Taxonomy SEO: How to optimize your categories and tags

We often encounter sites with category and tag structures that are completely unmanaged. Even large news sites can suffer from overusage 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 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

Category and tag archives help us structure content on our website, and they’re essential for SEO. Although they’re both taxonomies that WordPress uses to group content together, they should be used differently. Categories help you bring hierarchy to your pages, whereas tags help you group content on the same topic. But you should be careful with your use of tags and not just add new tags to every page you create. Read more on how to use tags properly or learn more about the difference between tags and categories.

Especially for ecommerce sites, categories and tags can be more important than your individual pages and posts. Let’s say you sell shoes in your online store. Categories on your website could include sneakers, loafers and other types of shoes. Surely you want to try and rank on terms like “sneakers” or “loafers” and not just for specific pairs of shoes you sell. Of course, you might sell a pair of shoes that’s quite popular and that you want to be found for, but most people search for more generic terms and you want to make sure that they are able to find you. In that case, those category 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 an online store 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’re optimizing pages that are going to be gone a few weeks/months later.

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 your 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.

Not only does it make more sense to focus on your category pages first, but it’s also a lot easier to write more than a few sentences about a category than a specific product. You also don’t want to add so much content on your product pages that it takes away the focus from your product. Be mindful of how much text you add on your product pages and whether this is still in the best interest of your customers.

This is 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 when you optimize this page. So start with that one and don’t overoptimize your individual product pages.

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 on that overall 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 create awesome taxonomy pages

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.

Although taxonomy archives are very important, they usually don’t get the love they deserve. You want the focus to be on the products or posts presented on this page, but it can be beneficial to add content to the page as well. You should be mindful of what content you add though. Beforehand, it was recommended to just add a bit of introductory content at the top and have the rest of your content at the end of the page. But nowadays, it’s clear that this can actually confuse search engines and hurt the rankings of your page.

What kind of content to add to your taxonomy page

A better approach when it comes to your category pages is to actually dive into the questions that people have about your products. And use those questions to create content that supports your category pages. Content that informs them why they’re in the best place to buy these products and that clarifies any doubts around the products or their use. This focus on the user will benefit your sales and tell search engines what the intent of these pages is. Which will help your rankings. Aleyda Solis actually went into this in detail during our latest YoastCon, so make sure to watch her talk on the worst SEO issues of online stores in 2022 and how to fix them in a cost-effective way!

When talking about tag pages, you should also be strategic about the content you add. A good rule of thumb is to always keep the site visitor in mind: what would they want to read here and how do you align your page with their intent? Having the right content on your taxonomy pages goes a long way in making sure that when a user lands on such a page, they don’t bounce. A good archive page works as a hub and should make site visitors want to see more, not less of your site. If you want a more detailed run-through on the must-have elements of a category page, check out our blog on how to optimize the category pages of your online store.

If you’re on WordPress, our Yoast SEO plugin helps you with optimizing your category pages: it analyzes the content on your category page. 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. Is your online store on Shopify? Check out the Yoast SEO for Shopify app, which can also help you optimize your collections on Shopify!

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, how will Google know which one to 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.

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.

Read more: How to perfect the category page of your online store »

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2 Responses to Taxonomy SEO: How to optimize your categories and tags

  1. kuyyy
    kuyyy  • 2 years ago

    good job

    • tylernguyenyoast
      tylernguyenyoast  • 2 years ago

      Hi, thank you for your comment. We hope this article is helpful for you!