SEO: No Categories & Tags. Why?!

(Important Note: This is an advance topic, please make sure to get your website ready before you delve in this topic and enhance your website even further.)

If you trust me, just jump to Completely Getting Rid of the Categories & Tags on a WordPress Niche Website and follow the steps to remove your categories and tags. If you need strong proofs for why, read the whole post. There are two main points if you want to cut to the chase: Your Readers Don’t Care and How Do Categories & Tags Do in Search Engines?

What Are Categories & Tags

Whenever you work with WordPress, it offers you to:

  1. Categorize your pages
  2. Add tags to your pages

In general you would create a small number of categories. One category represents what the article as a whole talks about. For example, for this website I could have created:

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  2. Creating Your Niche Website
  3. Internet Marketing
  4. e-Commerce
  5. Small Business

On the other hand, you tend to create many tag. One tag is a form of reference of something you talk about in your post. This is similar to having an index in a book. For example, a history book may talk about Galileo Galilei on 10 different pages. The index will include each page number along his name.

In other words, a tag is about a nugget of interest in a page whereas a category is the page’s “very dense” resume.

What Happens When Categorizing or Tagging a Page?

On Your Site

Each time you add a new category or a new tag, the WordPress system creates a new page for that category or tag. That new page links all your blog posts that use that category or tag: this gives you a way to group your pages in lists identified by a given term. Actually, additional pages are created for every 10 pages after the first 10. They are used to continue the list. For example, if I were to write 43 pages about SEO on this website and I used categories, then I would have 5 pages listing all the SEO related pages.

So to continue with my example above, once you write 10 pages about Galileo Galilei, the corresponding tag page named “Galileo Galilei” will list those 10 pages. What is rather unfortunate, though, is that it won’t help your user find the name Galileo Galilei on the page. Instead, they will have to search it themselves. However,  you can easily have the terms highlighted with a plugin such as Highlight Search Terms (although that may not work with just tags, it may require you to do a search or tweak that plugin so it does it with tags as well. I haven’t tested that plugin yet.)

In Search Engines

The effect for search engines are two folds:

  1. It adds many Internal Links since you get links from your posts to those pages and from those pages back to your posts.
  2. It adds additional pages without you having to create said pages.

Note that these effects happen for both: categories and tags since technically both are pretty much the same thing. However, you should have more pages under your categories than your tags, if you use both.

Why Would One Use Categories & Tags?

As mentioned above, the categories and tags generate indexes of pages.

This means a blog author has the ability to choose a certain number of words that are used to create various indexes. This is part of what I see as a problem: it creates a very large number of indexes because each category and tag creates what looks like an index in its own right. In a book, though, you get one index and each word has references with just a page number, not the title of the page and a preview of the content (teaser or excerpt) and an image…

That being said, this is a way to allow your users to visit a page where they can find other articles that talk about the same subject. In other words, if you are interested by the Search Engine Optimization topic, by following the link to that category, you will automatically find all my other pages about SEO.

Exciting!

How Did It Work in The Old Days?

In the old days, tagging was done by adding your keywords in the keywords meta tag.

For my Internet Affiliate website, my main keywords are Internet Affiliates and Niche Websites (in case you did not grasp that until now…) The meta tag would therefore include those two keywords separated by a comma:

<meta name="keywords"
      content="internet affiliate, niche websites"/>

Each page should also have additional keywords. It was not a good thing to have many pages (or even worse, all your pages) using the exact same keywords.

Today, though, this meta tag is totally useless since all the search engines ignore¹ that tag.

¹Note that search engines may not exactly ignore the keyword meta tag. That is, they may use it to see whether it is completely off for the website. Say you are talking about Search Engine Optimization and Niche Websites in your posts and one of your meta tag keywords is “Kim Kardashian”. Clearly, something’s off. The search engine may decide to down rank your website because of such mismatches.

How Does It Work Today?

As a result of total misuse of the hidden keywords meta tag, keywords have become explicit in what we now call Keywords, Categories, Tags, or using the more broad terminology: Website Taxonomy. These keywords are visible by the visitor and therefore are much more likely to be trusted.

Your CMS is expected to create links to your tags and categories marking them as such using the rel=”tag” or rel=”category” attribute:

<a href="/tag/internet-affiliate"
   rel="tag">Internet Affiliate</a>

This will have an effect in your search engine ranking since it’s visible in the page and therefore visible by your visitor and as such is probably not completely off the mark.

What if I use a Tag which does not appear in the page?

Just like with the keywords meta tag, this may be a negative. At this point, I do not have any confirmation whether this is actually a problem or not. However, I would strongly advise that you do pay attention to this aspect about tags.

Note that the reason why Google and others know that your tags are tags is because the WordPress system creates anchors including a rel=”tag” attribute. This means it clearly marks that link as a tag and not anything else.

