On my last blog post – 9 Things To Do Before You Publish Your Blog Post – I mentioned the importance of post categories and tags.
The two are so important, in fact, that I wanted to do another post that was a little more focused in on them, because they used to confuse me a lot.
The best description I’ve ever heard of them is this: If you imagine your blog is a book, categories would be like chapter headings. They would be larger, sort of overreaching subjects that can contain a lot of different things. Tags, on the other hand, are more like the index in the back of your book; it’s specific words or phrases that you can look up and find each page that it was used on.
If you want to put it a little more simply, the category will be a broad idea of what the post is about; the tags are specific ideas found in the post. When you create categories and tags (together, they’re called taxonomies), they create their own archive pages, and those pages are checked out by search engine spiders and can actually rank in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
What About Duplicate Content?
I’ve seen some who argue that by creating archive pages, you’re actually creating duplicate content on your blog, and that Google will penalize you for it. To use an awesome old phrase from my grandpa, that’s a load of hooey.
Google actually told everyone back in 2008 that they NEVER penalize a site for having archive pages that point back to the original articles. I take a lot of SEO “advice” I find on the internet with a large grain of salt, but if Google says something, I believe it. They want to make their search engine work, so they aren’t going to give us crap advice on using it!
As I said, one of the nice thing about the archive pages is that they can actually rank in the SERPs. For instance, if you’re a food blogger that does a lot of chicken recipes and you use the tag “Chicken” – your tag archive could very well rank when people search for “chicken recipes”. It would take them to an archive page that has all of your recipes that you tagged with “Chicken”.
If you have never clicked on one of your tags or categories before, I recommend doing it, so you know what your archive pages look like. If you’ve ever done any playing around with the coding in your theme, they might not look like what you expect, and you might want to do a little cleaning up.
Traffic and Engagement
There are other benefits to using categories and tags. When I first started blogging, I didn’t use either, at least not consistently, and I dread to think of how much traffic I’ve lost because of it! And that’s the big thing – they DO help your traffic and SEO.
First of all, by properly using your taxonomy, you help the search engines understand what your blog is about, so that’s clearly going to help your post rankings.
But it also helps you with engagement on your blog. Your categories can be used in your menu bar to help people find other posts that they’re interested in. I have three main categories on this blog, and they’re right up there on the top – Blogging, Marketing, and Mindset. The vast majority of my posts will fit into one of those categories, and if you go up there and hover over them, you’ll see that they’re subdivided into a few smaller sub-categories.
In most themes, the tags are going to show up on the post; if you do them right and make a few sensible choices, then it can give your readers another place to “click” to go read more of your stuff.
Keep Category and Tag Usage Under Control
Don’t go crazy with tags. In most cases, you won’t need more than 2 or 3 on a post. If a tag is being used on 90% of your posts, it’s too broad. In other words, if you have a recipe blog, you wouldn’t want to tag every post “recipe”, it’s not helping with accessibility in any way.
On the other hand, if a tag has only been used on 2 or 3 posts, then it’s probably too specific and not really indicative of what your blog is about. Of course, there will likely be an exception to that every now and then, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
A post should be in 1 or possibly 2 categories (I usually have it in a sub-category and a main category), and the tags should be restricted to the most significant topics in the post.
Remember that there are 2 main purposes to assigning a tag or category – “Does the taxonomy help the search engine know what this is about?” and “Does the taxonomy help my readers navigate/search my site?” If a category or tag isn’t doing one of those things, you probably don’t need to use it.
In fact, it’s a good idea to go in and clean up your tags every month or two. (I know – I didn’t know blogging was going to be so much work either!!)
You might find that you have a lot of related or similar tags that could be merged into one (ex. WordPress4 and WordPress-4), and if you’ve ever deleted posts from your blog, you may actually have some empty tags. If you don’t let it go too long between cleanings, it’s not that hard to do – and there’s a plug- that can help – Term Management Tools.
So that’s what I know about categories and tags. I hope it was helpful information that you can use to start taking action – If you found it helpful, you should sign up below to join my email community!