Better Blog SEO – Proper Category and Tag Structure
As part of my plan to make my blog better, and to improve its SEO architecture, I’ve made some improvements to my categories and tag structure.
Better Blog SEO – Categories
After some extensive research on WordPress SEO as it relates to category structure, I’ve come to the realization that…
WordPress is not as SEO optimized “out of the box” as we think.
First of all, I’ll admit right up front that I’m no SEO expert or anything, but I am learning and it’s not hard to see that there are many improvements that can be made to WordPress to make your blog SEO better.
Firstly, let’s talk about category structure itself.
Is it better to have a smaller set of more generic categories?
Or is it better to have very detailed sub-categories?
Which is better for (SEO) search engine optimization?
After a lot of research on this, and sorting through a lot of outdated / conflicting information as well, I’ve realized that 100% of my category structure decision making should be aimed at improving the user experience for my readers and not the search engines.
In fact, I’m actually telling the search engines not to even index my category pages. Here’s why…
When Google comes to my site, it sees a list of my latest blog posts in the content section of my Blog. In the sidebar it has a listing of my Blog categories. If I allow Google to follow those category links and index my category pages, that could potentially create problems for my site structure.
The problem it can create is that my category pages might start to compete with my post pages. Here’s how that happens.
Let’s say that I have a Blog post that I’ve written on “Blog Contest Ideas”. Now, let’s say that I have a category called “Blog Contest Ideas” as well.
So, let’s say that the URL to my post is this:
(URL 1) http://www.paulymath.com/2010/06/28/blog-contest-ideas
and the URL to my category page is:
(URL 2) http://www.paulymath.com/category/blog-post-ideas
What can end up happening is that Google might index that Blog Post (URL 1), and then index the Category Page (URL 2) and decide that for the keyword “blog contest ideas” the Category Page (URL 2) is more relevant or has more priority than the post, so it ends up using that page in its index.
Does this happen?
Yes, more often than you’d think. I’ve seen a lot of WordPress sites (including my own) which are setup this way and the category pages end up competing with your own post pages. Most Bloggers are totally unaware that this is happening too.
Why is this bad?
Well, the reason this is bad is because your Category Pages are typically not the best content on your site. The default WordPress category page is butt ugly. It gives you a listing of the top 5 or top 10 posts in a specific category with excerpts for each one.
Imagine a user who goes to Google and searches for “blog contest ideas”. When he clicks on a link to your site, do you think he wants to see your actual post, or do you think he wants to see an “in-between” page with a bunch of excerpts and then have to click once again to see the actual post?
I’m sure you’ve searched for stuff on Google before and landed on one of these “in-between” pages where once again you have to click on something else, right? Most people don’t bother, they just click the Back button and go to the next listing.
Bottom line is that the default WordPress category listing page is probably not going to be as relevant and useful to your new visitor as the actual page they were looking for in the first place. So unless you get into some more advanced WordPress SEO strategies like creating customized Category Pages for each category, it’s better to turn off category indexing all-together.
How to Stop Google from Indexing Your Category Pages
Getting Google to stop indexing your category pages is actually a little tricky.
Here are a couple of WordPress SEO ninja tricks you can do to accomplish this.
First of all, if you are using the XML Sitemap Generator plugin for WordPress (if you aren’t, you should), make sure that in your settings under “Sitemap Content”, you only select “Include Homepage”, “Include Posts” and “Include Static Pages”.
In other words, turn everything else off including “Include Categories”. Then, rebuild your sitemap. This will prevent WordPress from sending Google a sitemap that includes your category listings.
This is a big step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Here’s the next step.
Even if you don’t include your category pages in your sitemap, Google may still choose to index your category pages because in most cases there is a link to each category page right off your home page in a sidebar.
So, we need to tell Google not to index the category pages using this tag:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,follow” />
What this does is that when Google gets to your category page, this tag will tell it to not to index the Category Page, but to follow the links on that page (to your individual posts). Of course you want Google to follow the links so that it can flow through to your individual posts. You just don’t want Google indexing your category pages themselves, that’s all.
Doing this manually is kind of a pain in the butt. Thankfully, there is a cool plugin called Robots Meta which can do this for you. This plugin actually has a whole bunch of cool features which allow you to tell Google which pages you want it to index and follow. You can learn more about how to use this free plugin here:
If you do these steps correctly, you should see no reference to any of your category pages in your sitemap ( www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml ) and you should see the Robots tag I mentioned above in the source view on any of your category pages.
If any of your Category Pages have been indexed by Google it may take a while for them to be taken out of the index.
When I did this on one of my clients sites, his category page dropped out of the Google index and was replaced by the actual post we wanted to get indexed within a few days. So this method definitely works, it just might take a few days.
Better Blog SEO – Tags
Now that we got categories somewhat figured out, what about tags?
Well, what can be said about categories can pretty much be said about tags as well.
Generally speaking, you probably don’t want your Tag Pages to be outranking your actual content either. Once again, why would you want to send your Google visitors to an “in-between” page when you can take them directly to the most relevant post?
How to Stop Google from Indexing Your Tag Pages
This is actually quite simple. Just follow the exact same process I described above for categories.
First, change the settings in your XML Sitemaps plugin settings to not add your tag pages into the sitemap.
While you’re there, you might as well leave out your archives, and author pages as well unless you run a multi-author Blog and have a very specific reason you want your author pages indexed.
Next, just like with the categories you will want to add in that Robots meta tag into your Tag Pages. Once again, we can accomplish this with the same Robots Meta plugin.
Better Blog Navigation – Fewer Categories, More Descriptive Tags
Since I combined my Blogs, I’ve always meant to go back and clean up my categories. There are way too many categories that I have which only have like one or two posts within them and then some that have way too many posts within them.
Obviously the ones that have just a few posts are way too specific, and the ones that have too many posts are not specific enough. So what I’m doing is converting some of these very specific categories into Tags instead, and then I’ll probably split up some of my more generic categories into more specific ones.
The whole purpose of re-organizing my categories like this is to help improve the navigation of my Blog for my readers, and has nothing to do with SEO anymore.
Converting Categories Into Tags in WordPress
Going through all of your posts and converting Categories into Tags used to be a pain in the butt. However, my brother Bart showed me a cool trick in WordPress where you can convert your categories into tags using a tool built right into the WordPress platform.
It’s a bit hard to find this tool, but Bart showed me that it’s just a small little link on the Categories page in WordPress Admin ( Posts > Categories ). At the bottom of the page in the bottom right hand corner you’ll find a link that says “category to tag converter”.
Click on it and it will allow you to select which categories you can convert to tags.
( ** Note: I have found that this tag to category converter is missing from WordPress 3.0. Luckily I did the conversion before upgrading to WordPress 3.0, but if you’re running WordPress 3.0 or later and can’t find it, this is why. I’m not sure if it has been moved to a different section or taken out for some reason, but just thought I’d mention that.)
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