One of the most confusing areas when it comes to WordPress SEO is how to optimize your category and tag pages. Many people are unaware of the role of these pages and how they can negatively affect their SEO efforts.
In this post, you will learn what is the difference between a category and tag page and what to consider when optimizing your WordPress website for maximum SEO.
What is a category page?
A category page allows you to group different posts together. It’s like the main page of your blog, but it only shows posts from a particular category.
When you create a post, you have the option to add it to one or more categories. The default pages do not have this option.
A properly optimized WordPress theme will display a post’s category in the breadcrumb, like the example below.
Category displayed in breadcrumbs menu
Category pages can share the same template as your posts and the same sidebar or widgets. This depends on the theme you’re using, but in most cases, a post page and a category page have a similar layout.
Typically, a category page (also known as an archive page) will display a post’s title, image, and intro, and will have pagination at the bottom to help users navigate through the archives.
When thinking about your blog’s structure and navigation, it’s common practice to group your posts into categories and display them on your main menu. A typical website has the following structure:
Typical website structure
SEO category page
From an SEO perspective, category pages have several problems, duplicate content being one of them. A category page displaying excerpts from multiple posts does not have any unique content, as all the content is already available on the individual post pages.
This is also true for eCommerce websites where a category page will display a list of products that make up the category without having any unique content on its own.
Category pages are difficult to rank high in search results
Due to the above problem, Google is more likely to rank a page (or post) on your website rather than a category page.
Search for any keyword on Google and you will see that category pages rarely show up in the SERPS.
The only cases in which Google can display a category page is when a website has many related pages and the SEO structure of a website is such that it helps Google to choose the category page over a post page.
When are category pages useful for SEO?
On blogs or corporate websites, category pages are primarily used to help users navigate a website and find what they are looking for faster and easier. In terms of SEO, they are useless.
However, in cases where you have an e-commerce website, service website, or even a travel websitecategory pages can serve as landing pages and are also important for SEO.
Let me explain this with an example:
Suppose you have a travel website that shows villas for rent in different parts of Italy.
It has category pages for its main locations, i.e. ‘Villas in Sicily’, ‘Villas in Sardinia’ etc. and individual pages for each villa, ie ‘Villa Talia – Large Villa for rent in Sicily’ etc.
When users search for ‘Villas in Sicily’ on Google, you want them to land on your category page so they see all available villas in that particular location and not just one property.
If you have experience with such scenarios, you know that Google might choose not to display the category page because it sees individual pages as having more valuable and unique content.
How do you solve this problem?
There are a number of things you can do to help Google rank your category page in its results.
Your category pages should have unique titles and descriptions.
When you EDIT a CATEGORY in WordPress you can set the titles and descriptions.
Category Title Optimization
When choosing your title and description, the same rules apply as for posts or pages.
Pro Tip: Read How to create SEO friendly titles Y Meta Description Optimization for all tips related to optimizing your titles and descriptions.
Your category pages should have unique content
Next, to solve the problem of not having unique content on category pages, you need to add some paragraphs of text to the ‘Description’ field.
This is normally displayed at the top of the page. I say normally, as the actual position depends on how your theme is configured to display category descriptions.
If everything is set up correctly, your category pages will have a unique title, a unique H1 header, and a helpful description.
Example of an optimized category page
Set canonical URLs for multi-page categories
Before proceeding to the next step, if you have pagination enabled for your category pages (or if you show options like ‘next post’ or ‘previous post’ at the bottom of the page), make sure that all subsequent pages have canonical URLs to the first page.
Pro Tip: Read this guide from Google on pagination and SEO.
Until On-Page SEO as far as it goes, these are all the settings you need to make on your category pages.
Advanced SEO for Category Pages
The problem explained above with Google choosing a single page instead of a category page still persists, even after optimizing your category titles and descriptions.
So you should go a step further and make the following checks/changes:
Make sure you have breadcrumbs enabled on your website and that the breadcrumb menu links are clickable and have the suitable scheme.
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.
You then need to add internal links on the individual pages that will point to the category page using the appropriate anchor text.
For example, you can edit the description on Villa Talia and add a link to help users navigate back to ‘Villas in Sicily’.
These internal links will help Google understand that your category pages are important and will also help users navigate your website better.
Lastly, check that you don’t confuse Google by including the category page titles in the individual page titles.
For example, don’t have this as a title for a villa: ‘Villas in Sicily – Villa Talia for rent’.
In individual page titles, you should give details about its unique features and page content, not about its category.
The above concepts can be applied to any eCommerce website or even blogs. It is an advanced SEO technique to better optimize your category and archive pages.
What are tag pages?
When you add a tag in the tags section of a post, WordPress creates a page for each tag. The URL of a tag page is
- A tag page is similar to a category page in that it allows you to group posts together.
- Tag pages typically share the same template as archive (category) pages.
- Label pages don’t show up in the menu unless you specifically add them
- Tag pages have the same issues (lack of unique content) as category pages.
When you go to the TAGS page in 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 most cases, tag pages are only used to help the user navigate and serve no other purpose.
Tag pages can have the same titles as category pages or even posts and this is not good for your SEO.
I have seen many cases on client websites where the tag pages are shown in the SERPS (instead of the main pages) and this is not a good user experience or for the presentation of a company in the search results.
SEO Best Practices for Tag Pages
The best practice is to tag pages ‘noindex’ and ‘nofollow’. By doing so, Google (and other search engines), will not take these pages into account when indexing your website. This will save you a lot of time and will also make your website more optimized.
In addition to adding the do not index and do not follow directives on tag pages, you should also exclude them from your XML sitemap.
If you don’t want Google to stop indexing your tag pages because they are important to your website, you should use them on your pages carefully and avoid having too many tags as links on each and every page.
How to noindex and nofollow tag pages
This depends on the theme/plugins you are using.
If you are using the Yoast SEO plugin, you should go to SEARCH APPEARANCE and then TAXONOMIES.
Locate the tags section and make sure Show tags in search results is set to NO.
Configuring SEO tags in Yoast SEO
Category and tag pages are available by default on all kinds of WordPress websites. Many people ignore them, but as explained above, this can negatively affect your SEO efforts.
Before you make any changes to your category pages, think about your website’s structure and navigation.
If the sole purpose of 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 ‘not indexing’ them.
If category pages are important for your SEO, like the example of a travel website, optimize them and make sure you are sending the right signals to Google from the rest of the pages as well.
As far as tag pages go, keep them in the index only when you really need them. It is highly unlikely that Google will rank a tag page highly in its results, so the best practice is to de-index them.