How To Setup WordPress Categories And Tags Correctly
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
WordPress is one of the best blogging platforms out there but when it comes to WordPress categories and tags, most website owners get confused and don’t understand how to use them correctly. In this article, I will show you how to add categories in WordPress and explain what are tags in WordPress.
WordPress Archives & Taxonomies
Before I explain about WordPress categories and tags, it is important to understand both the archive and taxonomy system that WordPress is based upon. In short, both an archive and taxonomy is a way of grouping similar or related content together, but an archive is generated automatically by the WordPress system and taxonomies are generated by the user.
WordPress supports many different archives and taxonomy systems, but the default ones are:
- Date Archives – each time you upload a new post in WordPress, the system groups all articles that were published on the same date together and stores them within a date archive.
- Author Archives – all posts that were written by the same author are grouped together within an author archive. Each user that writes a post is classed as an author.
- Categories – by assigning a category to your posts, you can group articles together yourself by topic.
- Tags – these work in a similar way to categories, allowing you to group articles together by topic.
The Impact Of Archives On SEO
No matter how good WordPress is, as a content management system, like most, it has its flaws when it comes to SEO if you leave the system as-is. However, with a little knowledge and know-how, it is easy to clean up the system to ensure it is search engine friendly.
The biggest issue with a WordPress site not being SEO friendly is how the default archives are set up. If you do not look after these in the way they are structured and displayed, they can lead to both usability and duplicate content issues.
Your aim should be to ensure that the archives and taxonomies follow best practices for search engines, whilst doing their job as far as helping people to find your content easily. Most of this actually comes down to common sense, if you stop and think about how your website works and how people will find your content.
The Issue With WordPress Date Archives
Let us take the date archives for example. This is the default way that WordPress groups your posts and many themes display the date archives in widgets, either as a list of months and years, or maybe a fancy calendar. These archives can then be accessed at a URL like https://improveposition.co.uk/2017/01/10 (for posts written on the 10th of January 2017).
Not only is this URL structure not SEO friendly, as it doesn’t tell search engines what the page content is about, but the archive itself offers no real benefit to the visitor.
Ask yourself: how many times have you landed on a website, read a blog post and then wanted to see what other posts were created in that month? I bet it is hardly ever. You would have landed on that post because it talks about a topic that you found of interest, but that doesn’t mean that you will find all of the posts that month of equal interest.
Instead, people will more than likely want to search for posts that cover a similar topic or are related in some way to the post they just read. So, to keep that reader’s attention, it would be a lot better to give them a way to search by topic rather than date.
The Issue With WordPress Author Archives
If you have multiple authors on your site, then the author archives are great as some people may read a post by a certain person and then want to see what other posts they have written. They could then access these archives by visiting a URL like https://improveposition.co.uk/author/michael-hutton.
However, many sites only have one author, in which case the author archive becomes an exact duplicate of your main blog page, as all blogs were written by that same author. This then creates a duplicate content issue, which is bad for SEO if left active and indexable.
Fixing Archive SEO Issues With Yoast SEO
Fixing these archive issues are simple and can be done by installing the Yoast SEO For WordPress plugin. With the help of this plugin, you can do things such as set the archives to noindex (not allowing search engines to display them in search results) or remove the archives from the system completely.
Don’t forget that we are qualified in the use of Yoast SEO, so do get in touch if you need any assistance with this plugin.
WordPress Categories And Tags
WordPress categories and tags are the default taxonomy system within WordPress and are a much better way of grouping posts, compared to date or author archives, as it enables you to group posts by topic.
However, issues with WordPress categories and tags arise when the author does not understand how to use them correctly. When I am auditing a clients website, one of the main things I see is loads of categories and tags being used without any real thought or structure.
Good WordPress categories and tags structure not only helps users to navigate through your blog effectively to find content quickly and easily, but it helps a search engine to understand the hierarchy structure to your blog so they know which pages and posts are the most important when it comes to ranking your content.