To not take any risk, it’s probably much safer to only use words in your content as tags of our page if you are to use them on your website.

It should not be a problem with categories. The attribute used for this one is rel=”category”.

How Much Are Categories & Tags Used?

I think this is the most important question about Categories & Tags:

Are my readers actually clicking on those links?

From my analysis of my 20+ websites that included tags (I removed them now! Read on for additional information about that.) the answer is pretty clear: never.

It may happen once in a while, but I can assure you that those pages have been useless for the past 5 or 6 years.

So in other words, out of tens of thousands of hits, there was a very minimal number of them occurring on those Categories & Tags pages.

How Do Categories & Tags Do in Search Engines?

Search engines are not unlikely to index those pages. However, there are two or three pretty bad problems. The result in the end is that it’s not worth it if you think it will help your SEO.

I would still use tags and categories on very large websites, just not on small ones that have 100 or less pages. Actually, I would probably still limit my use to just categories because you probably don’t need to have hundreds of lists and your list of categories should be pretty limited too.

To get a better idea for why these create problems read the following few sections:

Constant Downvotes

Probably the worst part, I think, is that people sent to my tag pages directly (i.e. a Google search somehow thought that such a page included the perfect answer to the query the user made) actually leave my site in no time.

It feels like they do not even search for a page that would correspond to their answer within that list of pages.

To tell you the truth, when that happens to me (when I’m sent to a list page like that) I tend to do exactly the same thing because the result was probably positive because the keywords I was looking for were part of the page but not one single specific post. So the likelihood that I find the right answer is really low.

Duplicated Content

One strong negative by Google is content duplication. If you have two pages that look pretty much the same, then Google thinks you’re trying to make it look like you have more content than you really have.

Google and others penalize you quite a bit for duplication.

Having lists of your content repeats that content and if you put 10 tags and 3 categories for a page, you’re repeating that page’s content 13 times on top of your actual page. Not only that, if you forget to put the <!– MORE –> delimiter to include just a teaser in your lists, that’s FULL DUPLICATION.

Actually some people genuinely searching for their pages, which you do by taking a verbatim copy of your title and searching with Google, they at times find their category or tag page instead of the actual page. I think this is really bad since it means your content with a long keyword failed.

Thin Content Penalty

Since 2011, Google has seriously been cracking down on bad content. They wanted to increase the target content quality for their users and one of the is called Thin Content.

What Google means by Thin Content are pages with very small amount of content. Those are automatically penalized, not included in their index and actually degrading your website’s ranking as a whole.

Why am I talking about this?

Because whenever you assign a category or a tag to a page, you create a new page automatically. That new page’s content is going to be limited to the teaser of your new content. That’s very thin! That new page is going to affect your website ranking down. The page will get better as you add more content with the same category or tag, of course, however, damage can happen each time you create a new category or a new tag.

One solution here, if you really want to use that feature is to create many pages and then look at how many can be assigned a given category or tag. Once that number is 10 or more, then do the assignment. It will create that new page and add a lot of content all at once, at least not making that page a thin page (it is still prone to the duplication problem as mentioned above.)

Note that if you don’t pay attention (and it can be difficult if you have a very large number of tags), you are very likely to end up with category or tag pages that are completely empty. i.e. you go back to the pages that had that category and/or tag and you change those and the old categories and tags were never used anywhere else. That results in pages that are definitely useless to absolutely everyone. Google won’t index those, but the worst part is that it will raise a flag and the result is a lower rank for your website as a whole.

Since I removed my tag pages, my websites impressions raised and when that happens, the number of clicks increases. Trust me. These just don’t work anymore and you know how people find your pages? They use Google. So don’t take the risk of having Google send your users to the wrong page.

Side note: When you go to the Posts » Categories and Posts » Tags pages, you can notice a Description field. That field is displayed at the top of the corresponding category or tag page. If you still wanted to keep those pages, I strongly advise that you enter a long description. I do not know of how long you should make that description, I would say around 300 words. That way those pages won’t appear as thin as they would otherwise be. For existing categories and tags, just click the Edit link and enter the description there. Note that the editor is not made available for that description. You may create a post where you use the editor to write what you want, then click the Text tab at the top-right and copy that code as the category or tag description.

Reduced Link Juice

Although Google does not really pay attention to category or tag links, there is another bad side effect of using that feature:

It reduces the juice you pass to your other links.

This may not sound too important to you at this point, but that includes all the links to your other important pages. Important pages should keep receiving a lot of juice. Those category andtag pages should not be given any juice.

So…. Couldn’t I fix the links and add rel=”nofollow”?

