Categories vs. tags. Tags vs. keywords. Aren't they all the same or at least similar enough to use the same terms for all three? Sorta, kinda, a little bit — not really.
This is one of the top articles on my site written over 6 years ago. It has been refreshed to reflect new information and even more tips!
Organizing Your Data
Your website is filled with data. The better you organize your data to meet visitor needs and intent is how you make your site user-friendly. What happens with categories, tags and keyphrases is that we lose focus of this primary requirement.
- Keywords or keyphrases are not categories or tags.
- Categories are not sentences.
- Tags are not phrases.
In almost every case, when site owners are left to their own devices, their SEO obsession kicks in. They assume that categories, tags and keyphrases are one in the same.
When site owners think about SEO and “keywords” they are inclined to put those keywords everywhere they can. In categories and tags too.
Many times to the point of over-kill. Making for a site that is not intuitively organized or navigable — and clearly keyword stuffed to the gills.
We've lost focus that your site should be about the user first — not search engines.
Categories, keywords and tags serve different purposes none of which dictates they all be the same phrases repeated ad nauseam to “increase SEO.”
The following guide and analogies apply to your WooCommerce products as well. It's all about organizing your data in an intuitive way that makes it easy for your website visitors to gravitate to their interests. This is where putting on your customer hat can help to organize your site for your site visitors.
Keywords/Keyphrases and Ranking Potential
When it comes to SEO, “keywords” applies to the keyword phrases you have investigated and determined your target audience uses to find what you have to offer. Let's face it, the chance that you'll be above the fold on Google for a one-word “keyword” is not going to happen. Therefore, let's just wash that right out of our hair right now.
So, we look for 2-3 word keyword phrases that we are going to pepper throughout our content, in our post titles, descriptions and alt tags. Over time, the consistent and targeted use of these phrases can assist us in gaining relevant rankings.
Again, over time.
Consider Long-Tail Keyphrases Too
Long-tail keyphrases are even better. Create a list of three to four keyword phrases that are very, very specific. Customers that search more specifically tend to know what they are looking for.
Therefore, more specific searches are more likely to convert when they find what they are looking for. Plus long-tails are not as competitive as shorter more generic terms.
What confuses many is that SEO Plugins have a keyword field. In the Yoast SEO plugin, which I use and recommend, the keyphrase(s) you add to those fields are so that the plugin can guide you on optimizing your content. Putting a phrase or phrases in those fields in of themselves does not accomplish anything.
What about that meta keyword field you may have read about? Pretty much useless. Google knows you can stuff whatever you want in there and that it is not necessarily an accurate depiction of the content on that page.
Other engines use this field to varying degrees to get a hint about what a site is about. But it isn't a major player any longer so no need to obsess over it. Instead obsess over creating valuable properly optimized content.
So now we know how to use keywords. Categories coming right up.
How to Setup Your WordPress Categories
Categories may very well include some of your keywords. That is if it makes sense to do so for the user not SEO. If you find you are adding words to your categories (or tags) solely for the sake of SEO — you are creating a keyword stuffed site. Stop it.
Keyword stuff your site and that will hamper your rankings. Not improve them. This is why you want keyphrases that include variables and plurals. Not just for your website but a set that apply specifically to each post, article, page and product.
WordPress Menus and Navigation
WordPress themes only have so much width for your category nav bar to display. So we need to use this space judiciously. This is also important so that we can have nice mobile responsive menus.
This means categories are not sentences. Short, sweet and intuitive. 1-2 words are best. Use the terms that what will speak to what site visitors are looking for.
Then when filing posts within your categories, don't file them in every possible category that could possibly apply. Choose the top category and only add a category or two if it really, really applies.
This helps site visitors navigate to their category of interest and find only posts that do in fact apply directly to that category. Categories are not effective when every post is filed in every category. That makes for one frustrating user experience.
PRO TIP: Don't add a new category unless you are confident
you will have at least 5 new relevant posts created specifically
for that category in the near future.
Categories are general terms to organize your content. Tags help you to further organize your articles within each category.
Now, let's move on to Tags.
How to Use WordPress Tags…
WordPress is a Content Management system, right? So, let's manage your content. Think of this analogy:
- Visualize your WordPress site as a file cabinet.
- Your WordPress Categories are the drawers in that file cabinet.
- WordPress Tags are the tabbed manila folders within that drawer.
- Remember how little that tab on those folders is?
Some examples of a simple category structure and a corresponding tag:
- CATEGORY: Fruits > TAG: Seedless
- CATEGORY: Shoes > TAG: Summer
- CATEGORY: New Homes > TAG: Ranch
See how this works? Categories are the general topic guide, then tags allow site visitors once within a category to click on a tag of interest and then drill down further within that topic.
Tags are not further adjectives about the post or your products. Above all, tags are the clickable words that a user, based on the page they are currently on, would like to refine further.
You can also have sub or child categories to further organize your data if you need to segment further. But that's if you have a ton of content. Remember, the goal is to not add extra clicks but help visitors gravitate to the specific topic of interest as quickly as possible.
Wrapping up Categories, Child Categories and Tags
Here's a an example of all three:
Child Categories: Local News, National News, World News
Tags: United States, Canada, United Kingdom
Child Categories: Music, Movies, Television
Tags: Rock-n-Roll, Drama, Comedy
Child Categories: Recipes, Dinners, Vegetarian
Tags: Cheesy, Gluten Free, Grill
Danger, Will Robinson!
How helpful is it to your site visitors or even search engines if you file every post in every category and tag it with every tag imaginable? Not very.
This is truly a case of less is more. Don't worry about having to cover every base, just cover the most logical bases. We want our navigation, categories and tags to be as tight as possible.
What about tags that are only used once? A user clicks on a tag and finds only the article they just read. Wasted click and not user-friendly. Delete singular tags unless you know you'll have more content that tag will apply to in the very near future.
Think again of that filing cabinet where every drawer you open has the same folders and content within. Pretty frustrating, right?
With that in mind…
- Do not have singular and plural versions of tags.
- Avoid different versions of the same phrase.
- Duplicate capped and lower case tags. Stick with one case consistently.
While some tags may be the same as your SEO “keywords”, you are creating tags for organizational purposes. What you do not do is create tags for the solely to cover all your SEO keyword bases.
7 Tips to Properly Create WordPress Tags
- Create a list of 10-15 tags that can apply to your posts (or products) and that are unique in meaning from each other.
- Tags are only one or two words. Period. Tags are not phrases or sentences — they're tags.
- You want to have a tag list that reflects the individual topics that you will have at least 5 posts (or products) in the very near future.
- Tag each post (or product) with just two or three tags from that existing list.
- Do not create new tags on the fly — stick to your list! See #2.
- If you think of a new tag, fine, but if it doesn't pass the 5 post (or product) rule — don't add it.
- If you have tags in place that don't fit the above rules, delete them.
Now you know the differences between categories, tabs and keyphrases. Above all, categories and tags are ways to better organize your site content first.
Moreover, by being focused, thinking of site visitors and using restraint, you'll have a site that is user-friendly. In addition being SEO'd organically.
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