WordPress uses two pre-defined taxonomies – Categories and Tags. Every site has them. They are used to help visitors find related content on your website.
WordPress Categories and Tags are easy to use, but it’s important to use them correctly. Create a strategy for their use as early in the life of your website as you possibly can – once you have published a couple of hundred posts it’s a lot of work to correct things.
Let’s take a quick look at Categories and Tags, how you use them, and how they get displayed on your website.
Tip : If you want to quickly change some categories to tags, and vice-versa, go to ‘Tools’->’Import’ in your WordPress dashboard. Then, follow the link to install the ‘Categories and Tags Converter’.
What are Categories and Tags in WordPress?
The way I learnt about categories and tags (a long time ago) was to think of your blog as a reference book, where the chapter headings are the categories, and the index entries are the tags. So, if I were to write a book about my hometown of Swindon in Wiltshire, I might have chapters covering things like history, industry, famous people, art, and events. Individual references to specific locales, people, and companies might then be added to the index at the back of the book.
If my WordPress blog was dedicated to the same hometown, I would have categories such as ‘History’, ‘Industry’, ‘Famous People’, etc., and tags such as ‘Diana Dors’, ‘Honda’, ‘BMW’, ‘Great Western Railway’.
You can have as many categories and tags as you like, although it wouldn’t be sensible to have a category or tag that was only going to be in use for one post. You can add them to your posts in several places from within your WordPress dashboard. In your main posts list, you can mouse over the post name and then click ‘Quick Edit’. Most often, though, you will want to add them as you are writing your post. To do this (assuming you are using WordPress 5+) then click the ‘Document’ tab to the right of your post editing area, and then add your categories and tags in the meta boxes there.
Categories can have sub-categories. So, using the example of our hometown ‘History’ category, you might then have sub-categories for pre-1900, 1960’s, World War 1, World War 2, etc.
How Categories and Tags are displayed on my website
Now that we understand the difference between WordPress Categories and Tags, let’s take a look at the ways in which they can be represented on your website.
WordPress automatically creates ‘Archive Pages’ for every category and tag on your website. Your main blog page is an example of an archive page – it’s just a page that lists each of the posts for a specific category or tag. These archive pages can be useful resources for visitors wanting to find out about something specific. For example, ‘Social Media’ is a tag that we have used on this website. Here is how the archive page for ‘Social Media’ looks (bear in mind that your archive pages may look different)…
As you can see, the posts are listed in summary form, with just the post title and post excerpt displayed. Readers can then click on the post title to read the full post. Your theme might allow you to display more details for each post, such as a featured image, sharing icons, etc.
It might be useful to drive visitors to a page listing all posts within a certain category. Then you can add that category to any menu on your site. This would lead visitors to the archive page for that category.
- Go to ‘Appearance’->’Menus’ in your WordPress dashboard
- Choose the menu you want to update
- Click on ‘Categories’ in the list of post types
- Check the one(s) you want to add and click ‘add to menu’
Your theme might allow you to automatically add post metadata to the top or bottom of your posts. This might include data such as date and author. This metadata would also include displaying all of the categories and/or tags that were assigned to the post. This might be useful for your visitors, as they would be able to find related posts. It would also be important for your SEO, as it would add internal links to other areas of your website. Search engines really like this!
Other useful Category and Tag information
If you want to see all of your active categories and tags, just head over to ‘Posts’ in your dashboard, and then click ‘Categories’ or ‘Tags’
When viewing your category or tag list (from previous point), you can click on the ‘Count’ number over the right-hand side to view a filtered list of posts
Categories and Tags are normally only available for posts, and custom post types. You can allow them for pages by using a plugin such as https://wordpress.org/plugins/add-category-to-pages/.
Should I mark my category and tag pages as noindex?
A good category and tag strategy for your site will help search engines understand the structure of your site much better. This should improve your SEO.
However, many website owners prefer to mark these archive pages as ‘noindex’ to discourage search engines from indexing them. There are pros and cons of doing this. If you use one of the popular SEO plugins on your WordPress site you can usually edit the settings to globally allow / disallow indexing for categories and tags, and also edit these settings for specific category or tags.
Advantages of having your category and tag pages indexed
- Improved visibility: By indexing your category and tag pages, search engines can crawl and index more pages on your website. This can help improve the visibility of your content in search results, potentially leading to more traffic to your site.
- Better user experience: Category and tag pages can help organize your content and make it easier for users to find what they’re looking for. By having these pages indexed, users can easily find relevant pages on your site through search engines.
- Increased relevance: Category and tag pages often contain a collection of related content, which can help search engines understand the relevance and context of your content. This can help improve your website’s search engine rankings and attract more targeted traffic to your site.
Reasons for stopping search engines indexing category and tag pages
While there are many potential benefits to indexing category and tag pages, there are also some situations where it may not be a good idea. Here are some reasons why you might not want to index category and tag pages:
- Duplicate content: If your category and tag pages contain the same content as other pages on your site, such as your main blog pages, it can create duplicate content issues. This can hurt your search engine rankings and make it harder for users to find the most relevant pages on your site.
- Thin content: If your category and tag pages only contain a small amount of content or repetitive content, search engines may see them as low-quality or spammy. This can hurt your overall search engine rankings and reputation.
- Poor user experience: If your category and tag pages are not well-organized or user-friendly, users may find them confusing or overwhelming. This can lead to a poor user experience and potentially drive users away from your site.
- Cannibalization: If your category and tag pages are too similar to other pages on your site, such as your main blog pages, it can create cannibalization issues. This means that multiple pages on your site are competing for the same keywords and traffic, which can hurt your search engine rankings and make it harder for users to find the most relevant pages on your site.
- Poor use of your crawl budget: This is an issue that would only affect you if your website had many hundreds (or more) of pages. When a search engine crawls your website it only generally spends a short time identifying the pages it wants to crawl. Although bots will return to crawl your website regularly, you really want search engines to crawl the most important pages on your website (your sales pages, latest articles etc.).
Some themes allow you to create pages that list posts only from certain categories. Some page builders and other plugins allow you to do the same. You can also build several post lists into the same page. For example, you could have an events page that listed posts categorised as ‘Current Events’ at the top. You could follow this with a list of posts categorised as ‘Past Events’ underneath.
Categories and tags can be very powerful elements in any WordPress website. A good blog post strategy can help your visitors find more content that interests them on your site. It can also be great for SEO, as it gives search engines a better understanding of the nature of your site. Search engines will index all of your tag and category archive pages, provided you haven’t blocked them from doing so in your SEO plugin.
Overall, it’s important to consider the quality and relevance of your category and tag pages before deciding whether or not to index them. If they contain unique, high-quality content and are well-organized for users, indexing them can bring many benefits to your site. However, if they contain duplicate or thin content, or are confusing for users, it may be better to leave them unindexed.
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