Let’s have a match: Categories vs Tags
Every now and then I see questions around the internet that does the WordPress categories and tags help in making the site’s SEO better? How does WooCommerce product tags and categories help in SEO?
To answer it short and sweet, I say YES, but not to the extent you think it does.
To understand how the categories and tags of both WordPress and WooCommerce works, we need to study it in details.
I wrote this article to answer some of the most asked questions about categories and tags in WordPress and WooCommerce. Along with the above questions, I will give my take in the following questions also:
- What is the difference between a category and a tag?
- How many categories should we add to our site?
- How many categories can we assign to a post or a product?
- What is the limit of tags we can add to a post or a product?
- Does tags act as meta keywords?
- Does adding all possibilities of keywords in tags help in improving the SEO?
But, before we discuss any further about the SEO applications of categories and tags we need to understand what is a category and a tag.
Categories and tags are both known as taxonomies. The purpose of having categories and tags is to improve the usability of a site. In more simpler words, categories provide an easy way to group related posts together, and quickly tell readers what the post is all about.
Tags are kind of an extension to categories as you cannot add lot of categories to a single post but you can add tags to make the article more clear describe the post in detail.
This definition of category and tag will apply to both WordPress and WooCommerce.
Categories vs Tags
As a note, I would like to say that WordPress categories and tags and WooCommerce categories and tags works the same way, just that one is for posts and the other is for products. But wherever there will be differences or some additional information that needs to be shared, I’ll include it.
Consider categories and tags as table of contents of a book.
Taking book as a reference, categories are the chapters and tags are the sections under those chapters.
By definition, categories are there to group a broader range of posts that are related in some way. In WooCommerce terms, categories are defined to group a broader range of related products.
Tags can be called as add-ons to categories to describe your posts or products a little in detail.
One major difference in categories and tags is that, you have to have one or two for your post or product, but you can skip to add tags. This is because if you don’t categorize your post or product it will be marked as uncategorized.
Let’s understand this with an example. Suppose you have a WordPress eCommerce store where you sell clothing for men and women. You’ll have to categorize your products into two – men and women. Under these categories, you’ll have to add more categories as this will not suffice with your site. This concept of having categories under a category is known as sub-category.
So, now in the men’s category you’ll have to add a few sub-categories like – Tshirts, Shirts, Jeans, Blazers, Jackets etc.
And for the women’s category you might have to add sub-categories like – Tops, Shirts, Dresses, Jeans, Skirts, Jackets, Shrugs etc.
Now that you’ve added categories, you might want to add tags to your product. For this let’s take women’s jeans category. Say you’ve a couple of dozens of jeans. And you want to add tags to a pair of blue jeans. For this you may add tags like ‘blue jeans’, ‘slim fit’ or the sizes available. This way all the blue jeans will come under one tag and it will be easier for people to search for similar products.
One more difference is the way your URL will look.
How many categories should we add to our site?
As many as you like.
But I recommend to add category to cover a broader area of your site.
Let’s take the above example only. For the categories on the site, you don’t want cover every micro-detail on the site.
You shouldn’t added ‘blue jeans’, ‘black jeans’, etc as categories. This will make the category list too long and will not serve the purpose of having categories, i.e. for navigational purpose and to improve usability of site.
Again the number of categories will depend on the complexity of your site. If you have a site like The New York Times, you might have lot of categories, but that justifies their site.
If you’ve a niche blog, you don’t need to have so many categories. (You may see the list of categories of our blog at the right side of this page in a widget.)
Now, let’s take another example. Say you’re planning to start a marketing blog. And you’re planning to publish 2 posts a day. Chances are that for the first few blogs, you want to cover maximum number areas in marketing like marketing trends and all. So, you’ll think of adding each post in one category and within a few days, you end up having more than 20 odd categories.
By the end of month you realize that, not every category is getting updated the way you want.
To rectify this or not do this at first, decide upon 4-5 generic categories which you can update regularly and in which your posts will fall easily.
