One of the most confusing areas when it comes to WordPress SEO is how to optimize your categories and tag pages. Many people don’t know exactly what is the role of these pages and how they can impact your SEO efforts.
In this post, you will learn what is the difference between a category and a tag page and what you should consider when optimizing your WordPress website for maximum SEO.
What is the role of a category page?
A category page allows you to group different posts together. It’s like your main blog page but it only displays posts from a particular category.
When you create a post you have the option to add it in one or more categories. Pages by default don’t have this option.
A properly optimized WordPress theme will show the category of a post in the breadcrumb, like the example below.
Category pages may share the same template as your posts and the same sidebar or widgets. This depends on the theme you are using but in the majority of cases a post page and a category page have the same layout.
Usually a category page (also known as Archive page), will show only the title, image and introduction of a post and will have paging at the bottom to help users navigate through the archives.
When thinking about your blog structure and navigation, it is a common practice to group your posts into categories and show these on your main menu. A typical website has the following structure:
Category Pages and SEO
From an SEO perspective category pages have several issues, duplicate content is one of them. A category page that shows the excerpts of a number of posts doesn’t have any unique content since all the content is already available in the individual post pages.
This is also true for ecommerce websites where a category page will show a list of products that make up the category without having unique content on its own.
Category pages are difficult to rank high n the search results
Because of the above problem, Google is more likely to pick up a page (or post) from your website instead of a category page. Search for any keyword on Google and you will see that category pages are rarely shown in the SERPS.
The only cases that Google may show a category page is when a website has a lot of related pages and the SEO structure of a website is such that it helps Google choose the category page over a post page.
When are category pages useful for SEO?
In blogs or corporate websites, category pages are mostly used to help users navigate a website and find what they are looking for faster and easier. SEO wise, they don’t serve any purpose.
In cases though that you have an ecommerce website, services website or even travel website, category pages can serve as landing pages and are also important for SEO.
Let me explain this with an example:
Assume that you have a travel website showcasing villas for rent in different parts of Italy. You have category pages for your main locations i.e. ‘Villas in Sicily’, ‘Villas in Sardinia’ etc. and individual pages for each villa i.e. ‘Villa Talia – Large Villa for Rent in Sicily’, ‘Villa Nama – 3 Bedroom Villa in Sardinia’ etc.
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When users search Google for ‘Villas in Sicily’, you want them to land to your category page so that they get to see all available villas in that particular location and not to view a single villa page.
If you have experience with such scenarios, you know that Google many times may choose not to show the category page because they find the individual pages or posts to have more valuable and unique content.
How do you solve this problem?
There are a number of things you can do to help Google show the category page in their results.
First you need to make sure that your category pages have unique titles and descriptions. When you EDIT a CATEGORY on WordPress you can configure the titles and descriptions of the category pages by adding values to the relevant fields provided by your theme or in Yoast SEO category settings (if you are using Yoast SEO).
Next, to solve the problem of not having any unique content on the category pages, you need to add a few paragraphs of text to the ‘Description’ field of the category pages and normally these will be shown at the top of the page. I say ‘normally they will be shown’ since it depends on the theme you are using and if it is configured to show the category description or not.
If everything is configured correctly then your category pages will have a unique title, a unique H1 heading and a useful description.
Before proceeding to the next step, if you have paging enabled for your category pages (or if it shows options like ‘next post’ or ‘previous post’ at the bottom of the page), make sure that all subsequent pages have canonical URLS pointing to the first page as explained in details in this post.
As far as on-page SEO is concerned, these are all the settings you need to make to your category pages.
Advanced SEO for Category pages
The problem explained above with Google picking a single page instead of a category page still remains even after you optimized your category pages, so you need to go one step further and perform the following checks / changes:
Make sure that you have breadcrumbs enabled on your website and that the links in the breadcrumb menu are clickable and have the proper schema. In our example above the breadcrumb when viewing a villa page should look like this:
Home > Villas in Sicily > Villa Talia
‘Villas in Sicily’ should be a link pointing to the category page.
Next, you need to add internal links in the individual pages that will point to the category page using the proper anchor text. For example, you can edit the description in Villa Talia and add a link to help users navigate back to ‘Villas in Sicily’. These internal links will help Google realize that your category pages are important and also it will help users navigate your website better.
Lastly, check that you don’t confuse Google by having the title of the category pages included in the titles of the individual pages. For example, don’t have this as a title for a villa: ‘Villas in Sicily – Villa Talia for Rent’.
In the titles for the individual villa pages you should give details about their unique characteristics, and page content and not about their category.
The above concepts can be applied to any ecommerce website or even to blogs. It is an advanced SEO technique for utilizing your category and achieve pages better.
What are tag pages?
When you add values in the tag section of a post, WordPress creates a page for each tag. The URL of a tag page is http://www.yourdomain.com/tag/tag-name.
A tag page is similar to a category page since it allows you to group your posts together and often tag pages share the same template as the archive pages (categories).
Tag pages are not shown in the menu unless you specifically add them and they also have the same problems (lack of unique content) as category pages.
When you go to the TAGS page on WordPress and EDIT a page, you can do the same SEO fixes as explained in categories, to make your tag pages unique and interesting.
In the majority of cases, tag pages are only used to aid the user navigation and serve no other purpose.
Tag pages may have the same titles as category pages or even posts and this is not good for your SEO. I have seen a lot of cases on client’s websites where tag pages where shown in the SERPS (instead of the main pages) and this was not good for the user experience or for the presentation of a company in the search results.
Best SEO practices for tag pages
The best practice is to ‘noindex’ and ‘nofollow’ tag pages. By doing so Google (and other search engines), will not take into account these pages while indexing your website and this will save you a lot of time and also make your website more optimized.
Besides adding the no-index and no-follow directives in tag pages, you should also exclude them from your sitemap.
If you don’t want to stop Google from indexing your tag pages because they are important for your website, then you should use them in your pages carefully and avoid having too many tags as links on each and every page. Watch this 3-minute video from Google where Matt Cutts is discussing the role of tag clouds in SEO.
How to noindex and nofollow tag pages
This depends on what theme/plugins you are using. If you are running the Genesis Framework (or child themes), all you have to do is go to SEO SETTINGS and APPLY NOINDEX TO TAG ARCHIVES as shown below.
If you using Yoast SEO plugin, you can find this setting under TAXONOMIES.
To exclude tags from your sitemap you also need to go to XML SITEMAPS / TAXONOMIES and check the box not to include them as shown below.
Category and tag pages are present by default on all kinds of WordPress websites. Many people ignore them but as explained above, this can negatively affect your SEO efforts.
Before making any changes to your category pages, think of your website structure and navigation. If the sole purpose of the category pages is to aid navigation but they are not pages you expect (or want) to see in the SERPS, then consider removing them from your sitemap and also ‘noindex’ them.
If category pages are important for your SEO, like the example of a travel website, then optimize them and make sure that you send the right signals to Google from the rest of the pages as well.
As far as tag pages are concerned, keep them in the index only when you really need them. It’s very unlikely that Google will rank a tag page high in their results so the best practice is to de-index them.