No. Actually that’s a really bad idea. Only a very few of your Internal Links should have a nofollow: those that send people to a “noindex” page (i.e. you Disclaimer, Privacy Policy, Terms & Conditions, Login & Register Pages.) You would lose juice for no good reasons otherwise. So better not use that “nofollow.” The best way, though, is to not have the tags.

Renaming a Category or Tag

This is a huge problem if your existing category or tag was already indexed and had good juice (albeit unlikely). Why? Because when you rename a category or a tag, you change the corresponding URL.

So say you had an “seo” category and now you want to spell the word out in full “Search Engine Optimization”. The page of that category will be moved from:

example.com/category/seo

to

example.com/category/search-engine-optimization

Although you can do it, there is nothing wrong about this, you want to make sure to add a 301 from any of the pages under …/seo to the new pages under …/search-engine-optimization.

The SEO Juice from Google will also change from whatever you had before to about 95% to 99% of that level. It will be re-adjusted back to normal with time (months).

The correct redirect using the Apache .htaccess file will look something like this:

 RewriteEngine on
 RewriteRule ^/category/seo/(.*) https://scam.m2osw.com/category/search-engine-optimization/$1 [redirect=permanent,last]

Please make sure to test any of your changes to your .htaccess file. In this case, go to your old category page and see that it indeed redirects you to the new page as you wanted to get.

The “RewriteEngine on” line is not required if you already have it somewhere else (very likely).

Note: I would not use the default Redirection tool because you want to have all sub-paths handled by the redirect which the Redirection tool does not offer.

Completely Getting Rid of the Categories & Tags on a WordPress Niche Website

In order to completely rid your WordPress website of its categories and tags, you have to actually add redirects to your .htaccess file. (If you have access to the /etc/apache2/… settings, you can also do it there.)

Remove Existing Categories

If you already added some categories, I  suggest you first go to the category page and delete all of them. Note that you won’t be able to delete the Uncategorized category. This is on purpose because WordPress needs to be able to put each post in at least one category and this is the default they for that purpose.

The list of categories are found under: Posts » Categories.

You can select them all then choose “Delete” in the “Bulk actions” dropdown and click “Apply”. Repeat until only the Uncategorized category remains.

Remove Existing Tags

Just like for Categories, I suggest you first go to the category page and delete all of them. In the end the list of tags should be empty and say “No tags found”.

The list of tags are found under: Posts » Tags.

You can select them all then choose “Delete” in the “Bulk actions” dropdown and click “Apply”. Repeat until the list is empty.

Prevent Access to Empty Pages

Not having any categories & tags is a first step. It’s going to remove all the corresponding links from all your posts and the correct pages. However, the /category/ and /tag/ pages will still be accessible.

I suggest you add those two links to your .htaccess file:

RedirectMatch 404 /category/
RedirectMatch 404 /tag/

You change the 404 with 410 instead. Either way will work just fine.

Some people prefer to use a redirection, which is a good idea if you had one of those tags or category with many hits. Then redirect to the home page unless your blog is on another page, then redirect to that other page. To do that use 301 or 308 as the status and then put the home or blog path. Something like this:

RedirectMatch 301 /category/ /
RedirectMatch 301 /tag/ /

Since /category/ and /tag/ pages are lists of pages, it’s a good idea to send people to a different list, which is why I suggest you send them to your /blog page (which usually you change to / for a Niche Website.)

Don’t Add Categories or Tags After Adding the Redirect

Please make sure to not add any categories or tags once you removed them and added a redirect. The problem here is that the links from your posts to the category or tag page won’t work if you have the 404 Page Not Found or the 301 Redirect. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way I know of to remove the functionality entirely.

Of course, you can always delete them in case you add them by accident.

There is Another Much Better Way to Categorize

There is actually a way to categorize your content which works a lot better with Search Engines than tagging and categorizing.

I use it on websites where I have large amount of content (i.e. 30+ pages per category.)

This method is pretty simple, although it is difficult to obtain with WordPress unless you only create pages (opposed to writing Posts) for all your content. If you try such, you will see that you can assign a parent to a page. That will create the hierarchy that you need and the resulting path is going to be exactly what you need.

The idea is pretty simple:

Create one sub-path per category.

This mans you want to have a path which includes the category as a sub-path before the page itself. For this blog post, I would add /blog/ as in:

https://www.internetaffiliate.com/blog/seo-no-categories-tags-why/

In case of a blog, it is not very useful unless your website has many other types of pages and you want to distinguish the blog posts from the rest of the content (I do so on my Diverse Realty website where I have region pages, blog pages, and a few others that use such a hierarchy.)

Since your Niche Website is likely to have about 30 pages total, I don’t think it will be useful for you to create such sub-folders. Instead, I would concentrate on writing good content and make sure that I have at least 30 long pages of content that matter to your readers.

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