Using categories for your site’s SEO
In our site reviews we often see that a site’s category / tag structure is completely unmanaged. Even large news sites suffer from over-usage of tags and categories. Tags and categories are both examples of a taxonomy system. By default a WordPress site has these two, but you can add more. When used correctly, a good taxonomy system can boost your site’s SEO. The opposite is also true: when used wrong, it’ll break things. This article dives into why those pages are so important and how to use them. We will use category archives as our prime example.
Category archives are landing pages
Your category archives are more important than individual pages and posts. This is true regardless of whether your site is a blog, an e-commerce site or something else. Those archives should be the first result in the search engines. That means those archives are your most important landing pages. They should thus also provide the best user experience.
The more likely your individual pages are to expire, the more this is true. If your site is a shop and your products change, your categories are more important. If your site is a job listing site where jobs expire, your categories are more important. Otherwise you’d be optimizing pages that are going to be gone a few weeks / months later.
Categories prevent individual pages from competing
If you sell bathing suits and you optimize every product page, all those pages will compete for the term “bathing suit”. You should optimize them for their specific brand, make & model and link them all to the “bathing suit” category page. That way the category page can rank for “bathing suit”, while the product page can rank for the more specific terms. This way, the category page prevents the individual pages from competing.
This is also true regardless of your type of site. If your site is a blog and you write several articles about a topic, your category for that topic should be #1 in the search results.
Breadcrumbs and category archives
Breadcrumbs play an important role in this type of setup. Each individual item should link back to the nearest category. This shows Google the structure of your site but it also enforces the authority of the category page for the topic.
Google recently announced some mobile URL changes. Because of these changes, it’s also useful if your site’s URL structure contains the category. But beware: don’t change your URL structure if you have an existing site. The “cost” of redirecting all those URLs outweighs the benefits of changing the structure. It’s far wiser to just use the breadcrumbs functionality that our WordPress SEO plugin offers.
How to make awesome category pages
Even though taxonomy archives are thus very important, they usually don’t get the love they deserve. To make your category pages awesome, you often don’t even have to do that much. Just add a bit of introductory content. Add some links to that introductory content pointing to the best articles / products in that category. This will go a long way to making sure than when a user lands on such a page, he/she doesn’t bounce. A good archive page should make me want to read / see more, not less of your site.
While looking for code samples I found this post I wrote in 2007. The screenshots show that it’s 8 years ago, but the code still works. Admittedly, this post from 2012 is more comprehensive and has more and better code samples.
This does mean that every category and tag needs to have some custom written text. That’s not hard, but it can be a lot of work. Nobody said this was going to be easy.
Admittedly, we have some work to do on the WordPress SEO plugin with regards to category archives. We don’t let you change the social details for category pages yet, nor do we give you a snippet preview. These features are on our roadmap though!
Duplicate tags and categories
A related issue we often see in our site reviews is sites having duplicate tags and categories. When you have a category “SEO”, like we do here on yoast.com, you shouldn’t have a tag page “SEO” too. If you do, which one should Google rank first?
The same goes for single or plural, an article shouldn’t be in the categories “shirt” and “shirts”. Or a post with the tags “WordPress plugin” and “WordPress plugins”. One of those shouldn’t exist. Pick single or plural and stick with it for all your category and tag terms.
Need more help optimizing your content structure?
We cover a lot of topics around Content SEO in our eBook, aptly named “Content SEO“. If you want us to do the reading and tell you how we think you should fix it, feel free to order a website review. We also have some other posts worth exploring:
- How to clean up your site structure by Michiel
- Intelligent Site Structure for better SEO by Joost
I found both of these posts by going to our Site Structure tag page. Which, admittedly, I just gave an intro today. If you have nice examples of great looking category pages, I’d love to see them in the comments.
This post first appeared as Using categories for your site’s SEO on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!