Taxonomy SEO: How to optimize your categories and tags for Google

We often encounter sites with category and tag structures that 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. Read all about taxonomy SEO!

Category and tag archives are landing pages

Your category and tag 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.

Taxonomy SEO prevents 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 tag or 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 taxonomy 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’re 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 »

Coming up next!


39 Responses to Taxonomy SEO: How to optimize your categories and tags for Google

  1. Daryl J
    Daryl J  • 6 years ago

    Went to BrightonSEO recently and there was a talk there from Rob Bucci looking at how ebay, Argos(UK) and Amazon (UK) are optimizing their site. In particular what user experience were they optimising for? It was conclusive, category (search) pages. Makes sense for the big generic keyword terms to deliver the user to a category page. Reflects what you are saying and if the big players are doing it it is a pretty good indication that it is delivering value for them.
    Full data set can be seen here -http://www.slideshare.net/RobBucci/advanced-competitive-analysis-three-questions-only-the-serps-can-answer-brightonseo-2015

    • Joost de Valk
      Joost de Valk  • 6 years ago

      Helps that some of those are long time clients of mine ;-)

  2. Keith
    Keith  • 6 years ago

    Hi Joost,
    I’m confused now.
    I’m currently linking my blog posts to cornerstone pages.
    Are you saying they should be linked to the category page as a type of “cornerstone” page or “landing” page?
    Are cornerstone pages only really for pages and not posts?

    Regards
    Keith

  3. Mike D
    Mike D  • 6 years ago

    Hi Joost,

    Should the category meta description also be 150 characters long just like post and page descriptions?

    Thanks!

  4. Rustem
    Rustem  • 6 years ago

    Hi, Joost. How do you think, is it normal to have several [Blog] entities of Google Structured data on my website?
    I structured my WordPress site so all Taxonomies (Categories, Tags, Author etc) are [Blog]s with [BlogPostings]?

  5. Michael
    Michael  • 6 years ago

    I noticed that your category descriptions are only around 50 words long. That certainly makes sense from a usability standpoint. However, I’m wondering why Google would rank a category pages with so little content above a 300-500 word article on your site targeting the same keyword?

  6. Peter
    Peter  • 6 years ago

    Thanks! Going to tidy my structure right now!

  7. Ron
    Ron  • 6 years ago

    Great post, thanks! Any advice on how i should handle this structure for an eccomerce site Im building?

    Say I have 2 main categories, dog products, and cat products, Then I have multple sub categories for each of those, like vitamins, toys, dental care. What would be the best way to organize all this since the sub categories are pretty much the same except one is for dogs, one is for cats. They both have items for vitamins, dental care etc. Know what I mean? I have been confused on the best way to organize all this. Just name the sub categories Dog vitamins, Cat vitamins, Dog dental care, Cat dental care etc?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  8. GTTMedia
    GTTMedia  • 6 years ago

    Great article. It’s always blown my mind when other webmasters don’t optimize these pages. It’s something I’ve done for a few years now, and the results speak for themselves. Cheers!

  9. Ashay Kumar
    Ashay Kumar  • 6 years ago

    Great article! I run a lyrics website on which I never use tags.I use categories as albums and put all songs of that album in that category.But it’s really hard to compete with high PR sites like metrolyrics.

  10. Nigel Abery
    Nigel Abery  • 6 years ago

    G’day Yoast, Thanks for this interesting post. Guess I am double cating and tagging things wrong so my cat pages don’t rank. I am still not sure I understand about the competing posts. I thought that the cornerstone post would out-compete the other posts. Do you mean that the category page setup correctly should rank higher than any one of the posts within the category? Also, what is happening when there are two or more posts/pages from the same site that is ranking highly?
    Sorry for the noob questions. :)
    Cheers.

  11. Terrence Huffington
    Terrence Huffington  • 6 years ago

    I agree, great post. It seems the learning process of SEO never ends. As simple as the idea of keeping pages separated instead of making them compete with each other by using the same keywords, I thought I was making my website more optimized and increasing the traffic flow. Thanks!

  12. Paul Marr
    Paul Marr  • 6 years ago

    Great Tips Joost and thanks for the site review – So does this mean we should use posts not pages ? when setting up local business websites and tag that relevant post to that relevant category ?

  13. vivek
    vivek  • 6 years ago

    So what is the actual difference between category and tags. One can stop using Category and use Tag to target Keywords….

  14. Leo
    Leo  • 6 years ago

    Thanks Joost! Was just wondering about categories and taxonomy archives as well. Just wondering what’s your thoughts about custom taxonomies instead and ways to filter them for certain blog posts?

    For example, if we’re a sports shop selling sports shoes and write reviews on sports shoes. Would it be better to have custom taxonomies for your reviews or better to have them as sub categories? :)

  15. Patrick
    Patrick  • 6 years ago

    Great post and tips! We’re really working hard to get our category pages to rank. But it’s not easy with really high competitive keywords.

    But thanks for sharing!

  16. Nathan
    Nathan  • 6 years ago

    Great post, Joost, thanks for the great tips. I’m in the process of revamping my site and tackling my tag and category structure is the next thing on my list, so this is very helpful.

