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August 10, 2020

Create a WordPress Tags vs. Categories Infrastructure

When you first set up your WordPress site it’s easy to get caught up in what it looks like, and which plugins you should be using. This often leaves people with little time to think about how they’ll set up their categories and tags on their content. A few months later you end up with 230 categories and no tags, or 2 categories that don’t truly apply to all the content in them.

Today we’re going to talk about WordPress tags and categories. We’ll also provide some SEO tips so that your rankings aren’t affected by duplicate content.

We’ll finish today with a method I’ve used many times to help people focus on a few categories for their site so they can keep their content from getting scattered.

What is a WordPress Category?

Categories are meant to contain broad groups of posts. If you’re writing about some coding topics then you’ll likely have a category to contain all the posts that deal with code in some fashion.

Each post you have on your site must have at least one category. If you don’t choose one WordPress will assign your default category to the post. You can change this under Settings->Writing in the WordPress Admin.

A good rule of thumb when you start producing content on your site is that if you’re assigning more than 2 categories to your content, you’ve probably got some categories that should be tags or you’re not staying focused enough with your content. Once you’ve developed your categories (we’ll talk about that in a bit) if a piece of content doesn’t fit in those categories that probably means you need to go back to the drawing board and rethink it so that you can stay with your content plan.

One final difference between tags and categories is that categories are hierarchical. So my Code category above could have sub-categories for WordPress, WooCommerce, Laravel, or any other broad coding topic I want. From a data perspective a post in a sub-category is also in the parent category so you could use this type of data structure to show all your Code posts, and then apply color-coding, or headings, to show when a post is in a specific sub-category.

What is a WordPress Tag?

Unlike categories, tags are not hierarchical. They each exist as a top-level way of structuring your content. Maybe that code post above uses WooCommerce Teams, WooCommerce Memberships, and Teams for WooCommerce Memberships. That means I’d tag it with all of those items and it would exist inside the WooCommerce category.

If I wrote a post about running in my local area it would get tags for:

  • running
  • trail running
  • mountains
  • mountain running
  • Chilliwack (because this is the city I live in)

Tags are more free form than categories. So tag your content with pretty much anything relevant to it. Most sites will have 5 – 10 categories, but hundreds of tags as they continue to put out high-quality content.

What About SEO for WordPress Tags vs. Categories?

From an SEO perspective, a good category structure can help your content get found but tags can be a problem because they can be judged by Google as duplicate content on your site. You can see below in the screenshot that I have a Book Reviews category on my site that comes up if you search for book reviews and my name. That category gets traffic regularly and contributes to people finding my book reviews.

Since your content exists at yoursite.com/category/post and yoursite.com/tag/post and yoursite.com/othertag/post Google can look at that and say penalize your site for using the same content over and over. Luckily there are plugins like Elevate SEO or Yoast SEO that can help you noindex your tags so that you don’t get penalized for duplicate content.

In Elevate head to the Advanced menu and then scroll down until you see the option for indexing of tags. Most people will want to set it to  Don’t index but allow link following

This will mean that Google won’t show your tag pages in its index, but it will look at the links on your tag pages and follow them to other content.

Choosing Your Categories

Since it’s important to keep your categories focused, let’s walk through the process I use to define the categories for my sites so that they don’t end up with 22 categories, most with only 2 posts in them.

Let’s say that you specialize in building membership sites and are looking to build out your category structure so that you can produce content and attract clients. We’ll start by developing at least 15 categories by thinking about topics we can write about and looking at what some of the other sites in the membership niche are doing right now. This should take you around 20 – 30 minutes to do well, though you may generate most of your ideas right at the beginning and only add a few as you browse other sites towards the end.

Categories

  1. Membership Engagement
  2. Getting New Members
  3. Traffic Generation
  4. How to…(setup platforms, plugins, code…)
  5. The Business of Membership Sites (what is a membership site, finding content for your first course…)
  6. Content Generation
  7. Software Reviews (of membership software)
  8. Course Building
  9. Speaking (to build authority)
  10. Writing (to build authority)
  11. Membership Site Marketing
  12. Book Writing (to gain authority)
  13. Doing Market Research for a Site
  14. Email Marketing
  15. Membership Site Problems

More than a few of those are tags. Specifically, items 9 – 12 and 13,14 are all about marketing. Instead of all those different categories Convert it into a single category call Membership Site Marketing. The other ideas above would become tags on any relevant content.

Out of those 15 categories, I’d narrow it down to these 4.

  1. Getting and Keeping Members
  2. Membership Site Marketing
  3. How To…
  4. Reviews (membership plugins, marketing tools…)

Now that you have these four categories you can start to develop some content ideas that fit in each category. To start, aim for 8 – 10 ideas in each category and then plan them out on a calendar so that you have a content production schedule.

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Curtis McHale
Curtis is a husband, father, developer and business coach. He specializes in helping people build a business that lets them spend time with their family instead of working all the time.