The Right Way to Use Categories and Tags in WordPress

One of the most important features of WordPress is Tag pages. You have the option of adding a post to a specific category or tag it when you create a new one.

WordPress creates an archive from all posts that are in the same category/tag. These can be found under the WordPress Dashboard.

These tag and category pages are empty and simply display a list of posts. They can be very useful for people who are browsing your site if you’re consistent in your categorization and tagging…but they can also be quite useless for someone not familiar with your site.

If you have too many tags and categories, it can cause a problem with low quality content or make your site appear spammy to search engines. My How to Use Yoast’s WordPress SEO Plugin recommended NOINDEX and FOLLOW categories & tag pages in order to avoid any SEO-related penalties. This tells search engines that they should click through to your posts but not show them in search results.

However, category and tag pages can offer so much more to both search engines and readers. They just need to have unique content that explains the tag or category. Here are the reasons you should create your category and tag pages. And here’s how to use WordPress tag pages for SEO.

Why you should create Category and Tag Pages

Which page do YOU consider to be more helpful?


Explains Tags & Categories to Readers

Consider yourself as a new reader who stumbles upon a DIY plumbing blog. Before you start thinking about SEO implications. You like the article you just read and want more. Which post do you want to read next?

The sidebar shows a huge tag cloud with the words “Faucets” in it. So you’re designing your bathroom and click.

A list of random posts appears to make sense. But it’s not. You don’t know what you might find on page 2 or here, but all the posts refer to Faucets. You decide to leave.

This is the default WordPress behavior. Often, the tags are only understood by the author and not the reader.

The page could have been a lot more useful if it had some content, such as a Faucet overview page that includes some of the most popular blog hits and content explaining the author’s thoughts and approach to posts about faucets.

Search Engines Help to Understand Context

Although it can be useful for humans (see the previous point), it is essential for search engines. Although Googlebot can understand context and semantics, coaching the algorithm helps to improve the process along.

Googlebot can learn what pages link to which pages by looking at the links. This is a role that your category and tag pages can play.

These posts already link to relevant content, so if your unique content helps Google understand the specific category from which they are linking…it will benefit your individual posts.

Let’s say, for example, that you have a blog post about installing a sillcock to a brick wall. A sillcock, in plumbing terminology, is an outdoor faucet. While humans might be able to grasp the concept quickly from a photo, a search engine may not be able to determine if your post should rank as “how do I install a faucet onto a brick wall?”

If you did have a Faucets page with unique content…and linked to the sillcock article, this would be a signal search engines could use for context and relevance.

It is more likely to rank for broad searches

Blogs can rank for broad terms. Blogs often rank for specific keywords. However, it is rare to rank multiple posts on a single topic. This is especially true given the keyword difficulty.

This post may be a WordPress tutorial but will not appear in search engines if someone searches for “wordpress tutorials”. They are searching for a list of useful WordPress tutorials. Match the question behind your search query.

Now I could make a page about my WordPress Tutorials, and link to each one. It would be tedious to have to make changes every time I write a new one.

OR… I could target the broad term using my WordPress category. There are many tutorials I have – so it would make sense to add content to this page and then try to get it to rank for different versions of “wordpress tutorials.” Search Console allows you to track and explore this keyword data.

You’re convinced to spend time on building your category and tag pages. These pages are useless by default. This is how you add your incredible content to each page.

How to Add Content to Category and Tag Pages

Spend some time creating content for your tags & categories pages before you start adding to them.

  • Spend some time organizing them, and making sure that they make sense. It is easy to add tags and categories randomly, which can cause confusion for everyone.
  • You can choose to do tags, categories, or both. Or you can do individual categories. Do not feel overwhelmed that you must do it all at once.

Allow Displaying Content on Category and Tag Pages

There are many ways to do this. Here are my top picks in order of simplicity.

Option 1: Via Theme Setting

Many themes let you enable archive page content within their settings or have it included by default. This is possible with the Genesis theme framework by StudioPress.

Before you do anything, make sure to check your theme settings. You can also go to Posts->Categories->Edit and add content.

Protip: WordPress comes with a description field, which some themes use to pull on-page content. Save it, then check to see if there is anything on your category page.

This setting is available in many themes. To check if you can add content to the Category page, go through your theme settings before installing a plugin.

Option 2: Via plugin

WordPress plugins are easy to install. WP Custom Categories Pages are lightweight and simple to use. It can be found under Plugins->Install. Once you have installed it, you can access the category you wish to edit, then enable the content drop-down, and then enter your content into the box.

Option 3: Via Category.

If you’re not afraid to mess with PHP (and you don’t have to know PHP, you can skip this option). You can also add a line or two to your archive.php file to allow content to be entered in the default description.

Additional tips and tricks for PHP can be found at WPMUdev.

Write Unique Content

You can now navigate to Posts->Categories or Tags. Select a category or tag and look for the content box. Provide unique content that provides an overview of the page. To see how it looks in my theme, check out my SEO Category.

Yoast SEO is a great tool to optimize your website

Next, make sure you have WordPress Optimization by Yoast and set up. In my Yoast tutorial I suggested hiding the meta box, and making sure to check the NOINDEX, FOOL box under Titles & Metas -> taxonomy settings, since tag and category pages are thin by default.

Once they have been verified as useful and relevant, you can uncheck the meta box so search engines can index the page and serve it up for relevant searches. Unhide the meta box to allow you to go back and edit a specific category/tag and create a unique tag or unique description.

Next steps

Your website visitors, search engines and new visitors who find your site through search are all better off if you have a category and tag page.

Begin by looking at all your tags and categories. You can organize them around the topics you write about regularly, and then see if you have any opportunities to make any tag or category pages into archives.

Next, enable content using your theme, plugin or editing the PHP. Add descriptive, unique content to your WordPress SEO page by Yoast.

You can contact me below if you have any questions or comments, or by email if your comments are closed automatically.

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