If you have ever struggled to understand the proper use of categories and tags in ClassicPress, you just found a goldmine! Then again, maybe you have a decent understanding of categories and tags already? I guarantee you will learn something here! This article will discuss categories and tags in depth, provide real-world examples, and make simple explanations to help you master the art of taxonomy in ClassicPress. I’ll cover similarities and differences, best practices, and even SEO! Let’s get to it!
ClassicPress Categories and Tags
ClassicPress categories and tags are taxonomies. To put it simply, a taxonomy is a method of classification, or a way of grouping similar things together. It’s not a ClassicPress thing; it’s a science thing. In a ClassicPress website, these taxonomies (categories and tags) group your blog posts together in a meaningful way that allows your readers to quickly find the content they want to consume. Before we get too far, though, let’s setup a scenario.
Let’s say you’re running a blog that talks about how one goes about getting particular jobs. So, at a very high level, the blog is about careers. Will you talk about a specific industry? Will you talk about them all? Let’s say you decide to write about a wide variety of jobs in a wide variety of industries. Great! Now, let’s slay this.
Use Categories for Broad Topics
Categories are your broadest terms. Think about how a book uses a table of contents to help you quickly find sections of interest. Your ClassicPress categories have the same function. When creating and editing posts, you have the option to select relevant categories, but there is no reminder to do so. Posts without a defined category will simply be saved as Uncategorized. And speaking of that, if you change the name of the Uncategorized category, you won’t have any more uncategorized posts.
The goal is to structure your content in a way that makes sense to end-users, so you need to divide up the huge topic of careers into smaller, logical chunks. Consequently, these smaller chunks will be your main, or top-level, categories and might look something like:
The list of categories would probably be much longer, but you get the idea – these are broad career categories. If you wrote an article about working as a radiologist, you would categorize it under Medical. Likewise, an article on attorneys would fit under Legal. And an article on becoming a software developer would fit under Tech.
Each time someone searched these categories, the appropriate articles would come up. Awesome! However, along comes Joe Schmoe who wants to learn about becoming a software developer, so he searches the Tech category and – BOOM! – he gets every last article in the Tech category. This isn’t helpful and, in fact, places too much burden on the visitor. This is where sub-categories come in.
Use Sub-Categories to Split Up Broad Topics
Continuing from above, let’s say you really want to help Joe Schmoe find what he’s looking for, so you add some sub-categories to the Tech category. Super awesome of you, I might add! Your updated categories might look something like:
Again, the list would probably be much longer – it’s just an example. Now, let’s say your next article will talk about a career in software development. It can go into the Tech category and the Software sub-category. This causes the article to be relevant in searches of the Tech category and the Software sub-category. However, if someone searches the Hardware sub-category, this article wouldn’t come up because it isn’t relevant. Sweet!
Now, while you can technically build your sub-categories as deep as you like, it’s important to keep in mind that using too many levels may actually over-complicate the structure of your content. And, if you don’t produce a lot of varied articles on a frequent basis to populate those sub-categories, you could end up with some sub-categories being slim or even completely empty. That’s not a good look.
Use Tags to Narrow and Focus
Continuing again with the example, your article is going to be about a career in software development. Now, what’s your angle? Are you going to be writing about becoming a game developer? An application developer? A web developer? Let’s just say web developer and move on. And, in fact, that’s a great tag for your article: web developer. Yes, tags can be multiple words! Are there any other tags that you think would be good here? You might tag it with a salary range, or the hours of the average work week, or the workplace attire, or any other terms relevant to how your visitors search your site.
Developing Content Structure
The way your content is structured can vary widely and, unfortunately, there’s no way provide a lesson on Information Architecture (IA) in this space. Generally speaking, a broad topic such as careers will require many categories (and sub-categories!) while a narrower topic like careers for stay-at-home dads will need fewer. The determining factor will be how general or specific your content is.
Category and Tag Limits
There is no hard rule about how many categories or tags to use and, in fact, there isn’t an enforced limit. The discretion is all your own. I prefer placing articles into a single top-level category most of the time, and then adding 1-5 tags to them (if I’m using tags at all).
