While I rarely recommend using tags on a website – I cannot say enough about how important category pages are! If you are a newer blogger on WordPress or are kind of confused about all the options – this guide on managing post archives may be helpful.
By utilizing your category pages you can gain SEO benefits and give your readers the best experience which in turn can improve page views and time on site which can all help your overall search engine rank.
Why Your Category Names Matter
This is the top issue we consistently see with websites – poor category naming.
Deciding on your category names is one of the most critical parts of proper structure and hierarchy – allow yourself enough time to really think through this process!
When deciding what to use as a category name – do some research!
- Find what terms are being searched and look at the results that are being returned.
- Do not create a category that you may only have 1 or 2 posts in, that is NOT adding value to a visitor.
- See what your competitors are using to get some inspiration.
Balance Between SEO & Usability
In our opinion – if we have to choose between a good SEO term or a good term for users to better understand what the category is about, we will go for the latter every time!
Ultimately your website is meant to convert and engage your readers – so that takes top priority over SEO. Often your best named categories may be in a very competitive niche so that may limit your ability rank – so just make sure you focus on names that BENEFIT YOUR READERS!
2 Dogs Media Category Review
We figured we would use ourselves as a guinea pig since we know we have not optimized our categories as well as we should! The old story of the shoemakers kids — never enough time for our own stuff!
So lets take a peak at where we lack and can use improvement.
Our category names – well they kind of suck.
Maybe if you are “in the industry” you may have a clue what they are – but Google is not clear and if you are a non-techie person they may not be clear enough either.
When someone reads a category name – they should know EXACTLY what they will read about!
So here is a list of all of our current categories. In retrospect, these names are just not clear enough for the search engines or for our readers – but in our defense, these date back many years and were never a priority for us!
But they are now!
Let’s talk about how we can improve some of the ones above to help inspire you!
Analytics – this is clearly WAY to broad and can mean so many different things. Since we are focused on tips and tricks about how to read and decipher website analytical data it may make more sense to change this to something like “website analytics” or “analytics tips”.
So – we head to google and type in “analytics” and see what we can find. We use Keywords Everywhere which is what is shown in the screenshot below which gives us some great alternate ideas for our category name.
The one that stands out for us is “how to use google analytics” – so we may change our category name from “Analytics” to “Using Google Analytics”
But then if we review ALL of our posts in the Analytics category – we see a few posts that are not specifically talking about Google Analytics – so that may not be the best option either.
So, we do another search using “website analytics” and find the term “web analytics tools” – which we love, but since we mostly give tips — we are going to go with “website analytics tips”.
Because our category offers a look at a few different tools and has guides and tips, this category name encompasses everything related to analytical data and how to use the tools.
Let’s go over a few more of our dismal category names!
Blogging – another clearly way too broad term that will never rank and offers our readers no value since they have no idea at all what they can expect to find. As the category is now there are only 5 posts and they are not super related, so I need to do a better job of keeping them clearly focused on blogging.
But now, what to rename the category?
My goal for this category was to offer SEO and web design tips specifically for bloggers. So even without doing any research I think “Blogging Tips & Tricks“. I already know I will probably never rank for a category with such a difficult term – but I care more about my users and want them to know with clarity what the category offers.
Resource Lists – not really sure what we were thinking when we created this one! Resource lists for what? This could be anything on the planet! We will change this one to “website resources” – clearly defines that the resources are for website owners and there is some search volume for the phrase as well.
Search Engines – yeah, ok, what about the search engines? Another poor choice of terminology on our part! We are going to change this one to “SEO Tips & Tricks“, simple sweet and to the point of what you can expect to find!
Hopefully this helps clarify a strategy for you to rethink your own category names!
Changing Category Names Properly
So now that you have your list of categories – if you are looking to modify existing category names you need to do it carefully to ensure you do not ruin your current rank or reflect a 404 error to your users!
Changing the Name
This part is easy – simple edit the name field to use the new name you would like. So in the example below we will change Search Engines to SEO Tips & Tricks.
Changing the Slug
We HIGHLY recommend changing the slug as well to reap the full SEO benefit. Having keywords in your URL is still kinda’ a thing – so we do recommend it.
So for our example it says search-engines in the slug field but we will replace that with seo-tips-tricks.
BUT – if this category already ranks or has backlinks, then visitors will get a page not found (404) error – and clearly you DO NOT want that!
You can either add a 301 redirect to your .htaccess file or download a plugin like Redirection to help you redirect the old slug URL to your new one.
Now that your category names and URL’s are renamed – it is time to optimize the categories.
Spending some time optimizing your categories for SEO is a small time investment that can reap big rewards. It is easy to do and since most are not using this tactic – it will help you get a step ahead from the competition.
In many WordPress themes you can enter a category description and it will show at the top of the page.
Just adding 2 or 3 sentences with keyword rich text explaining what visitors can expect to find in the category is a great way to let the search engines and your users understand the category better.
TIP: Consider adding a link or 2 as well to other posts are pages that are RELATED to the category and can help your user find related content that will benefit them.
Description Not Showing?
Wait – I added a description but it does not show on my category page! Well, sadly then you will have to customize the code to have the description show. You can also try using the Archive Intro Text block first as some themes we have seen do use that instead of the description block – but if it is still not showing you will have to customize your theme to have it appear.
Optimizing Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
If you are using Yoast then you will see the ability to change your Title Tag and Meta Description for categories and you should 100% do this!
By default your title tag will show in the browser tab as: Category: Your Category Name
Not exactly well optimized and will not encourage users to click if they see you in the search results.
Make sure you change your category title tag to reflect the category – for example: SEO Tips & Tricks For Businesses & Bloggers might be ours for our SEO category.
You will also want to write a great meta description for your category as well — just like any other page or post.
Is There A Recommended Amount of Categories?
Nope! We do recommend limiting them of course because you do not want to overwhelm your users. Too many categories can be a turn-off and lead to bad user engagement. If you think through your categories carefully you should be able to keep it to about 10-15 well-organized categories. But if you need more – go for it!
NEVER duplicate categories though – make sure your slug and name are completely unique.
What About Subcategories?
If you have a large content website – then of course you can and should use subcategories. But user them carefully and do not overdue it.
As an example we can do a top category called SEO Tips & Tricks – then actually add subcategories like Blogger SEO Tips, Ecommerce SEO Tips, Business SEO Tips.
If it makes sense use them! But again, do NOT have a subcategory that is the same as a top category – this will dilute your SEO and make your user confused.
What About Tags?
We do not use or recommend tags – unless you are a large content site that has a CLEAR tagging strategy.
What About Content Length?
Typically on the category page you will have a specific amount of content show then a read more link to show the first article. There is no “right” or “wrong” with how much content to show – but we do think a fair amount of content is needed to ensure the search engines understand what the category page is about.
We typically show about 300 – 500 words then the read more.
If the blog has strong imagery – we will also add a featured image.
This setting is usually in your theme settings somewhere!
Making Pretty Category Pages
The content is only part of the battle for a great category page. Go to a category page on your own website – what do you think of it? Is it engaging? Do the posts relate to the category? Is there only 1 post or is there 10 posts?
Have your friends and family give you HONEST feedback so you can improve your category pages!
Jill Caren brings over 12 years of WordPress and SEO experience to help you improve and grow your website. She has spoken at several events on SEO and has been published in several top SEO publications. You can contact Jill here.