Using category and tag pages for SEO

We often encounter sites with category and tag structures which are completely unmanaged. Even large news sites can suffer from over usage of tags and categories. Tags and categories are both examples of a taxonomy system. 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’ll use category archives as our prime example.

Category archives are landing pages

Your category archives are essential for SEO. In fact, especially for eCommerce sites, they can be more important than individual pages and posts. Those archives should be the first result in the search engines; they’re landing pages. They should therefore 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.

Michiel explains how to fully optimize your eCommerce category page here.

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 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 can 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.

Having the URL structure reflect the category can help – if the topic of your category adds value to the product or post. 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 Yoast SEO plugin offers.

How to make awesome category pages

Even though it’s clear that taxonomy archives are very important, they usually don’t get the love they deserve. To make your category pages awesome, just add a bit of introductory content focused on the topic of that category. Add links to that introductory content pointing to the best articles or products in that category.

This will go a long way in making sure that when a user lands on such a page, he or she doesn’t bounce. A good archive page works as a hub and should make me want to read more, not less of your site.

Category description

It can help to have some code samples to check as an example. Our Tutorial on WordPress archive pages is comprehensive and has several good code samples.

This does mean that every category and tag page 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 😉

Our Yoast SEO plugin helps you with optimizing your category pages: it analyzes your category page content. For instance, if there’s enough content on it. Moreover, it allows you to change the social details for category pages and provides you with a snippet preview.

Duplicate tags and categories

A related issue we often see, are sites that have duplicate tags and categories. When you have a category “bathing suits”, you shouldn’t have a tag “bathing suits” 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”. A post shouldn’t have the tag “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.

Read more: What is the difference between tags and categories? »

Need more help optimizing your site structure?

You can read many posts about Site structure on our site. For instance, our Ultimate guide helps you organize your site’s content well. If you struggling with creating a proper site structure, our Site structure training is your new best friend! It will teach you how to optimize every aspect of your website’s structure. Wondering if it’ll fit your needs? Get a free trial today!

Keep reading: Site structure: the ultimate guide »

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