    I have a weird question that I can’t seem to find an answer to anywhere though… I already have landing pages for my tags, but the tags don’t link to those landing pages because the landing pages are actually PAGES, not tag archives. So they are TOTALLY separate. I did this a long time ago when I didn’t know any better!

    I still want highly customized landing pages though, and I don’t want to create a few hundred tag-slug.php files for all my custom tag archives. I wonder if it is okay to write code that will point the tag of one taxonomy to a page with the same tag. Say I have a blog post with the tags blue, green, orange, and then I have 3 PAGES that are essentially landing pages and each one only has one tag: blue, green, orange. I’d like the code to point the blue tag to the page that’s tagged blue, and so forth. Is that a stupid way to do things? That way I can keep all my old original landing pages and not mess things up too much.

    Thanks!

  17. Paul Marr
    Paul Marr  • 6 years ago

    Great Tips Joost and thanks for the site review – So does this mean we should use posts not pages ? when setting up local business websites and tag that relevant post to that relevant category ?

  18. Haroun
    Haroun  • 6 years ago

    Thanks for the tips Joost. I’m finding some landing pages on my site are category pages but my theme doesn’t allow category descriptions. What’s the best way to add them?

    • Joost de Valk

      Hi Haroun,

      The aside links in the article above contains some tips for that!

  19. Ian Spare
    Ian Spare  • 6 years ago

    Thanks for a great post. I’ve wondered how categories might look for SEO and your post has gone a long way to answering my questions. I was concerned if all posts were indexed that archive pages for tags or categories would look like duplicate content, is that not the case? On a similar note, how about having one post in more than one category, is that bad or neutral?

    • Joost de Valk

      Hi Ian,

      If you only show excerpts, they won’t be seen as duplicate. You shouldn’t show the full post. Having multiple categories isn’t bad, as long as you’re not doubling up all the time. If every post has the same categories, those categories would become duplicates of each other.

  20. Martijn ten Caat
    Martijn ten Caat  • 6 years ago

    Dear Joost, great post. I see you use /category-seo/ instead of the full title of the post. Is that on purpose?

    Wouldn’t it be better to do /category/title, in this case /seo/-using-categories-for-your-sites-SEO?

    • Joost de Valk

      That’s on purpose. I like short, memorable URLs and “category seo” was actually one of my intended keywords for this post. To be honest, this is “advanced” keyword targeting, as I know that because of our authority we can rank for keywords like category SEO without even mentioning it in the content much.

  21. Paul Sherland
    Paul Sherland  • 6 years ago

    Excellent article! Do you recommend adding images to category pages? I do keyword research before I create categories for a client site and I create category descriptions, but I haven’t been adding images.

    • Joost de Valk

      Well if that makes the category pages look better and helps a visitor to instantly understand that he’s in the right place, then yes, by all means!

  22. Jason
    Jason  • 6 years ago

    So does this mean we have to enable noindex, follow or not? In categories and tags with the seo plugin?

    • Joost de Valk

      Some SEOs like doing that, but I personally prefer not to. I’d rather make them useful.

      • Jason
        Jason  • 6 years ago

        So in that case. I should unclick the noindex, follow in tags?

        • Joost de Valk

          If your site doesn’t have a lot of duplicate tags and shows excerpts, then yes.

          • Michael
            Michael  • 6 years ago

            Just to be clear, you would HAVE to allow your pages to be indexed (though not necessarily followed) if you want your category and tag archives to appear in search results and get ranked. Or am I missing something?

          • Joost de Valk

            Yes, and why you’d want them indexed but not followed is beyond me :)

  23. Leon Ridge-Cooke
    Leon Ridge-Cooke  • 6 years ago

    Thanks for the article. I’ve always known that category pages are important but have been lazy about adding an intro to them. I have stopped using tags altogether. All posts now go into one category only.

    • Joost de Valk

      Tags can actually be very useful. This article for instance is in the SEO category on this site, which gets new posts every week, so that’s a good way to keep up to date. But the tag “site structure” might actually be more useful when you’re trying to read around that topic.

      • Leon Ridge-Cooke
        Leon Ridge-Cooke  • 6 years ago

        Thanks. I’ll have to rethink tags on my site.

  24. alex
    alex  • 6 years ago

    Hi guys,

    in one of your posts related to taxonomy you said that it is better to place a forum under a subdomain than a subdirectory since forums have often high volume content, but of low quality. Is that still true?

    Thanks,
    Alex

    • Natan
      Natan  • 6 years ago

      I prefer to put a forum in a directory, rather than a subdomain, and use indexation controls to prevent the thinness / quality issues from becoming a negative signal: for example, automatically noindex all new threads, and then remove the noindex for a thread once there are five (or three, or ten – the exact number can be adjusted) posts.

      Investing in a community manager to keep the forum threads on-topic and non-duplicative can also be an excellent choice for many sites with big, active forum communities.

      • Seo Gps
        Seo Gps  • 6 years ago

        I agree with you in this matter, the value of the main domain should not be wasted.

    • Joost de Valk

      I’d still prefer having a forum run on a subdomain yes. For a variety of reasons, but mostly because they tend to generate tons of URLs, not all of which are useful.