization has a slightly different structure. It’s good to have these in the site, however, much like the category pages, they are better for the user than they are for the search engine.
Consider the books or even sports articles you’ve read lately.
You picked the book up first time because the title was catchy and reviews were excellent. You read the book and you really enjoyed it. You don’t just finish the book and go back to the drawing board – you take a look at the author of that book and see what other books are available by that author. You then start reading those books, even the ones that didn’t garner the same public reception and reviews of the first book you read.
This is why an author page is beneficial to your WordPress site.
If a reader likes an author, then they will likely look at their author page and see what else is available by that author.
You do have to be careful with author pages to ensure that they benefit your SEO and not hinder it. Based on the amount of content and variety that is available, author pages could either benefit you or hinder you.
The age old concern about being wary of duplicate content holds true with author pages. Author pages should help bridge different content pieces together and make it easier for visitors to find other blogs written by the same person. They could even benefit you based on the content surrounding that author and provide a great place for a backlink to the authors original page.
If all of the blog snippets are going to be the exact same thing all over your site and that is the ONLY content available on an author page, you may want to consider not indexing the page. This will eliminate the problem of duplicate content.
Categories, tags, author pages, links, URLs, and more!
I hope this article will help you make most out of the categorization and representation of your WordPress website/blog. The overarching theme of this post is to educate webmasters on how to make their site as easy as possible to navigate through, promote user experience and encourage a better search engine presence.
Allowing users and search engines to discover like-content provides a significant boost to not just the search presence of your site, but the productivity of your content.
Remember, your content is to serve a specific point – whether it is to sell sneakers, get people to visit your hair salon, see ads, or anything else. Your content needs to be structured in a way that best encourages this.
Men’s sports shoes being categorized on one page is excellent because if I’m looking for a specific pair of Nikes that are SOLD OUT, but similar pairs sit conveniently nearby on the site – I may be tempted to buy those. – Categories
Men’s shoes, socks, and laces should be tagged appropriately, because if I’m looking for “Sport” shoes then I am likely also in the market for sports socks. – Tags
If I read a shoe review about Nikes in 2017, and am in the market for another pair of Nike’s in 2018 – I’m likely to start with the author that wrote the previous years review. – Author
Just looking at content as a “well these blogs say I need 300 words on a regular basis so I’m going to pump out nonsense” is no longer going to work.
Consider the user first. How does your content organization stack up?
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