One competitive and structured way of going through the categories is to think of your future. I know you can’t predict the future but you can definitely think of generic or broader categories for your blog to make it future-ready. If you think a specific category is not sufficient to describe your post, use sub-categories or tags. You can add sub-categories and assign posts in that or you can have tags and group related posts.
TIP: If you’ve a blog or an eCommerce site, then try to keep your posts or products under one category only. This will reduce cluttering on your site and also reduce duplicates. Remember Google does not penalize for such duplicate content but it will help in having a better site structure. One more thing you can do it noindex categories or tags.
To do this you need to use the Yoast SEO plugin, from where you can index or noindex your categories or tags. The WPeka blog has indexed its categories where as noindexed its tags.
Adding sub-categories and how to use it
How many sub-categories you should add? Are they necessary to use? I am going to explain it in brief now.
In the marketing blog example, say you’re now planning to take interviews of a few marketing gurus and publish on the blog. And you’re planning to add a tag ‘Marketing expert interview’ for it. But as time pass, you find yourself doing a lot more interviews as they are traffic magnets. Now, you’re thinking tags are not giving justice to the interview articles, so try adding a sub-category under a category of your choice.
When, you’re doing this, make sure you change the category of previous blogs as well. This will change the URL structure of the blog, so make sure to use a redirection plugin (Yoast’s SEO plugin automatically does it for you), so that you don’t loose on search engine rankings.
Now, onto the usage of sub-categories.
It’s evident from the above information that until and unless you don’t necessarily require a category or a sub-category don’t create it. Using tags will in no way harm your SEO. Keep popular tags as is, because people search your site with them.
Want to know more about SEO in WordPress? Read SEO best practices for your WordPress site.
What is the limit of tags we can add to a post or a product?
Frankly, there is no limit. But think, how will a whole paragraph of tags will look at the end of your post?
Not pleasant, right?
Tags are there to help you describe your post or product a little bit in detail. Blindly adding tags to posts won’t help you in any way.
Let’s take a look at a real-world example of tags and its SEO benefits.
For this, I would like you to take a look at tags of these two blog posts.
(Yes, they are a must read, but we can do that later in the hour and focus on tags as of now.)
I suppose now that you have taken a look. You must’ve noticed that the first article doesn’t have any tags associated with it and the other has a few tags to it.
To be frank, the user role management article is doing really well in terms of rankings and traffic while the Google AMP article is just doing fine. So, you can infer that tags does not help much in SEO and rankings.
Let’s now look this thing from an eCommerce perspective.
For WooCommerce, tags are really important as you cannot have that number of categories, so tags work best.
Also, you cannot add each and every keyword in the description of products. You can have tags like ‘blue jeans under $20’ or ‘slim fit jeans under $20’. If people search for such keywords and I’m sure they do (I do it too), you page will come in the top searches.
Does WordPress tags act as meta keywords?
This myth is going around for a while now. I would like to clear the air that WordPress tags don’t act as meta keywords by default. For that matter, neither the WooCommerce tags.
I used the words ‘by default’ because, you can have tags as meta keywords for your posts. For this, you need to have the WordPress SEO plugin by Yoast. This plugin allows you to use tags as meta keywords.
Does adding all possibilities of keywords in tags help in improving the SEO?
To answer this question, I’ll mainly focus on the WooCommerce tags.
First thing, I would like to say that the makers of WooCommerce plugins, WooThemes highly recommend the use of product tags. And they have a solid reason behind it. But even they don’t recommend adding every possibility of keyword or keyword phrases aka long tail keywords as tags to improve SEO.
They definitely recommend adding tags but they have also mentioned not to stress out on adding every possible keyword phrase.
To add to this, I would say that whenever you’re adding tags, try to use keywords which people search for.
Although, categories and tags help in improving the SEO of your site, they are more of a usability and navigational feature. Well in the match between categories vs tags, I think nobody wins and nobody loses. Its a cumulative result of lot of things that make SEO better.
Just think of them as an index page of the book and you will understand them in a better way.
Let us know your thoughts or any experiences with categories and tags in the comments section.
Additional Reading: Beyond Products: What You Can Sell with WooCommerce – WPEka