How To Add Categories In WordPress
Most people understand what a category is, but what they don’t understand is how to add categories in WordPress correctly and that categories are actually more important than the articles themselves.
Categories are the top-level pages in your blogs hierarchy structure, acting as an entry point to your posts and helping visitors find the content they may be interested in. Due to the importance of these category pages, making sure they attract and ‘pull in’ as many people as possible is vital.
You should plan to have just the right amount of categories to cover all the topics you plan to write about, and each category page should aim to come up for keywords related to the topic they cover. Having too few categories may be a sign that the topics are too broad, whereas too many categories become hard to manage.
For example, on this blog, we use a maximum of 8 categories, each one covering a main service area. These are then optimised for keywords such as search engine news, SEO news and content marketing news. We have also made these easily accessible from the main navigation.
Part of optimising these category pages involves having unique content on the page that explains more about the topic covered. This not only helps a search engine to understand what the page is about, but it also helps to avoid duplicate content issues by ensuring category pages are not an exact replica of the main blog page (an issue that we discussed with the author archives above).
To add your categories, login to your WordPress admin and go to Posts – Categories, and complete the information under ‘Add New Category’. Once the category has been added, you can open up its edit screen and use the Yoast SEO plugin to optimise the page, using the title, slug and description fields.
If you are lucky enough to be using a theme that is SEO friendly, you should find that the theme will automatically ‘pull’ the text from your category description and add this text to the top of your category pages, above the list of posts. However, most theme developers do not understand the importance of these pages so don’t add this functionality.
If this is the case with your site, just add the following code into the top of your themes category template (usually category.php or archive.php):
<?php echo category_description( $category_id ); ?>
Use HTML in Your Category Description
By default, it isn’t possible to use HTML in the category description box, although there is a quick workaround. Add the following in your functions.php file after the opening <?php:
Once this has been added, you can insert any form of HTML you like into your description box. This is especially useful for adding things like headings and links.
If you are not confident in implementing either of these code snippets yourself, either speak to your developer or drop me a message and I will be happy to help.
What Are Tags In WordPress?
Although most people understand what a category is, they seem to get lost when it comes to tags and end up creating tags for almost every word they feel describes their post.
But, what are tags in WordPress? Tags work in exactly the same way as categories, in the fact that they should be structured and optimised correctly and act as an entry point to your posts. However, their aim is to help break down categories into smaller related subjects – think of them as categories of categories!
Every post on your website should come under a category, but not all posts may need tags. Tags are only used to interlink related posts, so if you have a post that is not related to any other, it probably doesn’t need a tag.
For example, if you had a category of social media news you may also have tags for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube within that category. Although you may occasionally write articles that talk about other types of social networks, you may find yourself writing about these 6 networks a lot more often and therefore these are worth having their own tags.
This means if someone was only interested in reading articles that talk about Facebook, for example, the Facebook tag page would allow them to drill down to find that type of content quickly and easily.
Like categories, you should plan to have just the right amount of tags that cover subjects that you will write about regularly, and each tag page should aim to come up for keywords related to the subject they cover (optimised with a title, slug and description).
Having too few tags may be a sign that the topics are too broad (and may, therefore, need to become categories instead), whereas too many tags become hard to manage (I would recommend no more than 20 tags in total on your blog).
I am sure you will agree that this has been an extremely long and detailed post for something that should be quite simple. However, in my experience with working with clients and their WordPress sites, having knowledge on how the archives and taxonomy system of WordPress works is vital when it comes to setting up WordPress categories and tags correctly.
Without this knowledge, the structure of your WordPress site will never allow you to fully maximise the SEO benefits you can get from using WordPress. Hopefully, this article gives you all the background knowledge you need to implement a good archive and taxonomy structure on your own WordPress site.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how you are using your WordPress categories and tags, or if you would like more information on how to add categories in WordPress or what are tags in WordPress. So, drop me your comments in the box below.