While you want to help your visitors find relevant content, you also need to avoid cluttering the display. It stands to reason that there will typically be more tags than categories, so if you find that you have more categories than tags, you might want to investigate how your content is structured.
Category and Tag URLs
Categories and tags are essentially archives. So, the URL for a category named Cars looks like this:
…and the URL for a tag named Florida looks like this:
You can change the category and tag bases, if you like. For example, you might change the word category to topic, or change tag to pin. Whatever works for your content structure is fine. Some SEO plugins actually remove the category and tag base; in that case, it doesn’t really matter what terms you use.
Category and Tag Archives
I’m betting that when you setup categories, you don’t usually add a description. Well, check this out: if you click to edit any tag or category, you can add a description of the taxonomy! You can even use basic formatting such as bold or italicized text and links. In some cases, (depending on the plugins you have installed,) you can even use the visual editor to add the formatting…and even images and video! The markup you enter there will appear at the top of the category (or tag) archive page when visitors search by that category (or tag.) It looks nice to your visitors and gives Google some context to snack on.
Redundant Categories and Tags
There is no need to have pluralized categories or tags. For example, it would be redundant to have a tag of cookie and a tag of cookies. There’s no rule on which version to use, so just pick one and stick with it. I like to go for singular over plural. And, one more thing to beware here: you don’t want to have a category and a tag with the same name. It will technically work, but it will be confusing to both visitors and search engines alike.
Categories, Tags, and SEO
According to Joost de Valk, creator of the most popular WordPress SEO plugin in history, “When used correctly, a good taxonomy system can boost your site’s SEO.” And he would know. He goes on to make 3 other key points – that your category pages are essential landing pages, that those pages keep your individual posts from competing against one another in the search engines, and that your category pages should be ranking above all others for your general keywords. Ok, that’s a whole lot to swallow, so let’s chew it up first.
Let’s say you’re selling 20 different mobile phones on your site. The urge might be to optimize every product post for keyword mobile phone. However, if you do that, then Google will never know which of your phones is most relevant to the person performing the search – it might as well just guess.
The solution is to optimize each individual mobile phone’s post for the specific keywords related to each phone. Then simply group those posts under a category called mobile phones. That way, when someone searches generally for mobile phones, your category archive will rank for that keyword and give them your full list of phones – and when someone searches for your specific mobile phones, your individual pages will be ranking for those keywords. In other words, your visitor finds exactly what they wanted either way! Everyone wins!
Restructuring Categories and Tags
While reading through this article, perhaps you thought of better ways to structure your current categories and tags. Avoid the temptation to dive in and start making changes haphazardly! Maybe you realized your category terms were actually tag terms, or vice versa. There are plugins that can help you with that. However, if your site is already listed in search engines, you’ll likely need to setup 301 redirects to avoid losing ranking.
Now that you’ve got a thorough understanding of categories and tags, you will be able to structure your content much more logically right from the jump. Google will love you. Your visitors will love you. Babies everywhere will smile in unison. And I gotta tell ya, if you made it all the way down here – this article is 1700+ words, after all – then you deserve a treat! So, here’s a few additional tips! Questions and comments are welcome!
Extra Tips for Taxonomy Ninjas
- ClassicPress will prevent you from creating duplicate categories, even if you use different capitalization.
- ClassicPress will prevent you from creating duplicate tags, even if you use different capitalization.
- ClassicPress will not prevent you from creating a category and a tag with the same name, but don’t do it.
- Categories and tags can be more than one word.
- Categories are hierarchical, while tags are not. This is why you can create sub-categories, but not sub-tags.
- Using categories and tags properly will help your SEO.
- You can change the name of the Uncategorized category. No more uncategorized posts!
- You can set a default category for new posts. This is great if you write a lot in one category.
What do you think?
Are you feeling confident about mastering your site taxonomy?! Do you think this information will help next time a client dumps a pile of poorly-organized content in your lap? Spoiler: it probably will! Most sites can use either categories or tags just fine – do you have a need for both? I’d love to hear your thoughts – let me know in the comments!